Push all the sanctimony aside, and the race for Assembly in the 54th AD consists of three ciphers; two of who were handpicked by committees of Party hacks.
By contrast, the third candidate was picked by her dad, who is a bit of a party hack himself.
I am fond of saying, in one form or another, that politics is a cynical business, but that cynics are the fallen idealists.
In subjecting our ideals to the realities of the world, we often suffer moments of cognitive dissonance which we must allow to be the occasion for reexamination, re-evaluation and renewal, in a process of thesis/antithesis/synthesis, so that our sometimes contradictory fundamental beliefs have the chance to interact both with each other and our own personal experiences and evolve accordingly into an altered worldview more accurately reflecting how we really think, if we ever really gave it any thought.
Coming as I do from the left of center, I think it is problematic when the received wisdom of the hard left catechism is allowed to triumph over a lifetime of hard earned lessons. I tend to think that left wing received wisdom is like chicken soup; some beliefs could often benefit if subjected to clarification, whereby the useless, albeit tasty, fat is discarded leaving an end product which is far healthier.
Like any other species, liberals and leftists must evolve or become extinct.
But this presumes that we all start from somewhere a bit lofty, before we begin the perilous process which sometimes make that loftiness into something useful, but often turns into something sour.
Let me be clear. This is not the problem with Rafael Espinal.
A bright and talented young man who seems committed to his community, Rafael Espinal is no fallen idealist.
In “The Magnificent Ambersons”, Joseph Cotton speaks these words from the pen of Booth Tarkington as adapted for the screen by Orson Welles:
“At twenty-one or twenty-two, so many things appear solid, permanent, and terrible, which forty sees as nothing but disappearing miasma. Forty can't tell twenty about this. Twenty can find out only by getting to be forty”
That is not Rafael Espinal either.
The problem with Rafael Espinal is that he is a young man in his twenties, who seems never to have acquired any of a young man’s ideals.
It is as if Rafael Espinal started out at forty, and one shudders what the dream altering lessons of age will do to the beliefs of a young man who believes in nothing.
Though he may very well have never been there, Rafael Espinal personifies the problem with Albany in a nutshell: he essentially admits he cares nothing about making Sodom on the Hudson a better place.
Instead, Espinal promises to just do what the Speaker wants and reap the rewards:
“Well, I’m fresh and honestly, my focus in the first year would not be making changes in ethics reforms. First comes my neighborhood, so I’m going to focus on repaving my streets, making sure the graffiti’s gone. Maybe after a few years, after I get there, I can start worrying about the troubles that Albany’s having…once I get in, I’m looking to have a sit-down with the Speaker. Hopefully I’ll be able to come out to him the right way and work with him and let him know that I’m here for him and that he understands and knows what the community needs. And just work with him. Hopefully he would be able to take care of me and the community”.
In the early seventies, “Congress Watch”, a Ralph Nader project staffed by the likes of Mark Green, published a study of Congress, in which Manhattan’s Ed Koch, pretty much the group’s model of an ideal public servant, explained that Congressional votes divided into three groups. There were moral issues, on which one voted their conscience; areas in which one had special expertise, in which one followed their intellectual conclusions; and all other issues, where one tried to vote in a manner reflecting what their constituents would do if they possessed all the facts.
Naturally, there are other decision making models. There is, for example, the “what are you offering me?” model.
I would regard it as incredibly elitist to argue that it was illegitimate for a representative from a poor district to use virtually every opportunity which presented itself to cut the best deal for his constituents.
This is undoubtedly the model Ed Towns sees himself as following.
Espinal’s model, based more on good soldiers like Gunga Din, may seem a bit different than a constant “for rent” sign, but it is a variation on the same theme.
The most revealing comment about Espinal came during a controversy about some contributions he’s gotten from a controversial landlord.
Cornered by a reporter, Espinal said “"My job is to campaign. I don't screen every dollar that I receive,"
And that is it in a nutshell.
For Espinal, this is a job.
Rafael Espinal works for someone. He fulfills the function he is paid to do and does not violate union rules. It is the function of others to collect the money and determine policy.
Still, there would seem to be limits being a Nuremberg candidate, just following orders and doing his job.
And with Rafael Espinal, we have no hint what such limits are.
Even the poorest districts have the right to occasionally expect their representative to vote their conscience; say, on matters like abortion and LGBT rights.
Say what you want about Ruben Diaz, at least one knows where he stands.
By contrast, where Rafael Espinal stands seems mostly a matter of with whom he’s sitting at the time.
Espinal told Brooklyn Conservative Party Chair Jerry Kassar (a frank man of some integrity) that he was anti-abortion and opposed to same sex marriage; but he also signed a Working Families Party questionnaire in which he said the opposite.
