I recently highlighted in my first piece: the fact that New York Democrats with this election year (and past ones) have a huge advantage regarding party enrollment alone. In other words —there are many more registered Democrats—than Republicans.
I added: “New York is as true blue as the uniforms of the NY Giants.”
One comment response brought up a very good point:
“If NY was so true blue how do you explain THREE terms of Pataki, two terms of Giuliani and three Bloombergs?”
I thought well that's a valid issue that requires an answer. How did these three republicans win in New York and then have the nerve to pull off re-election.
-The Power of being an Incumbent.
-To a degree Racial Politics.
Power of Incumbency
Unless there is some special circumstance, it’s very, very difficult to defeat an incumbent. General rule of thumb: once elected—-it’s tough to take that person out. Being an Incumbent greatly helped Bloomberg, Giuliani and Pataki and of course the three of them trying to appear more moderate and running away from party labels. Wouldn't you if you were in their shoes and you wanted to get re-elected.
Let me go off point for a moment. Just look at the “old” New York City Council before term limits. It was nearly impossible to defeat an incumbent. Folks were in the council 20 years, and then basically in some cases, passed on the council seat to their children. Of course, all in the name of that new individual was the “best qualified person” in the district to hold the seat. No, let’s tell the truth. It was a stacked deck.
There’s the argument that the best term limits are the voters themselves on election day. When they—the voters– are fed up—and have had enough, out of office you go. But, again using the old city council, it was nearly impossible for an opponent to even get on the ballot—and more impossible to survive the court challenge of their necessary petition signatures. I always personally found the game regarding signatures to be very undemocratic and sad—but those are the rules. In my opinion—the challenge on signatures is not about preventing fraud —-but more about knocking an opponent off the ballot. "Community Organizer" Barack Obama himself probably under the old system would not have been able to stay on the ballot for NYC council. Of couse, this was all before the current city Campaign Finance Laws regarding generous public matching funds. I will come back to specifically being an incumbent in a moment.
For any politician in America when it comes to their popularity polls, the magical number they are looking for is plus-50 percent. Any number higher than that is great. Anything lower than 50 percent means voters are not happy with them. Look out!!! Voter Fatigue with that elected official. WARNING, WARNING!!!Plainly stated when an electorate is sick of a politician—traditional politics are no longer at play. Party loyalty is out the window—and in the case of the republicans mentioned—they were able to ease right into office. Now let’s look one by one at Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki, and Michael Bloomberg.
For Political Insiders—you don’t need me to remind you that running for office Rudy Giuliani was one of the highest profile U.S attorney’s ever. A walking “sound bite” in the big media crime fighting spotlight of— U.S. Attorney for the Southern District—back in the 1980’s. Earning national acclaim for his prosecution of organized crime figures, drug kingpins, and white collar criminals.
Things are changing now—President Obama—but when looking at Giuliani’s rise to power—traditional political rules go out the window because he was up against an African American in the race. I’m not playing the race card by any means, but if you don’t believe they are different variables— just go ask President Obama’s guy—David Axelrod about whether different rules are at play when a race includes an African American. By the way, the roster of Axelrod’s clients includes Carol Moseley-Braun, the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate; Dan Archer, the first black mayor of Detroit and first African- American president of the American Bar Association; Lee Brown, first black mayor of Houston and one of our former police commissioners., Obama’s senate run, and Deval Patrick’s race for governor in Massachusetts. The bottom line: the key to Axelrod’s success in electing African-American candidates has been his ability to sell them to white voters.
Even with the hysteria of New York electing David Dinkins—it’s first African American Mayor—- people waiting on line to vote—senior citizens standing on line to take part in history—voting for the very first time, Dinkins still barely won.
One would think Dinkins could have served as Mayor for life. (This was before term limits) So how did Republican Giuliani win in his rematch four short years later against Dinkins in this overwhelming democratic “blue” city?
Well, Dinkins like mayor Abe Beame was dealt a bad hand in terms of the budget. Dinkins was not able to “be a good news” mayor when it comes to the money. He faced a 1.8 billion deficit when he entered office—and the economy remained sluggish throughout his term—Of course Dinkins was sharply criticized for his handling of racial strife in Crown Heights, the boycott of a Korean Grocer in Brooklyn—and the civil unrest in Washington Heights.
But in fairness, remember Rudy was no ordinary politician. The guy knew how to work it. Certainly not with his run for President but at the time, he was only the **second Republican** re-elected as NYC mayor since Fiorello LaGuardia. Rudy even brought LaGuardia’s desk back to his office. He knew how to play to his base. That may not have been good news for the minority community of NYC, but Rudy played to the people that put him in office, and overtime sold everyone else(defined as a majority of the electorate) with his results.
Let me just also say this. In politics what you see in public is often not the case in private.
Rudy’s image in public was tough as nails—downright mean—–but in private I never had that experience with him. At his press conferences, Rudy and I would go after each other and that’s putting it mildly—but what the public didn’t know is we met privately with each other several times, and talked via telephone numerous times privately as well. Let me give you another example of public/private relationships…Giuliani and Rev. Al Sharpton are polar opposites— but several times they have privately shared laughs with each other—and even cigars at a private exclusive club.
So how did Republican Rudy get a second term in Democratic NYC?
