The 11th CD: A Guide For the Perplexed (The First in a Series of at Least Three Parts)

The race for Congress in the 11th Congressional District works best when viewed as a morality play, allowing the audience to comfortably weigh their own competing values against one another, while pondering their irreconcilability. At the end of such a play, one can walk out satisfied that one has exercised their intellect, and then one can discuss it for hours on end over a double latte or a crisp white pinot, without ever actually feeling obligated to convert one’s conclusions into an actual course of action.

The race for Congress in the 11th CD works worst when viewed as an actual election, because once the curtain falls, one is obligated to actually vote for one of the candidates.

Christopher Owens does have his points. While, at times, he seems to be reciting a catechism of the politically correct, at least it appears that he has some system of belief which he can actually apply to each new situation and use to come up with a rational answer. That is an important consideration.

Compare Ed Towns, who has no belief system, allowing him to vote to allow a land war in Kosovo, while voting against supporting an air war, a combination which made no sense, except for its expediency at that moment.  By contrast, Chris Owens appears to own a moral compass.

Who among the others possess this quality? Carl Andrews appears to be in the Towns mode; just as shrewd, and probably smarter, but if there is a moral compass working together with that intelligence, the best one can say about it is that he's not yet had the opportunity to display it.

Nick Perry does have a moral compass. Unfortunately, the best one can say about it is that he's promised not to use it. An admitted social conservative with a religious bent, he states he will nonetheless put aside his beliefs if his constituents prefer otherwise. Would that we could trust him on that; but even a pol as personally honest as Peter Vallone could not be trusted to be maintain his insincerity in the face of a  a contrary belief system. A devout Catholic and social reactionary, Vallone's ambitions ultimately led him to become a timid supporter of gay rights and choice, but while he mouthed the right words, he could never really dance to the music. When carefully prepped, Vallone regurgitated his liberal talking points without passion, but if something new came up, he fell back on what he really felt; at one point in his 1998 governor's race, he was caught off guard during an interview and came out for school prayer. That was the real Peter Vallone, and the real Nick Perry isn't too different in his views. While one can't conceive of Carl Andrews taking an unpopular vote as a matter of conscience (although one can picture him doing so as part of a deal), the thought of Perry taking such a vote is conceivable, and somewhat frightening. And not every socially reactionary vote Perry might have the opportunity to cast might prove so unpopular either.

Yvette Clarke, at best, seems a work in progress. She may yet evolve into something more substantial, or she may become a political strumpet, like her mother, now the token Caribbean George Pataki displays in his store window.

This leaves David Yassky. While less predictable than Owens, he evinces clear evidence of holding a set of guiding principles, as well as a formidable intellect which allows him to apply those principles with an often refreshing lack of allergy to nuance. There have been times when he's been politically daring (taking some Eva Moskowitz type positions on the schools). But, at other times he almost resembles a wonkish Carl Andrews; the guy who comes up with the wonkishly clever rationale to explain whatever deal was made the night before. Nonetheless, while the questions about Yassky’s  (and Owens’) character deserve a piece of its own (forthcoming), let us just stipulate here that, flaws and all, Yassky, in many ways, appears to be among our best and brightest.

Yassky’s been accused of being too friendly to developers, but the actual record shows a realist bent on maximizing community benefits while minimizing bad impacts. The Williamsburg waterfront rezoning was initially offered to the community by Mayor Bloomberg as the only way to avoid a power plant. When other electeds jumped to support it immediately, Yassky held out for concessions on affordable housing, and backed the plan only after substantial modifications.  Politically correct? No; but, perhaps the best deal for the community. On Atlantic Yards, Yassky is also trying to split the difference, working toward a “mend it, don’t end it” type compromise, which in the end is probably the best the community can do. Of course, on that issue, the community also needs Owens-type opponents to move the proponents to the bargaining table (although they probably could do without Owens' silly, and probably legally dubious, call for rigid quotas, which are almost a bad parody of affirmative action).

The question is, who would do better in Congress? Owens could probably settle in more comfortably, not having to worry about a race-based crusade every two years, while Yassky's life would be a constant scramble, possibly impeding real achievement in Washington. Yet, it is Yassky who appears to have a better idea of what to do on the job.

Owens' proposals often have only the faintest acquaintance with reality. Take his proposed constitutional amendment (one of about half a dozen listed on his website) to require the government to guarantee affordable housing to all. Ratification would only require two-thirds of both houses and three quarters of the state legislatures. If such support were possible, we'd actually have enough support in Congress to already have a real housing program in place. One can always depend upon Chris Owens to propose a slogan; Yassky might actually come up with a real proposal with some possibility of enactment.

And, let's talk about impeachment. It is infuriating the House impeached Clinton over a (apparently mediocre) blowjob, but that Bush can shred the constitution at will with no response. But, the House had a Republican majority then and now. Yassky recognizes this, and has proposed that the House Democrats constantly introduce Resolutions of Inquiry onto the floor and force House Republicans to vote them up or down; this would put many Republican marginals in the position of choosing between their political health and that of the President. Those votes would become issues in local races, and might cause some seats to change hands, making real debate on censure or impeachment possible in the next Congress.   Owens made fun of this strategy, saying that impeachment can't wait until the Dems have a majority. Either he's pandering (which I sort of respect) or he actually believes this (which would render him a marginal figure like his father). But, Yassky clearly understands how Congress works, and I'm not sure Owens (Sr. or Jr.) does.

Certainly, Owens, although not exactly a product of the working class, has a better understanding of the district, and might be a better Congressman for the majority of his constituents (although his dad is pretty pathetic). But, Yassky offers the possibility of being a better Congressman for the country. As Rabbi Hillel once said, "the rest is commentary". Or, would be, if Yassky  wasn’t  white.


I once watched a member of the State legislature testify before a City Council committee in support of a resolution urging the State Legislature to pass a particular piece of legislation. What a grand circle jerk!

Similarly, the Owens/Yassky debate on the proper method of handling Bush accelerated into heights of the ridiculous when Yassky’s smart idea about Resolutions of inquiry  went down like a lead balloon at candidates forums, where the faithful demanded half baked red meat. Thoughtfulness then went out the window as Yassky then served up some empty calories by introducing a meaningless City Council Resolution in favor of censure. .

Typically, Owens' response upped the ante while lowering the IQ, as he argued that Yassky should have introduced a resolution supporting impeachment instead of censure. Apparently, Owens doesn't mind that Yassky is masturbating on public time; he just thinks that David's milking the wrong dick.

And those are the two smartest guys in the race.