Let’s be clear, the WFP is perfectly willing to endorse anti-choice and/or anti-LGBT candidates, even when the race contains others better on those issues (see their endorsements last year of Bill Stachowski and Shirley Huntley), but they’re never really happy about it.
And Espinal does not like making powerful people unhappy, though there is every reason to believe Espinal did not actually read the WFP questionnaire before he signed it.
That was not his job.
In this case, Espinal’s sponsors, the socially liberal Dilan subsidiary of the Lopez Corporation, found they had handpicked an-anti Same Sex Marriage right to lifer for the Assembly.
This was not a purposeful effort to get Chuck Barron to switch sides; it was, rather, an inconvenience.
I understand that it is not impossible for a socially conservative candidate to win an election in turf like the 54th AD.The entire advantage of letting the bosses pick the candidate is supposed to be that they don’t let stuff like that happen.
Last we heard from Espinal, he was saying he was “pro-choice,” but a better term might be “multiple choice.”
On same sex marriage, Espinal’s spokesman explained that his pro-and anti answers were not contradictory, as same sex marriage was now the law, and as an elected official, Espinal would be sworn to uphold the law.
So, in other words, on LGTB issues, Espinal is a true progressive: he goes both ways.
But at least Rafael Espinal wants to run for Assembly.
Here’s what Deidra Towns chose to say about herself in her Google profile, before it occurred to her she’s be running for public office:
“At first glance easy to overlook, literally. But there's more here than meets the eye. Likes to recede into the background and observe. But when the right song comes on…dances til they turn the lights on and put us out. Information junkie…always learning…growing…evolving. Stimulation starts between the ears. But loves to use the 5 senses and the other ones most people haven't yet discovered. Raised flirtation to an art form. Spends way too much time teetering on the edge. Not easy to connect with but once you're in the inner circle, fiercely loyal. Patient to a fault. Always willing to listen with a non-judgmental ear. Truth seeker, change agent, builder. Loves all things of beauty and can find the beauty in the mundane.”
As I’ve documented, Deidra Towns’ Assembly race is someone else’s Plan C.
Plan A is that Ed Towns would support Erik Dilan for Assembly, which would open up Dilan’s Council seat, probably for Manny Burgos (currently ineligible for the Assembly seat), who I’d back in a heartbeat.
Plan B was that the Dilans could pick whoever and whatever they wanted for the Assembly, provided Ed Towns got to be the District Leader.
The problem with these plans is that they were Ed Towns’ ideas, and the Dilan family had all the guns.
Towns’ last bluff was that he’d run his daughter for Assembly, and that there’d be other Latinos in the race.
For reasons I’ve outlined in some detail elsewhere, this was supposed to cause Marty Dilan to emit a primal scream from the bowels of his very soul, since electing a Latino to the Bushwick/Cypress Hills Assembly seat has arguably been Marty Dilan’s White Whale for at least 35 years.
But then Dilans called ET’s bluff, and ET ran his daughter.
And, there’s another Latino in the race. Fancy that.
Gonzalez might have been encouraged to run to be a rabbit, but that is clearly not Gonzalez’s intention and it is clearly not the WFP’s—if Gonzalez is being run to split the vote, then no one let the WFP in on the joke, and they are taking no prisoners.
With one notable exception, nearly the entirety of Deidra Towns’ relevant experience for the job she seeks consists of patronage positions seemingly acquired by her through the good offices of her daddy.
Though she has no discernible record in the community, Ms. Towns actually comes off as relatively articulate, and endowed with some maturity and life experience one wishes was also possessed by the two blanks slate she is running against.
But, it might help if that experience came coupled with a greater interest in politics and government and some achievements therein.
Then there is the matter of ethnicity. If Deidra Towns were a demonstrably superior candidate, I would happily consider backing her against a Latino in a Latino seat.
But, in the absence of such demonstrable superiority, I’m inclined to think that cultural affinity with the bulk of one’s constituents is a legitimate quality to be considered.
Which bring us to perhaps the most overrated Messiah figure of 2011:
Jesus Gonzalez, Superstar.
There is no doubt that Gonzalez is a bright young man with a commendable record of activism.
But it is a record which seems not to have involved any interest in electoral politics or the day to day matters of governance.
Registered to vote in 2004, Jesus Gonzalez could not be bothered to vote in the Bloomberg/Ferrer race, or the Spitzer/Faso race.
In two of the last three elections, he could not muster enough interest to lend his vote to his prime sponsor, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez.
The candidate of the Working Families Party, Gonzalez could not be bothered to vote for Bill DeBlasio or John Liu in their 2009 primary of runoff election or Eric Schneiderman in either his 2010 primary or close general election.
