Friday, September 25, 2009

Goliath Smites David

NOTE: This is a long article, intended for weekend reading. Print it out if you can. It deals with a variety of subjects, including predictions of the future.You are not expected to agree with all of it, and your comments, are welcome, as always.

Obama Snubs Paterson,
Beams at Rival Cuomo,
But $3B Gap Remains

By Henry J. Stern
September 25, 2009


One lesson learned in seven years of blogging is that the best way to get readers to write in is to make a mistake. On Wednesday night, rushing to get out a column, we slipped. The subject line for the article about the Court of Appeals decision on the Governor’s authority to appoint a Lieutenant Governor read “Judicial Calvary Saves Ravitch”. Oy vey.

Of course, we meant cavalry, not Calvary.We know perfectly well the difference between the two words. Calvary is the hill on which Jesus Christ was crucified. It is outside the first century walls of the city of Jerusalem. The hill is alleged to be within the grounds of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a word that means tomb, grave or burial place, but that claim is disputed by some scholars.

The name Calvary derives from the Latin calvaria, the domelike superior portion of the cranium, the bone that shields the brains.. The authors of the Gospels, writing in Greek, called the hill Golgotha, which means “the place of the skull.” Whether it was given this name because it was a dome-shaped hill, or because it was a frequent site of public executions and therefore littered with human skulls, is an open question.

Because of its historic importance as the site of the crucifixion, many cemeteries throughout Christendom bear the name Calvary. In New York City, Calvary is a cemetery in western Queens, with a view of Manhattan’s skyscrapers. It is 365 acres in size, more than half a square mile. Over three million people have been interred there. The one I know best is Bobby Wagner (1944-93), who is buried in the plot of his late parents, Mayor Robert F. Wagner and Susan Edwards Wagner.

The cavalry is a military force, traditionally mounted on horseback. The name is akin to ‘cheval’, the French word for horse. In popular culture, the cavalry is noted for rescuing captives held by Native Americans, or for changing the course of a battle when they arrive on the scene after a strenuous run by the horses. In the modern United States Army, the word cavalry is used to designate quick strike and reconnaissance units which include helicopters.

We had intended to write: “Judicial Cavalry Saves Ravitch”, alluding to the fact that the Court of Appeals’ expedited decision over-ruled previous lower court decisions, including an injunction, which had prevented Ravitch from serving as Lieutenant Governor. The office remained vacant until the Court of Appeals acted Tuesday.

BTW, today the word “cavalier” implies heedless disregard for the feelings of others. But this was not always so. When the word entered the English lexicon at the end of the 16th century, it meant “mounted soldier” or “knight.” (The cavalier’s Italian cousin was the cavalliere, derived from the Latin word “caballus,” or “pack horse.”) However, during the 17th century, the meaning of cavalier drifted from “knight” to “courtly gentleman” to “Royalist adherent of Charles I.” Anti-monarchical (sic) sentiment ran high in England during this period, and “cavalier” took on the negative connotation it retains today.

We regret the error. A new amanuensis failed to catch it, but I am the responsible party and apologize to one and all, not just to “those who may have been offended,” as is the fashion today for crocodile apologies. If we have made more of this matter than we should, as we have, it is primarily because we found the topic interesting.

So far, we have received sixteen e-mails calling our attention to the error. We thank the people who corrected us; we appreciate their concern for accuracy. In order of receipt, we list our vigilant readers: Don Derham, Cory Bruce, Robert Dwyer, Dan Janison, Patricia Begley (mother of LeeRoy), Steve Simon, Joseph O’Brien, Anthony Bentley, Prof. Doug Muzzio, Alan Flacks, Marion Dreyfus, David Benke, Bill Cunningham, Ernest Rubenstein, Esq., Hon. Charles Millard, and Joan Paylo. A SHOT IN THE ARM FOR ANDREEW CUOMO


Governor Paterson's victory in the Court of Appeals came just after his darkest hour, a weekend during which President Obama, visiting New York, had publicly shown his affection for Andrew Cuomo, who is Paterson’s putative rival for the governorship in 2010. Andrew’s father, Mario Cuomo, was governor from 1983 to 1994. Paterson’s father, Basil, was a state senator from 1965 to 1970, and New York’s secretary of state from 1979 to 1982 (Governor Carey’s second term). Both candidates are the second generation in thoroughly political families, and have sought or held public office since they came of age. Neither has any private sector experience to speak of.

The 4-3 decision, as close as it can get, reinforced the Heisenberg principle of politics, as well as giving a bow to Murphy’s Law. Nonetheless, it appears likely that as support for Paterson fails to materialize among the interest groups that comprise the Democratic Party, he will accept another position and avoid a costly campaign which, in all likelihood, would end in his defeat.

If Cuomo were to take out Paterson in a contested primary, that would not enhance his position for the November election. Therefore it is important that the surgery of removing the first black governor be performed by others, preferably African-Americans who have sufficient cover to avoid criticism.

If sufficiently inflamed, Paterson could inflict considerable damage on whoever challenges him, particularly if he is unhorsed. The record of his 18 months as governor, however, indicates that he has yielded repeatedly to the diktat of legislative leaders or other powerful figures. The fall special session that he has called to deal with the impending $3 billion budget gap in this year’s budget could be his last chance to stand up to the spenders. To resist, however, would inflame the spendees, whose unions and trade associations fund Democratic Party candidates.

