Thursday, February 24, 2011

They're Off!

2013 Mayoral Sweepstakes:

Field of Five Is Hot to Trot

Politics is usually more about the next election than the last one. So it is not surprising that the Republican candidates for the presidency in 2012 are off and running. The candidates for the New York City mayoralty in 2013 are close behind.

Considering political campaigns as conducted on a four-year cycle, we are now in the second lap of the race to succeed Mayor Bloomberg. The winner will become our 109th mayor (the first, listed in the Green Book, was Thomas Willett, in 1665). To go to more recent history, Fiorello Henrico LaGuardia, regarded by some as the city's greatest mayor, was the 99th. The interjacent eight mayors, and the number of years they served, are O'Dwyer-5, Impellitteri-3, Wagner-12, Lindsay-8, Beame-4, Koch-12, Dinkins-4 and Giuliani-8.

The most notable aspect of this list is that, in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, where Democratic candidates for comptroller, public advocate, borough president (except Staten Island), and the great majority of state legislators and city councilmembers (currently 46 out of 51) are Democrats, it is the candidate running on the Republican Party line who has won the last FIVE mayoral elections. The five Democratic losers, in chronological order, were David Dinkins, Ruth Messinger, Mark Green, Fernando Ferrer and Bill Thompson. As you can see, they represented varied ethnicities and both genders.

The race will be determined either by the Democratic primary in September 2013 or in the election that follows in November. Fund raising is well under way, because in the absence of actual results, who is the front runner is determined by standing in the polls and the amount of money that has been raised. These are the intermediate statistics of political contests, and as reports of current preferences and achievements, their publication influences future events, like contributions and declarations of allegiance.

It is human nature to want to identify with future winners, both for financial advantage for individuals and their businesses, many of which involve decisions to be made by city officials (on the merits, of course), or for their personal satisfaction in identifying themselves with public officials and believing themselves to be instrumental in the success of those they have favored. Invitations to Gracie Mansion don't hurt, either.

DIGRESSION: The best known aphorism making this point was recalled by President John F. Kennedy on April 21, l96l, at a press conference just after the Bay of Pigs debacle, when he said: "There is an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan." Another JFK quote, on April 10, 1962, followed a US Steel decision to raise the price of steel by $6 a ton after Kennedy had pressured the United Steel Workers to accept modest increases in an effort to keep inflation down. Kennedy said: "My father always told me that all businessmen were sons of bitches, but I never believed it until now." In his book, "A Thousand Days" (1965), historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. says the remark was made privately, but soon reached the newspapers. People do talk. END

Back to the mayoral contest. To find prospective candidates, the logical place to begin is with other citywide elected officials and former officials. A brief rundown of the current field:

1. Comptroller John Liu holds the office most often used as a springboard for a mayoral race. Six out of the last seven comptrollers were defeated when they ran for mayor (Gerosa, Beame, Procaccino, Goldin, Hevesi and Thompson). Beame won on his second try, eight years later. Hevesi was subsequently elected State Comptroller, but was unable to complete his term because of legal issues.

2. Public Advocate (formerly City Council President, and before that President of the Board of Aldermen) Bill de Blasio will surely be a candidate. Five of his predecessors lost bids for the mayoralty: Newbold Morris, Paul Screvane, Paul O'Dwyer, Carol Bellamy and Andrew Stein (who ran for a year but withdrew before petitioning). One won, Vincent Impellitteri in 1950, who became Acting Mayor after William O'Dwyer's sudden departure for Mexico, a country beyond the reach of subpoenas, to which President Truman had suddenly appointed him as U.S. Ambassador. His younger brother, Paul O'Dwyer, was elected Council President eight years after he lost for mayor in 1965.

3. One Council President ran second to Nelson Rockefeller for governor, Frank O'Connor, who had been district attorney of Queens County. We recall Rule 26-S: "Second place is the first loser." But there is a bright spot - the man who was handily defeated by O'Connor in the 1965 Democratic primary ended up as a four-term United States Senator from New York: Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

4. Borough Presidents: Two recent mayors have been Manhattan BPs : Wagner and Dinkins. Three MBPs have lost mayoral races: Stein, Ruth Messinger and Virginia Fields. Crossing the bridges, Bronx BPs Herman Badillo and Fernando Ferrer were both defeated in numerous races for mayor, but Seth Low, former mayor of Brooklyn and president of Columbia University, was elected mayor in 1901. He served one two-year term.

5. Council Speaker: 0 for 2 - Peter Vallone lost a mayoral challenge in 2001, and his successor as speaker, Gifford Miller, lost in 2005. Both were impelled to run by term limits, which prohibited their re-election. Vallone refused to over-ride term limits without a referendum. When the vote was taken in 1996, term limits were upheld.

6. Other elected mayoral springboards: William O'Dwyer was district attorney of Kings County when he was elected mayor in 1945. Ed Koch was a Congressman from Manhattan, and had previously been a City Council member, when he was elected mayor in 1977. John Lindsay was a Congressman from Manhattan, from the same district that Koch was later to represent, when he was elected mayor in 1965. Lindsay subsequently came in third (behind Liz Holtzman and Bess Myerson) in a Democratic primary for the United States Senate seat in 1980 that was won by Al D'Amato.

Five potential, probably presumptive, candidates who as of today have filed with the campaign finance board for the 2013 election cycle are Public Advocate Bill de Blasio ($346,541), NYC Comptroller John Liu ($513,471), Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer ($1,018,081), Council Speaker Christine Quinn ($3,134,698), and Congressman Anthony Weiner ($4,871,539).

This article deals with the fortunes and misfortunes of previous mayoral candidates, and provides a brief look at their current campaign treasuries. It does not discuss the merits of the candidates. The point we make is that, whether you know it or not, the race is well under way. And there are only two years and seven months before the primary.

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