The Secret Weapon In The Race For Governor
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
It was many months ago that I gave up on
the Governor’s race. Carl McCall was being challenged by Andrew Cuomo in
the Democratic Primary and neither were turning on the people. Certainly,
neither was giving any reason to throw out a popular incumbent who had
done a credible job by almost everyone’s standards. And when Andy and
Carl were banging heads, George was gaining.
Then Cuomo made a campaign gaffe and
attacked the Gov’s performance during the 9-11 aftermath. Andy’s death
spiral began. Above and beyond that, Cuomo never really gave the people
and party a reason to abandon McCall, who though uncharismatic and lacking
in energy and verve, had earned the position as party standard bearer and
offered the State a chance to write history by electing an African
Perhaps Pataki wasn’t a superstar, and
perhaps he wasn’t as giving to New York City education as many of us
would have liked, but he was moderate, likeable and embraced most of the
principles that mattered to Democrats. He was in the mold of the moderate
Republicans that have managed to historically win New York in spite of a
huge enrollment edge by the Democrats. Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javitz,
perhaps Al D’Amato and Rudy Giuliani and now Mike Bloomberg have all
continually faced party enrollment that said the Republican couldn’t
Wrong! The people of New York State do
not vote party; they vote people, and perhaps issues. And people
everywhere reelect the incumbent unless given a strong reason not to.
In neighboring New Jersey, Bob
Torrecelli might have given them a reason. But George Pataki hasn’t.
Sometimes, too many years is too much
and voters tire of a face or style. Ed Koch, Mario Cuomo and Al D’Amato
were all once super popular incumbents who lost reelection battles. But
each of them went down after twelve years in office and not eight. George
Pataki only has eight. And New Yorkers just haven’t unseated guys with
eight looking for twelve.
So when Greg Meeks first told me and
then, last week, Gary Ackerman insisted that Carl McCall was clearly going
to be the winner, I wondered what the folks in Congress were doing.
Their’s certainly isn’t conventional wisdom.
The McCall team first cites party
enrollment, but that didn’t seem to help Mario Cuomo hold his seat
against George Pataki or Mark Green when he lost to Mike Bloomberg.
Then there is the mantra of the large
black turnout. McCall backers insist that the chance to elect the
State’s first African American Governor will produce the largest black
turnout in New York history. Jesse Jackson’s candidacy did once surprise
pundits and brought blacks to the polls in record numbers. Al Sharpton has
also been able to increase black voter turnout. Yes, we believe that New
York State will probably see the largest turnout of African American
voters in its history. However, with the huge money advantage George
Pataki has, we also believe that he will be able to bring his voters to
the polls. We buy the team McCall concept of a large turnout. We
anticipate a large turnout everywhere, not just in the black community.
Granted, the black turnout will likely be disproportionately larger than
other voter blocks. But will it be large enough?
Finally, we come to the question of how
can number two overtake number one. If you ask the campaign consultants,
they’ll whisper, negative campaigning – very softly. But recent
political history has shown, to beat a popular incumbent, you have to go
There are several problems with McCall
going negative on Pataki. Negative campaigning has been relegated by the
voters to a low-class, demeaning tactic. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t
work; it just is a lot harder to pull off and fraught with the danger of
backfire. Ask Andy Cuomo — we referred to his negative shot at Pataki as
the beginning of the end for him. Furthermore, you really have to have the
goods and be pure yourself, to attempt to pull off an effective negative
campaign. We again cite New Jersey where an unknown businessman
capitalized on the personal corruption of a once popular Senator. However,
we know of no such Achilles heal for the Guv. Additionally, negative
campaigning in the post 9-11 era seems to have more pitfalls than ever
In this writer’s judgment, if the Guv
has one glaring weak spot, it is his State budget built on a “house of
cards.” However, as we look at Pataki’s performance over the last
eight years, we note that the man elected to watch the budget for the
people was Carl McCall and for seven of those eight years, we didn’t
hear him yelling loudly that New York State was facing a future budgetary
nightmare. New York now faces its worst fiscal situation in recent modern
history, and neither George Pataki nor Carl McCall stepped up to the plate
with a plan nor accepted responsibility.
So, it looks really bleak for Carl
McCall. He has failed to differentiate himself from George Pataki. Pataki
is popular and seems to have made no big mistakes. Democrats (including
always popular Ed Koch, labor leader Dennis Rivera, and Queens Assemblymen
Mike Cohen and Tony Seminario) are flocking to him. Gosh, he also got the
guru of rappers, Queens’ LL Cool J. How can George lose?
