New York City Primary Primer
It’s chic to bemoan the anemic voter turnout localities experience in off-year elections. Without a President (or even Congress) to vote for, the electorate generally doesn’t show up to cast their opinion about the politicians that matter most to their day-to-day lives. Pundits whine about this, but pundits also spend an inordinate amount of time talking about national issues while neglecting the local matters happening in their own communities.
Well, not me. Instead of kvetching about those that don’t care about local politics, I’m going to embrace those that do. Sadly, I only live in one locality. But it is an exciting one. Here in New York City, we practice a brand of in-your-face, apartment block politicking that the mainstream media thinks only happens once every four years in New Hampshire.
I encourage all of you to find the interesting details of the local elections in your communities. Let’s dive right into all of the electioneering glory that determines how the greatest city on Earth is governed. I’ll share my ballot with you after the jump.
For those who have not yet been immersed in and besmirched by NYC politics, let me give you some ground rules:
1. Primary Day is where it’s at. Don’t let the spate of non-Democratic mayors fool you, Democrats outnumber Republicans in NYC like mice outnumber people. Most general elections in the city are mere formalities.
2. “Identity Politics” in NYC isn’t a dirty phrase. It’s how we roll. These are local elections, where issue platforms are very similar. If you have a mustache and you vote for the guy with the mustache, you should congratulate yourself for knowing which candidate sports a mustache and move on.
Now that the set up is out of the way, let’s look at the key races this election season.
Technically, the Public Advocate has a city-wide constituency and is supposed to be kind of a good government watchdog over all of city government. The Public Advocate is also the person who assumes power in the Mayor’s absence, death, or resignation. Some argue that it’s the second most powerful position in the city. It is definitely a stepping stone for a future mayoral campaign.
Practically, it probably means more to the average New Yorker to have a reliable weed connection than a strong Public Advocate. The position holds no legislative or executive power. When you have a powerful mayor and a pliable city council, the Public Advocate could be a cardboard cutout for all anyone would notice. Anything the Public Advocate can do for the people will be dependent on his or her relationship with the mayor and the council.
And that’s what makes this year’s race so interesting. It really comes down to whether New Yorkers want a vocal PA that is going to get into the face of a mayor — or at least compete with the mayor in the press. Or if we want somebody who is going to quietly work with Mayor Bloomberg to get done what they can. You could have somebody calling out the mayor and raising the profile of issues, or you can have somebody working behind the scenes with the mayor to make incremental changes. Both are valid uses of the office.
Mark Green served as Public Advocate during “Giuliani time.” He ran against Bloomberg back in 2001. Green was winning that race, before the tragic events of September 11th. Green still thinks he should be mayor. He doesn’t want this job to play nicely with others. Strategically, Green has a huge advantage in name recognition.
Bill de Blasio is a well respected City Councilman. He is arguing that he can work with Bloomberg as he has done on the City Council. De Blasio received the endorsement of the New York Times, and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. Those endorsements were key considering Mark Green’s heavy advantage in name recognition. De Blasio is also almost monstrously tall (in the picture, he’s on the left dwarfing Green and Gioia). I’m sure that makes it difficult for him to find appropriately sized pants. But when you meet him out on the campaign trail, you remember him.
And then there’s City Councilman Eric Gioia. He is running as the proverbial “outsider” for a position that only insiders truly understand. While de Blasio and Green sling mud back and forth, Gioia is running as the clean alternative. He has put a ton of money into this campaign with television ads.
Norman Siegel is always running for something. He doesn’t win anything.
If one candidate doesn’t achieve at least 40% of the vote, there is a runoff election.
There is a lot to like about this race. There are a couple of different theories about how to conduct “loyal opposition” that the different candidates embody.
Elie’s Pick: Bill de Blasio
Why? Mark Green is the only man with a chance to avoid a runoff. But Green’s had his time. Right now the race is for second place. Like many old school New York Democrats, I tend to do what Mario Cuomo tells me to do. And I don’t need a Public Advocate whose only purpose is to slow Bloomberg down, that is still supposed to be the job of the City Council.
The winner of this race is going to be in a very strong position come the 2013 mayoral election. If the New York economy recovers, the Comptroller can claim he or she was Bloomberg’s right hand financial helper.
