Friday, March 13, 2009

Weiner Defers Commitment

To Race Against Bloomberg,

But Don't Write Him Off.

Henry J. Stern
March 12, 2009

Congressman Anthony Weiner’s sidestep on the mayoral race does not in any way signify that he has laid his political ambitions to rest.

Link here to the letter he is reported to have sent to 1300 friends and supporters. Read it to make your own judgment as to its significance.

We see the letter as an adroit maneuver by the Congressman to give himself more freedom of action, to make him appear less ambitious for higher office, and to distance himself from other politicians who are committed to running. Since the Democratic primary will be held on September 15, it will be easier for him to decide whether or not to run in May or June. This would lighten the burden of constant campaigning in New York, while the House of Representatives, the body to which he has been elected five times, is in session in Washington.

Weiner’s apparent reluctance to enter the fray nurtures the impression that he is not all that eager to become a candidate, and perhaps he will do the public a favor if and when he announces. To some extent, the decision spares him media assaults on his integrity, judgment, behavior and compliance with campaign finance laws. To the degree that more attention will be paid to his rivals, it gives them the opportunity to make errors such as infelicitous statements. Unfortunate associations may be discovered with regard to staff members and campaign contributors, even if the candidate is totally unaware of those matters.

Timing means a great deal in politics, and if the public tires of a race between an overqualified and overresourced mayor and undistinguished challengers, there may well be a desire for another candidate to appear. The pause in Weiner’s campaign, if,in fact, there really is one, (remember the 'Phoney War' between France and Germany in 1939-40) may give him a sense of freshness for the final lap leading to the primary September 15 and the election November 3. The campaign will come sooner than many of us realize.

Congressman Weiner is a young and talented public servant. He was first elected to the City Council in 1991, when he was 27 years old. Prior to that, he had served on the staff of his mentor, Chuck Schumer, who was then a Congressman. He defeated three rivals to win the Democratic nomination for Congress in 1998, and is now serving his eleventh year in the House.

John Lindsay was a Congressman for seven years (1959-65) before he was elected mayor. Ed Koch was a Congressman for nine years (1969-77) before he was elected mayor. Anthony Weiner ran in 2005 and exceeded expectations. He wisely dropped out at the right moment, leaving it to Freddie Ferrer to be crushed by Bloomberg seeking re-election. Weiner has raised $6.6 million, the maximum, for the 2009 mayoral race.

The big difference between this year and the past is that Lindsay and Koch were running against Abe Beame and others, while Weiner would run against Mike Bloomberg. That is a significantly different undertaking, for millions of reasons.

Conventional wisdom (always subject to change) is that the election is Bloomberg’s to lose. It is difficult for a split party to come together after a divisive primary, especially if race is a factor. The mayor has bought many talented Democratic consultants, and it was in his interest if only to keep them out of the contest. The downside for the mayor is voter fatigue. Every show on Broadway, even the greatest hits, has an opening and closing night. The only questions are when the Bloomberg show will close, and which show will succeed it.

It is also important to maintain an attitude of deference to the voters. Whatever they may be individually, collectively they are your master. This is a point that must be respected.. Rule 27-L: "If you would lead, learn to follow."

The City Council has over-ruled the voters on amending the Charter, and the Councilmembers may win re-election in the absence of effective competition in their gerrymandered districts. They have not, however, served the greater public interest, and they have not enhanced the popularity of city-wide officials’ who can be held accountable by the public.

One cannot close without commenting that Mayor Bloomberg’s first two terms have been unusually good, by New York City standards. We have worked under seven mayors of New York, of varying degrees of ability and intelligence. Standards of competence and professionalism have risen over the past thirty years, and the level of integrity we expect today far exceeds that of the post-war days of Mayor William O’Dwyer and Vincent Impellitteri, who followed the great LaGuardia.

Mayors Lindsay, Koch and Giuliani raised the chinning bar over the years, and Mayor Bloomberg has built on their achievements. We always want to do better, but we should know that we could do a lot worse, as we did in ages past when the city was politically controlled by the Democratic machine.

This is a year for New Yorkers to pay attention to the political process, and to make their own decisions as to whom to support. Last year, we chose leaders for our country; this year it is the city’s turn. This is a great metropolis, and we do not want it to enter the dismal swamp of New York state government.

In September and November, you will decide.


#542 03.12.2009 896 wds

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