The Homophobe v The Racist: The AG’s Race (Part Two of Three)

In trying to put together a column on the race for Attorney General, I followed my usual method of pulling up all the prior comments I’ve made on this topic from the web. Once I finished my study of the minor candidates in Part One, I deleted all those posts and was left with two piles of garbage; one talking about “Cuomo, Not the Homo” and the other about Freddy Ferrer kissing Al Sharpton’s ass; so much for the majesty of the law.

For the record, I think that both of these rattling closet skeletons amount to far less than meets the eye. However, since mention of one almost begs the question of the other, one wonders about the good sense of both campaigns for keeping these matters alive. And since a fish rots from the head, which seems to be the point in both purported scandals, the fact that these matters have sucked up so much air does not speak well of either of the competitors.

Andrew Cuomo and I are near contemporaries. When I was 19 years old, I was enrolled in college, but rarely, if ever, attended classes. During the summer I worked as a department store cashier and spent the evenings driving around with a beer bottle in one hand and a joint in the other. I also worked my first campaign for pay that year, missing almost a month of classes, and spent one night in a 75 mph chase with a member of the state legislature I caught tearing down posters. I also once had sex in the campaign headquarters. I should note that I was then considered a pretty nerdy kid, as I rarely, if ever, did coke or ludes. 19 years olds may technically be adults, but they do a lot of stupid shit. The person I was at 19 has very little to do with the person I am today (although I will admit to once having sex over the desk of a member of Congress when I was in my thirties).

By contrast, Andrew Cuomo apparently spent the summer of his 19th year running a nearly successful mayoral race in the greatest city in the world.  But, he was still 19, and still did some stupid shit, although there is no conclusive evidence that he had anything to do with the “Vote For Cuomo, Not The Homo” posters which appeared that year. In fact someone else admitted guilt long before Andrew was ever considered a political prospect.  But, even if Andrew was in any way responsible, should we hold this against a 19 year old 29 years later? Given their closeness, if Andrew knew, how could Mario not? And, if Mario knew, how could people outraged in 1977, forgive and back Mario for Governor in 1982 (as did Green supporter Allen Roskoff, the man behind the “Cuomo is a homo-phobo” campaign), and then hold it against Andrew in 2006?

Incidentally, there were also some "Cuomo Not The Homo" citings in 1982 as well, but they were mostly and suspiciously in places like the Far West Village and Soho, and the rest were most likely free-lance. Getting gay liberal votes was a key part of the 1982 Cuomo strategy. Gays were not really part of the 1977 Cuomo target.

Incidentally my favorite piece of anti-Koch gay-baiting in 1977 came from pro-Cuomo (and Cuomo pal) Voice columnist Jack Newfield, who ran an article favorably citing local acts of courage (including one by Mario), and mentioned with favor Koch's outspoken support of gay rights, despite the rumors about his sexuality. This was the first such mention of such rumors in the large circulation mainstream press and a good indication that those, like Roskoff, who seek to blame Andrew, while absolving Mario, are either fools or liars.

Newfield actually appears to have been an acute gay baiter. In his collection of essays from the 60s and early 70s, “Bread and Roses Too”, he tempers his criticism of LSD use by noting the drug had benefits as a possible cure for homosexuality. In the 1990s, he criticized the TV show “Crossfire”, for hiring the “effete” (yet straight) Michael Kinsley to represent the liberal viewpoint rather than someone more “athletic” (ironically, Newfield’s suggested choice was Mark Green).

Of course, while campaigns run by 19 year old can do stupid shit, campaigns run by older pols are likewise not immune. During the 2001 runoff for the Democratic mayoral primary, the campaign of Mark Green’s opponent, Freddy Ferrer, distributed flyers in black areas reminding voters that Ferrer was endorsed by Al Sharpton, while in white areas, Green’s campaign distributed flyers which did the same. No one questioned Ferrer’s right to do this, but if it was racist to point out that Sharpton was supporting a candidate, then the leading Klansmen in 2001 would have been Roberto Ramirez and Freddy Ferrer, who, in front of the right audience, never failed to remind folks who Sharpton was backing.

Was it racist to remind white voters of the same? Al Sharpton is a polarizing figure among white voters, not because of the color of his skin, but because of the content of his character. Let’s consider a few examples from his track record: Fat Freddy's fire; Tawana Brawley; “Diamond merchants”; etc, etc. Similar efforts in Brooklyn campaigns to tie candidates to less controversial black pols, solely for the purpose of reminding voters that their opposition was supported by some black people (whose only crime was “endorsing while black”) have, in recent years, failed miserably (and if “Phoebe Sturgeon” or anyone else wants to debate this, I’ll be happy to send them the names of candidates, dates, addresses, and the political operatives in question who were caught red handed by eye witnesses). Al Sharpton is a sleazebag (and often, and not coincidentally, a Republican shill); it was not racist for the Green campaign to raise this issue.

What it was was stupid and, ultimately, counterproductive. The lit itself featured a  NY Post cartoon of Ferrer kissing Sharpton’s ass, and the images were so grotesque as to be arguably racist themselves. Although, would a similar caricature of Carl Andrews kissing Clarence Norman’s ass, distributed by Chris Owens, be considered racist? What if he only distributed it in Park Slope? Would the answer change if it was Yassky who distributed it instead of Owens?