Bottom line: Does an elected official deliver? At best in 1997, Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger (a good person who has done a lot for the city) was token opposition for Giuliani, and everybody loves “a winner.” Rudy had an unprecedented coalition of city political, religious, and union leaders that crossed party lines to endorse him. More importantly —- drugs and crime had been hitting cities all across America. NY was considered ungovernable—and the city under Rudy’s first term had experienced an unprecedented 44 percent drop in overall crime and a 61 percent drop in murder, making New York the safest large city in America. I repeat the safest large city in America.
How did Republican George Pataki get three terms in New York?
Sometimes Politics is all about being the right person at the right time. Pataki is Mr. “ABC” himself—and a clear illustration of the power of Incumbency—and voter fatigue. ABC meant “Anybody but Cuomo.” Mario Cuomo (the father of current Attorney General Andrew Cuomo/soon to be candidate for Governor) may have been a Democratic Icon to the country. A plane may have been on the tarmac should he made the last minute decision to run for President or later, accept a seat on Bill Clinton’s Supreme Court—but voters in this state grew tired of the three term Cuomo—and Pataki the little know official from Peekskill New York pulled out the victory. Pataki never got the credit he deserved for being a “smart” politician. Smart is defined right now solely as his ability to get re-elected and govern as a republican in a democratic state. He was also smart for not dividing his party. Being one of the few officials running for Governor in recent memory to receive the endorsements of the Republican Party and the Conservative Party. Pataki was at the right place at the right time. While in office—after taking a pounding in the polls for his first year—Pataki was able to work with democratic friendly unions like local Health Care union 1199 and it’s powerful leader Dennis Rivera. That move alone may not have been in the best financial sense of New York State and the watchdog groups cried foul—-but moves like that was a slam duck for Pataki to serving three terms. Pataki in the end was someone who saw the hand-writing on the wall. Deciding among other reasons that the party enrollment advantage for Democrats would do him in. Pataki would have to run for re-election against a powerful Attorney General. Some guy by the name Elliot Spitzer who had a record. Spitzer, know as the sheriff of Wall Street had even been on the television show “60 minutes.” Pataki decided “no mas.”
The fact of the matter is if the democrats didn’t shoot each other in the foot—Chances are, today we would only know Bloomberg as a very successful businessman. The first time around Democrats Mark Green and Fernando Ferrer couldn’t play nice with each other and to a large degree Mr. Green made the terrible mistake that as the Democratic nominee he was already the mayor. That assumption lead to Bloomberg easing right in. Building on Mayor Lindsay, “there is not a democratic or republican way to pick up garbage,” Bloomberg continuing the record drop in crime at the NYPD under commissioner Ray Kelley—-Bloomberg fate was also almost guaranteed a second term simply because he wasn’t considered as mean as Rudy. The guy opened the door to black leaders and in the re-election campaign—Fernando Ferrer struggled. Once a candidate has:
1) The bully pulpit of being mayor—a press corps paying attention to his every word every day.
2) The ability to give out election year budget goodies. (2 million to this community—300,000 to that group)
3) Did I mention the millions of his own to spend on his campaign. (smile)
Under those circumstances it’s hard to defeat an incumbent. Plus let’s face it, Bloomberg has always had a wink-wink relationship with the city —-you know sort of like “I’m really a democrat but had to switch party labels to get elected. “
But hats off to Bill Thompson —Many times over private dinners before the campaign—and during, I would directly ask Bill if he was out of his mind taking on Bloomberg who had not only a ton of money AND at same time Thompson’s hands were tied with the spending caps limits of the campaign Finance system. If that wasn’t enough, Bloomberg had a record to run on. To Thompson’s credit—he always vowed he could actually win. Thompson and I would repeat this two step for months:
“Bill you can’t win”—
To his reply—
“Yes I can.“
In the end, as far as I’m concerned–Thompson was correct.
Look at what this man was up against. The White House sold him down the river—-and so did many democrats. If that wasn’t enough the money dried up.
He didn’t win the race for mayor—but boy did Thompson give Mayor Mike a run for his money. Personally, I will never forget with all he had going on election day, Bill Thompson called me to say hello and see how I was doing. He didn’t brag on the telephone that he was going toe to toe with Bloomberg. He didn’t say Dominic I was right and you were wrong. He was headed to the Bronx for a last minute get out the vote rally—and the entire conversation, Thompson was calling to see how a friend in need was doing.
I would also like to point out that Thompson was different in one major aspect than 99 percent of elected officials I have covered. Not once—-never during the campaign or to this day, did Thompson complain of my press coverage of him. I went into the campaign—to a degree with a heavy heart—-knowing that I would have to “call em” the way I saw them in the race for mayor—and Thompson was the underdog. But the guy never complained, and I tip my hat to him because I don’t know if I could have done the same thing.
On a professional level—I understand why the white house treated him they way they did—They thought Bloomberg would cruise to re-election and that the President has a great working relationship with Bloomberg—but on a personal level—I thought the White House treated Thompson in a very unfair way—making the man basically beg for the backing from a fellow democrat, (the first African American President) and then no photo opportunity with the President and positive words for Bloomberg.
Talk about raining on ones parade! But God doesn't like ugly. It's funny how life works. Look at Thompson now. He's the leading candidate in the next race for mayor. I know! I know! It's a long time away—but I would rather be in Thompson's shoes right now than any other Democratic contender.
To come full circle. Giuliani, Bloomberg, and Pataki— All three knew how to "work it."
Today I also appeared on Curtis Sliwa's radio show discussing the Race for Governor. AM 970. Had fun