Friday, November 06, 2009

How Was 2009 Different?

Seven Distinctions Between Elections

A Democrat Abandoned,
Is That Right or Wrong?

By Henry J. Stern
November 6, 2009

The World Series victory and the Yankee parade truncated public rumination over the quirky 2009 mayoral election.

We say ‘quirky’ because this contest differed in a number of ways from all other contests for the New York City mayoralty.

First, one candidate set an all-time spending record for a local election, reportedly exceeding $100,000,000.

Whether the same result would have been reached if he spent half that sum is hard to tell, but from Bloomberg’s POV, why take the chance. If he did, he would be denounced with equal vehemence for spending $50 million on the campaign. In for a penny, in for a pound. And the money he spends goes back into the local economy, so people can keep their jobs and feed their families.

The spending reminds me of a story I heard many years ago about John Wanamaker, a department store magnate from Philadelphia who at one time had a store which occupied a huge building on Broadway and Ninth Street. Mr. Wanamaker was once told that half the money he spent on advertising was wasted. “I know that,” he replied, “but I can never tell which half.”

Second, the contrast between the public profiles of the two candidates was enormous. Bloomberg created a multi-billion dollar corporation, which he named for himself. Thompson was a mid-level functionary in Brooklyn politics until he was elected Comptroller eight years ago. In that office, he did not make waves. He was named for his father, who was a distinguished judge in an era when race was a greater obstacle to advancement than it is today.

Third, very few Democratic elected officials felt any particular affinity for Thompson. Most gave him nominal support, because they felt it was their duty as Democrats. A handful jumped to Bloomberg. The elite in both parties did not view Thompson as a competitive candidate, just as Thompson paid little heed to Councilman Tony Avella in the Democratic primary. The support the Comptroller did receive came largely from true believers on the left and unions and individuals who hated Bloomberg. Although he had given public employees generous increases over the years, he could never make them happy campers. By and large, Democrats burnished their credentials for party loyalty by endorsing Thompson, without actually doing anything much to assist him.

Fourth, although there was ample fault to find with Bloomberg (inevitable after eight years of friction with groups disaffected by the multiple decisions a mayor is required to make) the term limits maneuver in particular struck at his reputation for decency and fairness. There was also certain carelessness with regard to the feelings of others, which all but disappeared during the campaign.

That being said, there was considerable good in his honest, competent, professional and innovative administration. The public health and environmental advances were particularly noteworthy. The parks prospered. Although Thompson had not done anything wrong that his predecessors had not also done (despite the negative commercials), he had no record of achievement to compare with what Bloomberg had accomplished, both in business and in public life.

Fifth, the issue of race, although suppressed by both sides in a political campaign, is always present. It is demonstrated in an analysis of the vote by neighborhoods. There have been four black-white contests in recent years: The Koch-Dinkins Democratic primary in 1989, Dinkins v. Giuliani in general elections in 1989 and 1993, and Bloomberg v. Thompson in 2009.

We have an African-American President who won a substantial white vote, and an African-American governor who is yet to be tested at the polls. Even though there are substantial black and white constituencies who follow the adage, “Vote your own”, elections in New York City are decided by the people in the middle, Asians, Latinos and open minded people of all races, who make their choice on the basis of their opinions on the merits of the candidate, or as Dr. King said, “the content of his character.”

Sixth, the polls were as off the mark as they have ever been. Our theory of why that happened is as follows: many voters were for Bloomberg, but when they heard he would win by a large margin they voted for Thompson to punish the mayor over term limits and campaign spending, and to curb what they saw as his pride. Years ago, there was a strong tendency for black candidates to poll better than they actually ran in the election, because whites did not want to admit their prejudice to a pollster. In 2009, the reverse occurred, the white candidate polled better than he ran. Perhaps his last commercial broke the camel’s back. Did the polls encourage or discourage minority voting? Probably neither, but how can you measure that?

Seventh, there was an unprecedented wave of anti-incumbent sentiment. People are upset by the flailing economy, in which enormous profits on Wall Street coexist with rising unemployment, and they resent political corruption which appears to be all too common. They want change, and they punish even those who tried to prevent the evils they deplore. This is shown particularly by the unexpectedly close vote in Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi’s race for a third term.

BEYOND THE ELECTION, and on to next week in Albany:

Many years ago, when I was in summer camp, we used to sing a song, which is supposed to have originated with cockroaches sitting on a toothpick in a bathtub. The chorus was “When the log rolls over, we will all be dead.” I didn’t make this up; that is what the kids sang, sometimes over and over. The melody escapes me.

The awareness shown by the roaches has not been demonstrated by public officials who are reluctant to acknowledge the financial crisis which is now upon us. The State legislature is set to meet Tuesday, and the Senate Democrats, who include the most distasteful of the legislators, surrounded by sanctimonious sheep, did not even want to listen to their own Democratic governor present his plea for the budget reductions which fiscal insufficiency require to avert insolvency.

Enjoy the weekend.

StarQuest #616 11.06.2009 1013wds

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