There is only one unknown in the
equation that says voters will reward George Pataki for being a popular
incumbent. That unknown is the Independence Party candidacy of Tom
Golisano. With a personal fortune and the intention of “going
negative” on Pataki, Golisano might be able to do what Carl McCall
can’t — convince the Pataki voter to stay home or change lines. Now,
the Ross Perot model suggests that both Republicans and Democrats in
roughly equal numbers will seek a third party alternative. However, polls
and pundits don’t have the data or insight into this one.
George Pataki is, today, the clear
winner and the only wild card in the game is whether Tom Golisano and his
multi-millions can hurt Pataki enough to give Carl McCall a chance.
Drifting From Erie, Toward Ontario
Autumn is upon us — a time of fresh
starts, the return from summer vacations, the beginning of the academic
year, the early Jewish New Year, and the welcome onset of decent weather
after a hot, muggy summer.
City government has been relatively
quiescent as well, except for the turnover at the Board of Education, a
phrase that will linger even though the board is defunct. The new chancellor is lodged at the old Tweed courthouse, a
symbol of municipal waste and corruption.
The underlying problem remains:
we are passengers on a ship heading toward Niagara Falls.
Something drastic may happen when we reach them, but nothing much
will be said about it until after the Nov. 5 election.
One gets the sense of a so-far-slowly
rising tide of lawlessness in the City.
The word is out that the Giuliani days are over, and there is a new
tolerance of all kinds of public deviancy and misbehavior.
This is not the fault of Mayor
Bloomberg, who deplores crime as much as you and I. He does not
blame society, excuse the criminal, and look for “root causes,” as a
few of his predecessors did to a greater or lesser extent. But more than attitude is needed.
The Mayor must show, by his daily words
and actions, that public safety is his first priority, that he is involved
with the police, that public misbehavior will not be tolerated and that
Mayor Giuliani’s war on crime will continue with renewed intensity.
Good guys often have to be tough in fighting bad guys if they want
to win and keep the peace (See Gary Cooper in “High Noon”).
The City Council continues to set new
lows in irrelevance. The
decent and talented Speaker Gifford Miller has done all he can to prevent
some of his charges from making fools of themselves. Much of the
legislation introduced is narrow and sectarian, not relevant to quality of
life or the efficiency and productivity of government.
As the late Daniel Wolf, co-founder (in 1955) of the Village
Voice, wrote many years ago: “This
City can be an extraordinary place to live, but only if people of
imagination, courage and an urban outlook are put in positions of
One can never give up on New York: its government has improved
over the years; there are far fewer outright thieves in office; more
appointments are being made on the basis of merit.
We have a mayor who is honest, dedicated and competent, who knows
as much as anyone else who became involved with City government as a
Reformers have always looked for a white
knight to be mayor; someone outside politics and its inevitable
compromises, a new broom, a fresh and vital approach to local government.
We should be grateful to have been prodded – albeit with the help
of seventy-three million dollars – to have reached this plateau.
But the nature of reform involves constant complaint, so we say
truthfully that there is still enormous room for improvement in both the
formulation of public policy and the delivery of public services.
That is why I write these articles, and
why I appreciate your reading them, and hopefully passing them on to
others. Together we can find
ways to improve City government.
But do think quickly, since the current
is gradually becoming swifter. Before
we reach Grand Island and Horseshoe Falls, let us have some idea of what
our City is going to do about its social and fiscal problems.
-- Henry Stern was NYC Parks
Commissioner for fifteen years and a Councilmember for nine. He is founder
and director of NYCivic, a good government group. He can be reached at:
Freedom For ‘Falling?’
My friend, Marcia Moxam Comrie, PRESS
of Southeast Queens contributing editor, writes in reaction to
this column’s and this paper’s position of advocacy critical of the
removal of JCAL’s insensitive art exhibit “Falling,” one artist’s
“Insensitive or not, art is how we
used to record the events of history before the advent of the history book
and the camera. I for one, am glad that today’s artists are showing some
courage in depicting what is probably the worst scene out of the World
Trade Center attack. Yes, it is a painful reminder, but I would not want
to live in a world where artists can’t depict what they’ve seen and
writers can’t write what they’ve witnessed or heard.
“We’ve become soooo politically
correct that we forget that this was a tragic event of historical
proportions, and painful though it may be, we need people to record it in
the medium of their talent or inspiration — for posterity.
Future generations must see this!
“I am glad that someone recorded the
unification of Upper and Lower Egypt on ‘The Palate of Narmer.’ It
depicts the triumphant King Narmer standing over the decapitated bodies of
“the enemies,” each body with its severed head between its legs
Not a pretty sight, but as a lover of
history, I am thankful that someone recorded it for me to know about some
5,000 years later.
You cannot stifle creativity and you
should never stifle history.”
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@queenspress.com