Most tellingly, Gonzalez could not be bothered to vote in the election to determine who would hold the Assembly seat for which term he now seeks to hold the balance of.
Does Gonzalez believe that DeBlasio and Schneiderman were not worth supporting? Will he say it for the record?
If Gonzalez’s WFP supporters do not consider a candidate’s lack of voting participation relevant, then why did they keep raising the issue against Schneiderman’s prime primary opponents, Kathleen Rice?
When someone with no prior interest in the issues of governance or electoral suddenly gets plucked out of nowhere to run in an election, the suspicion must arise that they are a cipher and a sock puppet.
Gonzalez’s performance in debates does not alter this conclusion. When not repeating his bio, Gonzalez merely spews pre-chewed WFP talking points, ad infinitum, even when they are unrelated to the question.
Asked about term limits, Gonzalez talks about campaign financing; asked about bringing jobs to the district, he talks about the Millionaire’s Tax.
Left to his own devices, this supposed candidate of process reform and good government liberalism talks about electing the School’s Chancellor.
The press loves the “Jesus is the Messiah” narrative so much, that this race might be called the Miracle of Turning Water into Kool-Aid.
Colby Hamilton’s most recent article is a case in point.
Hamilton notes that Gonzalez is backed by ”The New Kings Democrats,” and however much NKD are rich white outsiders, they are also genuinely reformist, if sometimes painfully out of touch (NKD Leader Lincoln Restler recently wrote about the special election selection process with such vitriol that one practically had to put a gun to his head to get him to admit that David Weprin was preferable to Bob Turner).
But Hamilton’s article makes Gonzalez’s employer, “Make the Road by Walking” (presumably in Gonzalez’s case, on water) look like candidates for sainthood, when in the mode of both the WFP and the Vito Lopez-associated Ridgewood-Bushwick empire, there are interlocking directorates between the Gonzalez campaign and “Make the Road” which seem stunning in their audacity (though on a far smaller scale than those who they ape).
Then there is Hamilton’s portrait of the role of Congresswoman Velazquez:
“…who supporters say has long sought a coalition of progressive reformers in Brooklyn.”
And Espinal’s supporters say he is “pro-choice.” Whatever.
While Nydia has been a constant and unremitting Vito Lopez enemy for at least two and a half decades, it is questionable how one could mistake her for a “Reformer.”
Velazquez was originally the political creation of convicted Councilman Luis Olmedo and non-(as opposed to anti-) reform Congressman Ed Towns.
In 1984, Councilman Luis Olmedo was convicted on corruption charges, and was replaced by a vote of the City Council (the way it was then done) by Velazquez, then a Town aide widely rumored to be Olmedo’s girlfriend (although another Councilmember’s name also comes up).
This was done despite the fact that some witnesses at the Council's hearing questioned whether Velazquez was a legal resident of the District, as required by law, and Velazquez responded that she had moved to the area earlier that month.
Velazquez was once so tied to ET that back in the 90s she held up an endorsement of Dave Dinkins’ re-election on the pretext that Latinos were under represented on the Navy Yard Board, and that she be given a slot to fill.
Once Dinkins caved, Nydia chose Bill Banks, who is not Latino but was a longtime hack crony of Towns’.
Over the years, Nydia’s anti-Lopez allies have included the likes of hack former State Senator and nursing home magnate Nellie Santiago (defeated by Marty Dilan at precisely the time she was trying to make an Amigo-type deal with Joe Bruno).
When Velazquez was running for Congress, her mentors were Marty Connor (not that there's anything wrong with that) and Pat Lynch.
In 1999, Velazquez tried to beat Lopez's blue ribbon choice for Judge, well respected legal services attorney Wayne Saitta, by running someone found unqualified by every Bar screening panel in town; failing to get her turkey on the ballot, she joined with Towns and the Hasids in backing the Conservative Party candidate, landlord lawyer Gerry Dunbar (one of the brain behind Marty Golden’s election to the State Senate against a Democratic incumbent).
It was never about who would make the better judge; it was about showing Nydia respect because she was "THE CONGRESSWOMAN."
But the more she demanded respect in that manner, the less she deserved it.
Her non-Lopez efforts at “reform” include trying to impose her husband (as he was then), a political printer, as a member of the City Council, over the far more qualified Steve Banks, Jack Carroll, Bill DeBlasio and Craig Hammerman.
I happen to think Velazquez has been an excellent member of Congress at the community level, and far preferable to Vito Lopez; but a reformer she ain't.
Hamilton is a bit better in reporting in the WFP’s troubles.
As I’ve noted before, in different forms, the Working Families Party is little more than a union-based effort to game the campaign finance laws for fun and profit, in an effort to win friends and influence people and policy.
