Thursday, September 5, 2013

All Politics Is Really Local

All Politics Is Really Local

Who says local races are dull?

Next Tuesday, we savvy, tough-minded, hip-and-not-so-hip, optimistically pessimistic, cheerfully cranky and thoroughly saturated in noise (political and otherwise) New Yorkers will hold a primary.  And it’s a really messy one: so many people vying for so few chairs.  For a junkie like me, it’s a table groaning with desserts.

Tip O’Neill, who first coined “All Politics is Local”, lost his first election for Cambridge City Council.  There is a story about this in Jimmy Breslin’s “How The Good Guys Finally Won”.   After the results were in, one of O’Neill’s neighbors, who had known him since he was a boy, told him she hadn’t voted for him.  O’Neill was stunned. “You never asked. And people like to be asked.”  After that, O’Neill always asked.

Here, we have absolutely no shortage of ask.

Last weekend, as I walked on the Upper West Side, I found three City Council candidates within three blocks.  A few minutes later, I saw a young volunteer for a fourth literally running, phone glued to one ear, placard held aloft, to what was presumably a more favorable location.  Fortunately, he seemed to be in good cardiovascular health.

Personal presence isn’t enough in the modern age. My (paper) mailbox is filled with glossy post-cards (note to political consultants—mailboxes often contain unpleasant things like bills, so this may not be the best medium.)  And, I am bombarded with emails, every single one of them on a first name basis with me, urging me to stand with, and contribute to, Helen, Bill, Ken, Scott, Mark, Mel, etc.  

One aspirant even managed to wish me Happy New Year, Happy Rosh Hashanah, and L’Shana Tovah all in the same email, which at least shows me he has a crack staff with an ethnic thesaurus.  Had a handsome family picture in it (note to crack staff—one of the family members appears to be wearing what looks like a Christmas sweater.)  And, there are the phone calls, many of which appear as hang-ups on my answering machine.  Another candidate (out of respect, I will not mention a name) has called almost every day for the past two weeks, urging me to make up my mind.  I hate to break it to him, but if he doesn’t stop I will make up my mind. And then there is the “anyone but Quinn” phone bank.  Those folk are really serious: Bashar Assad, if it doesn’t work out in Syria, there’s always a home for you.

Of course, those are the Democrats, and as this is a Democratic town, that’s where most of the action is.  But, let us not ignore the GOP, because they have their own primary.  True, there aren’t a lot of registered Republicans, so, for most races, it’s a little like The Flying Dutchman, the ghost ship doomed to sail for eternity without ever making port.  However, we have a habit of electing, or at least seriously considering, Republicans for Mayor.  That makes the GOP primary where the fun is:  the redoubtable Joe Lhota faces off against the ill-tempered-but-charitable George MacDonald (the founder of the Doe Fund), and the jolly supermarket and oil billionaire, John Catsimitides.  Watching one of their debates, you get the impression that John and Joe don’t like each other, and George doesn’t like anyone.  This dyspepsia is so great, that one night, when I was overtired and perhaps mildly hallucinating, I envisioned the three as malevolent balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

Joe might be optimistic these days, because not only is he highly likely to win his primary, but he has an excellent chance of facing a beatable candidate.  De Blasio, the most liberal of the legitimate contenders, is on a tear right now; one poll has him at over 40%, which is the threshold for avoiding a runoff.   DeB’s politics may be conventional, but he has a secret sauce: his son Dante’s Afro.  The kid is far better looking than his Dad and a complete star.  Quinn and Thompson just don’t have visuals like that.

But, speaking of visuals, I would like to insert a less than subtle poke at Lhota; I applaud you for being tech savvy, but I am not thrilled with the Joe popup ads on my favorite baseball sites.   Not only are they arresting in a bad way (I think that’s where my Macys Balloon dream came from) but you are intruding in private space.  Leads me to believe you might be a secret Red Sox fan.

Still, Primary Day is next Tuesday, so choices have to be made. If you are looking for a Syncopated Politics endorsement of any of the candidates (I know they are all clamoring for one) we don’t do that here.  That is both a principled and practical stance.  I have decided on only one vote so far, and that because one of the candidates running for Manhattan Borough President is probably my favorite politician in the entire city: a dedicated, hard-working, impossibly energetic public servant. 

For everyone else, I continue to grapple, and especially with the big kahuna, the Mayor’s race.  In search of answers I have done my own informal poll and found some interesting trends.  Among the “smart and accomplished women” demographic (I have a thing for smart and accomplished women) I found a lot less sympathy for Christine Quinn than I expected.  There seems to be a consensus that they really want a first woman Mayor, but maybe Quinn is not that woman. As for de Blasio, one friend seemed to sum up what I was hearing “I met de Blasio once.  Nice guy, approachable.  But I think he's left of where I've ended up in my old age.”  And Thompson doesn’t fire anyone up, although he got an interesting endorsement from someone I respect;  “crazy race. Vote Thompson.  An adult.”

That “adult” comment resonates with me, because my gut tells me that that the missing piece in this election is Mike Bloomberg.  And I think that is a mistake.  Mike Bloomberg was an adult and a good mayor, just not someone you were going to be emotionally involved with.  Mike Bloomberg’s policies are things that many people would like to see continued.  Tweak them, fix the errors, get rid of some of the overreach, but keep the core. 

Yet Bloomberg is spurned or largely ignored.  The Republicans generally praise Bloomberg, but they do it in a way (“remember the bad old days before Rudy?”) that can be offensive to Democrats.

The Democrats, on the other hand, use Bloomberg as a foil on stop and frisk, on charter schools, and as a club to beat Quinn over the head on her vote to extend term limits.   The Democrats don’t want to be Bloomberg, but it’s not clear what they do want to be.

So, for the moderate Democrat (New York style moderate) that tends to decide mayoral elections, both sides seem a little remote. 

What is going to happen on Tuesday, and in November?  I don’t know, but I will make two predictions:

The first is that Quinn made an error in judgment.  She could easily have said, “yes, even though we didn’t always agree, we worked together, and I’m proud of the things we accomplished. My vision is to build on that and improve it.”  Instead, she squandered her chance to be Bloomie’s bridge.

The second is that Lhota, who has a very winnable general election race, could punt it away. The Times reports that David Koch (a genuine philanthropist but also of the hard-right billionaire Koch family) and his wife have just donated nearly $300,000.00 to a new pro-Joe PAC “New Yorkers For Proven Leadership.”  Its first big ad buy is one featuring Joe as Rudy’s right hand man. 

A Lhota, Rudy, Koch team?  That may be a bridge too far.

And I was having such a good time…..