Paterson may well be doomed. The question will be whether he leaves the scene as a man, standing up for a principle, or as a mouse, crushed by the spenders and unable to resist, even by words. The only way he could conceivably win is by running against the system he has always been part of. It worked for Mayor Wagner in 1961, but he had Alex Rose and David Garth to guide him. Paterson didn’t even have a dog, but now he has Dick Ravitch, whose skills are more in government than in a politics.

It will be interesting to see who Andrew Cuomo’s running mate will be. Will he plumb the pool of talent in the Senate or the Assembly?

We note that President Obama’s intrusion into New York politics was not based on any substantive legislative difference between the two. With regard to the proposed appointment of Caroline Kennedy, he was right not to appoint someone who had shown no particular interest in public affairs, and whose tie to the seat was romantic and dynastic. Her upstate tour did not go well, since she lacks the gift of spontaneously appearing well-informed on topics with which she is unfamiliar. She is a wonderful person, but politics is not her metier, for a number of reasons, some obvious.

The appointment of Kristen Gillibrand was the equivalent of naming a vice president for a Schumer presidential ticket. She provides gender, religious and geographic balance for the downstate Jewish male senator. She doesn’t do that much for anyone else, but under the rule of loshon hora, particularly applicable during these Days of Awe, we will say no more.

Paterson’s comment that some of Obama’s opposition is racially based is an example of a politician getting in trouble only for telling the truth. Of course, the rednecks don’t like a man of race in what has always been the White House. On the other hand, millions of people may have voted for him partly or wholly because of his race, seeing his ascent as expiation for the crime of slavery, a barbaric practice which today is largely confined to a few Middle Eastern countries.

The existential problem Paterson faces is that if he stands up to the legislative leaders and tries to reduce the budget with its $2 to $3 billion shortfall this year, he will offend almost every interest group, including public and private employees, and hospitals and other spending institutions. He has already been gently criticized by Assembly Speaker Silver for calling a special session without having discussed, much less reached agreement, on what budget decisions are to be made.

In the face of impending 2010 state elections, the Democrats will in all likelihood try to run out the clock, deferring any serious action until 2011. They don’t want to raise taxes or reduce services, but there is no other way to come close to balancing the budget. They may resort again to off-budget borrowing (the Enron strategy), which is technically illegal. But, since the law is what the Court of Appeals says it is, there is hope that whatever maneuvers the legislative and executive branches undertake will not be struck down prematurely (before the election). The long term game plan: “Let Cuomo balance the budget.”

What they are not counting on is the possibility that Andrew Cuomo, if elected Governor, will be running for President from Day One, in case his ally Obama shows the same weakness that his former ally Paterson did. Cuomo, who can only surpass his father by becoming President, will decide whether his path to the White House will involve taking on his party’s baggage, or triangulating himself as a new kind of center-left politician (The Clinton model: talk left, act center.) Since a vacancy for national office is unlikely in 2012, the new Governor will have six budgets to balance for an increasingly non-viable state before he can escape Albany for Washington.

Will Andrew emerge from the fiscal closet in which he has been comfortably ensconced while fighting public enemies (a la his predecessor Eliot Spitzer)? How will he relate to the powers that be: Speaker Silver in the Assembly and anarchy in the Senate? In the meanwhile, Cuomo might do better staying as Attorney General and letting the hapless Paterson take the pounding. But that ignores the great white shark: Giuliani, who according to the polls would swallow Paterson.

In the near term, it is likely that Paterson will accept whatever silver parachute is offered. He would like to complete his term, or leave close to its expiration on December 31, 2010. The custom of early departure began when Governor Herbert H. Lehman resigned on December 2, 1942 to work for humanitarian relief during World War II, giving his Lieutenant Governor, Charles Poletti, 29 days to serve as New York State’s first Italian-American governor. At that time, the United States was at war with Italy, which had allied itself with Germany and Japan, declaring war on us on December 11, 1941, four days after Pearl Harbor.

Lehman was not the only governor to leave before his term was up. Nelson A. Rockefeller, elected governor four times, resigned in December 1973, to give his Lieutenant Governor for fifteen years, Malcolm Wilson, a year in office before facing the voters in November 1974. Wilson served the year, but lost to Hugh Carey.

Averell Harriman was elected governor in 1954. He won the Democratic nomination through the efforts of Carmine DeSapio, defeating Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., a Congressman from Manhattan who had won a special election in 1949 as a Liberal and independent candidate. Roosevelt was shoved into a race for State Attorney General, in which he was defeated by Congressman Jacob K. Javits, a Republican who was subsequently elected to the United States Senate. DeSapio’s rejection of Roosevelt’s candidacy earned him the undying enmity of the candidate’s mother, Eleanor Roosevelt, who joined a reform movement which led to DeSapio’s loss in his Greenwich Village district. The 38-year-old Ed Koch defeated DeSapio in 1963 by 41 votes, although DeSapio had previously lost to another candidate running on Mayor Wagner’s coat-tails who did not seek re-election.

Rockefeller sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1960, 64 and 68; but was never chosen, losing to Nixon, Goldwater and Nixon again. Years later, while serving by appointment as Vice President to an unelected President in 1976, Gerald Ford (in a Ravitch-like scenario), Rocky was dumped from the ticket as unacceptable to conservatives. Ford chose as his running mate Senator Bob Dole. The pair went on to lose to the Carter-Mondale ticket in 1976. Twenty years later, Dole got his own chance to run for President. He chose an able running mate, the late Jack Kemp, but the two were defeated handily by Clinton-Gore.

StarQuest #600 09.25.2009 2254wds

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