But the prospects for this race producing a future mayor are perhaps even greater if the economy tanks. That’s because New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has essentially hitched her political future to the successes of Mike Bloomberg. Her City Council seems to go out of its way to roll over for the mayor. Any Bloomberg weaknesses are going to be Quinn weaknesses. If things are still tough four years from now, the city will be looking for an anti-Bloomberg, but it will still want somebody with a command understanding of city finances.
With that in mind, I present Brooklyn City Councilman David Yassky. The man rolls into Tuesday with endorsements from The New York Times and The Daily News. He’s got Senator Charles Schumer shooting campaign commercials for him, and he has the endorsement of Russell Simmons. Yes, the Def Comedy Jam guy. He’s got a law degree from Yale — and on a personal note, I’ve seen him or his people campaigning in my Upper East Side neighborhood more than the people who are running for mayor this year.
But this race is far from over. Fighting out of the Queens, Councilman David Weprin is rocking some high profile endorsements (and an elite mustache) of his own. Former NYC Mayor David Dinkins is on board. So is Fernando Ferrer — last seen trying to dislodge Mike Bloomberg’s loafers from his body cavities.
John Liu is lighter on endorsements. But he’s the one that is actually winning this race, according to the latest polls. He also has some color to his campaign, and a little melanin too. His city council election was the first time an Asian-American was elected to a city office in New York. He has a compelling personal story — which includes a campaign claim that he worked in a sweatshop when he was seven-years-old to help pay the bills. Some have questioned the veracity of his “sweatshop” claim, but for what it’s worth, I believe Mr. Liu.
Melinda Katz is quite consciously trying to pull the female vote. And she says the word “tough” so many times in her her ads that I’m now convinced she could kick my butt in a street fight. But more importantly, at times she seems like the only one who is running for Comptroller in 2009, instead of mayor in 2013. She’s running second and good government types might want to give her a second look.
Elie’s Pick: David Yassky
Why? If I were voting for Comptroller, I’d vote for Liu. There’s something about growing up poor yet controlling the city’s money that I find appealing. However, I’m not voting for Comptroller. I’m voting for the person most likely to end the Democratic drought at City Hall in 2013. Right now, that appears to be Mr. Yassky.
This is the least interesting primary because Michael Bloomberg is going to win in the general. And it’s not going to be close. Remember, at this point 2/3rds of New Yorkers have seen a Re-Elect Bloomberg ad. Many have seen so many of them that they find the commercials annoying, but isn’t that how advertising works? I mean, I have a strong feeling that I should switch my car insurance to Geico — and I don’t own a car.
Bloomberg was supposed to be term limited out of office this year. But after he decided not to run for President, and after the markets collapsed, he changed the law so he could run for a third term. The City Council went along with it (City Council = people who want additional terms too). With Bloomberg entrenched, many potential Democratic challengers decided to opt out of this year’s mayoral race.
All of these guys that remain should be docked points for refusing to take advantage of the mercy rule. But, electoral formalities being what they are in a republic, let’s look at the challengers.
Bill Thompson is the current New York City Comptroller. Thompson looked like a strong candidate for mayor. He’s black, the Comptroller race proved he could win citywide elected office, and his financial background seemed like a good fit as the city confronted the Wall Street collapse.
Tony Avella is a City Councilman who also worked for former mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins. He’s been running as the guy most likely to beat Bloomberg. He’s certainly more likely to beat Bloomberg than I am. But neither of us are going to be mayor next year, so what is his point exactly?
Also there’s this guy named Roland Rogers. He’s in the race so that next time somebody says “Roland Rogers,” an average New Yorker might say something other than “who?” Good luck with that Mr … Whoever!
Elie’s Pick: Bill Thompson.
Why? In a general election match up with Mayor Bloomberg, Thompson leads Bloomberg 48% to 39% among African-American voters (Thompson is getting killed in all other demographics). To put that stat another way, the black guy isn’t pulling more than 50% of the black vote in New York City. That. Is. Embarrassing. I don’t believe that number will hold up, so I’ve got to give Thompson a chance to improve on that number by the time the general rolls around.
Hope you enjoyed my romp through local primary season. Don’t forget to vote.