The WFP’s shenanigans, whether barely legal, or transgressive of the applicable statutes, assault the intent of campaign finance laws in at least three distinct ways.
They allow candidates to elude both the contribution and spending limits embodied in the law; they transform any attempt at transparency into an unventilated hookah bar; and, in NYC elections, they create the potential for abuse of taxpayer dollars by potentially allowing candidates to undeservedly access matching funds.
Now, in the post Citizens United age, I can hear a few of you saying that since the Republicans are using every available means to elude campaign finance laws and finance totally non-transparent efforts on behalf of their favored candidates, shouldn’t we do the same?
I prefer changing the laws.
The WFP also wants to change the laws, saying they favor “Real Campaign Finance Reform,” which is a bit like Phil Spector saying he favors “Real Gun Control.”
In the City especially, the WFP uses its quasi-secret apparatus in primaries between and among Democrats, interfering in our internal affairs and giving some candidates unfair advantages.
In fact, the entire purpose of the Working Families Party is to win Democratic Party primaries. The coalition of groups formed for this purpose has chosen the “legal fiction” (to the extent that such activities may prove legal) of forming a fictitious “political party” to allow the party shell to serve as a vehicle for the laundering of money in order to elude limits on contributions and spending, obscure their sources, and take maximum advantage of matching funds
As I’ve previously reported, the Working Families Party also endeavors to game the land use process and put its thumb on the scales by extracting pledges from candidates about appointment to bodies which are supposed evaluate land use projects according to neutral empirical criteria.
In order to maintain its power, the WPF operates like a lion picking out races like they are weak elk, in order to make shows of strength and scare others into submission.
Others times, the WFP often kisses up to power. Last year,Andrew Cuomo refused the Working Families line until they agreed to knuckle under and publicly support positions that they considered to be anathema. They agreed to do so because they knew they would not attain 50,000 votes, and thereby retain their position on the ballot, if they did not have Cuomo on their line.
In 2009, they sucked up to Vito Lopez, endorsing two Council candidates supported by Vito Lopez in Lopez’s zone of primary influence: Lopez’s Chief of Staff, Steve Levin and Lopez’s handpicked co-District Leader Maritza Davila (against incumbent Diana Reyna).
Perhaps coincidentally, Vito endorsed Bill DeBlasio.
After losing the Democratic Primary, Davila then ran a full scale campaign on the WFP line.
But this year, reeling from rumors of scandal and weak health, it is Vito Lopez who looks like the weak elk and the WFP is primed to strike.
There are other reasons Gonzalez makes me uncomfortable including his support from the incredibly insincere Chuckles Barron.
Inez Barron's husband explained his support thusly:
“We can’t have people getting elected just because of their last name.”
Chuckles also opines:
“And Vito, please. I would never support anyone Vito has control over.”
This shortly thereafter Inez voted for Erik Dilan, who won his Council seat by virtue of his last name, and who Vito has control over, against Ed Towns, who, whatever else can be said about him, Vito does not have control over.
One wonders what Barron's problem with Vito actually is, since he not only supports Vito's choice for Dsitrict Leader, but has used Vito's Ridgewood-Bushwick as a model for his own empire's Man-Up.
In other words, I’m not enamored with any of these choices.
Others agree; at least privately. Here is the private thought of one person very prominent among Brooklyn “reformers”:
“It would indeed be hysterical if Jesus wins (love that phrase …), but the WFP would be insufferable.”
But fairly soon thereafter, this person answered in the affirmative the question pparaphrased by Alec Baldwin:
"Have you made your decision for Jesus?"
And so have I; count me as another Jew for Jesus.
If Rafael Espinal were a Republican Presidential candidate, his utter lack of any guiding principles would be a good thing, making him far less scary than his opposition.
But here the alternatives are somewhat better.
Jesus Gonzalez actually seems to believe in some things, most of them OK or at least inoffensive, and he seems to have a good heart. He’s young and smart and might actually learn something. He offers a modicum of hope.
In the worst case scenario, in which Gonzalez is just as much a cipher for the WFP as Espinal is for Lopez (and I don’t rule that out), Gonzalez at least offer pluralism—someone in East Brooklyn representing a different power center.
Pluralism is not the same as democracy or independence, but in East Brooklyn today, it probably the most we can hope for.
If I was convinced Deidra Towns was in the best position to beat Espinal, I’d probably endorse her. But, though, I may be wrong, I think she’s running third.
But, if I’m wrong, it is because Jesus dividing the Latino vote makes her viable, so helping Jesus is no sin.
And, even in a tie, I’d opt for Gonzalez—this district is long overdue for Latino representation, and in the absence of a demonstrably superior non-Latino, or one with a demonstrably better shot at victory, the tie goes to the Latino.
Gatemouth endorses Jesus Gonzalez.