The flyers were clearly distasteful to the point of nauseating, and, as any idiot could have forseen, the backlash they created cost Green big in the end. Green’s campaign made efforts to hide their involvement in the flyers because they knew that distributing a Sharpton piece would cause outrage, some feigned and some sincere. That alone should have stopped them from distributing it.  I believe that, with or without that repulsive cartoon, any piece raising the Sharpton question, even if it featured quotes from, and a picture of, Michael Meyers, would have generated the same outrage. So my question is, is any criticism of Sharpton per se racist? Anyone who says no makes the piece's purported racism a matter of debate over increments. Anyone who says yes has pretty much removed themselves from the rational world and need not be answered.

Yes, one can make the argument that ethnic and racial based targeting is per se racist, but Ferrer didn't send his Sharpton endorsement piece to even the most liberal white areas; if he had, he would have been doing Green's GOTV for him. As I’ve noted, Ferrer and Green both did a "Sharpton endorses Ferrer" piece; they just dropped it in different areas. And if Green just reprinted Ferrer's piece, and his campaign semi-plausibly stated that Ferrer's folks must have gotten lost and made an error, would that have been racist too? Or just smarter?

It's not anti-Semitic to tell people they should oppose Ralph Reed because of his association with Jack Abramoff. I dislike Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson's positions on a variety of social issues. Since they are not merely preaching against engaging in certain activities (which may be a matter of sincere religious obligation, and certainly none of my business) but asking the government to legislatively proscribe those activities (which is certainly and legitimately a matter of my personal concern), it is perfectly legitimate to raise their support of a candidate as an issue against that candidate. If I have a picture of John McCain hugging Jerry Falwell, and I distribute it on Christopher Street, am I to be accused of being "anti-Christian"?

One doubts Green knew about the piece. This is the sort of thing campaigns do without telling the candidate; it’s the job of campaigns to do such things without telling the candidate, and the larger the playing field, the less likely the candidate is to know (unless the candidate and his campaign manager are anal retentives in the manner of Mario and Andrew Cuomo).  Certainly, Green could have taken stronger action afterwards, but that was more about damage control than morality. I would have not distributed the cartoon. But if portraying Freddy as being Sharpton's Siamese twin was a crime, then we should jail the entire Ferrer campaign. Ferrer’s chickens came home to roost. Of course, so did Green's. To the extent Green deserved to pay a price for this piece, he already has.

Perhaps the unspoken objection is that Green stood in the way of minority empowerment. How ironic that the beneficiary of this anger should be Andrew Cuomo, who four years ago ran a campaign to stop a black man supported by the party establishment from becoming the Democratic nominee for governor. Is Cuomo being granted absolution for the same crime because, like Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler", he knew when to fold 'em? Or is Mark Green being punished dispropotionately because, despite its egregious stupidity, his campaign for Mayor proved more competent than Andrew Cuomo's campaign for Governor? And, in any event, is this any way to chose an Attorney General?

The issue of the flyers refuses to go away, thanks not only to Cuomo supporters looking to keep all Green related wounds open and well-salted, and Ferrer friends more interested in who’s not elected AG than who is, but also by a District Attorney investigating whether the $250,000 extorted from the Green campaign during the runoff by Clarence Norman paid for these flyers.  To me the most interesting part of this theory is the idea that some campaign gave Clarence Norman $250,000 and actually got something for the money. Sorry, but the whole thing's just not plausible. The money for the distribution of the flyers must have come from a different source.

Green’s campaign blames the recent press coverage of this matter on Cuomo, citing the longtime connection between Brooklyn DA Joe Hynes and Mario. But, the Hynes-Cuomo connection fell apart long, long ago. Hynes never forgives anyone for anything, and in 1994 Mario Cuomo gave Joe Hynes the worst screwing of his career, making sure he didn't get 25% at state committee and forcing him to petition for AG. Hynes acolytes like Lew Fidler (who is supporting Green) have never forgiven the Cuomos; why would Hynes? For the Irish, 12 years in the life of a grudge means it's barely reached its adolescence. It will be a long time before Hynes does Cuomo a favor.

I'd say that if Joe's intent is to help any horse in this race, it ain't Cuomo, it's Pirro. Hynes may even have concluded that the Press would lay his actions at Andrew's feet, allowing him to screw over an old and dear enemy, while appearing to be attempting to do exactly the opposite, and simultaneously damaging both Democratic front runners at once, while helping out his old friend and law enforcement colleague. The Press was very quick to blame Cuomo for something clearly not within his power to accomplish (although I'm pretty sure that if Andrew could have accomplished something like this, he'd have done so in a heartbeat). Or perhaps Hynes was/is frustrated that the Green money path of the Norman investigation came to a dead end, and just became petulant when Green dismissed the investigation as so much history. It's not unknown for Joe to be petulant (rather, it’s unknown for Hynes not to be petulant), and that too is a better explanation than that he did it for Andrew. Joe Hynes wouldn't piss down Andrew Cuomo’s throat if his heart were on fire (although he'd probably volunteer to do it for any other reason, or no reason at all).

To the extent that this Sharpton piece may have violated campaign finance laws, it is a legitimate subject of investigation, and by all means let's prosecute the perpetrators (who I suspect operated out of Boerum Hill rather than Crown Heights). However, to the extent this piece offended someone's sensibilities, it is not a crime, and the DA has no business judging it on its tasteless contents. Even if one considers the lit racist; without the campaign finance angle, it would not be a legitimate subject for prosecution. And, with the campaign finance violation (and possible Clarence connection), it would be a legitimate subject for prosecution, even if the lit itself was without controversy. No one has connected Green personally with the campaign finance stuff; the DA has now given him a clean bill of health. Perhaps all of this raises legitimate concerns about Green’s management style. But, I’ve yet to hear the issue raised in that context, except as an excuse to insinuate about other matters. Let’s move on.