Cat's Cradle (First of Two Parts)
KURT VONNEGUT: A granfalloon is a proud and meaningless association of human beings.
I have not for decades felt the need to cite a quotation from the master of making the whimsical seem profound; not at least since the day long ago when I made the adolescent-switch away from airplane glue to pleasures more organic. Now, having made the adult-change-of-life-switch in drug of choice from alcohol to Zetia, I find myself compelled to once again quote Kurt, in an effort to make the profound seem whimsical.
So it goes (though the line belongs to Vonnegut, I prefer to attribute it to Nick Lowe).
I have long been a outspoken partisan Democrat and an outspoken advocate of punishment for those who transgress such loyalties.To cite some examples, in 2005, in the infancy of my career as a blogger, I criticized Vito Lopez, upon his becoming County Leader of the Brooklyn Democrats (even while largely comparing him favorably to his predecessor), for his past support of Republicans. The same year, I asked people to cast a vote for Green Party lunatic Gloria Mattera in order to punish Marty Markowitz for his endorsement of Mayor Bloomberg (link now lost to history, but Markowitz remembers it like yesterday).
In 2007, I criticized two Democratic District Leaders for endorsing a Republican candidate for Judge, even though that Republican was in all likelihood superior. I did so because as party officials, they were duty bound to respect the decision made by the Democratic voters in that Judicial District to give their party’s nomination to a less than reputable candidate. I thought that, if they could not fulfill their fiduciary duty, they could best make their point by a resignation in principle, and I said so. I also thought that, by doing what they did, they would provide cover (“you thought it was Okay when Perfetto did it”) to those Democrats who chose to endorse Republicans in races where the choice between good and evil was a lot more clear.In 2008, I urged Democrats on the Upper West Side to vote out a Democratic State Committee member who had endorsed Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election. Happily, the voters complied with my wishes.
My most ardent expressions have been on behalf of the State Senate Democrats, whose efforts to obtain a majority have played a large part in my professional life since 1982. In 2006, I did several articles (most of them linked from this one) documenting the causes of the failure of the Sen Dems to pick up more seats and naming those in the party who had failed to do what I saw as their duty. In 2007, I began an aborted series called the“Joe Bruno Democrats” exposing collaborators who had worked in 2002 to help the Senate Republicans beat an incumbent Democrat. I aborted the series because of threats made by one of its more right wing targets, but not before earning the enmity of much of the party left for exposing a born-again liberal for the lying poseur that he was. I predicted the perfidy of the “Amigos” way in advance of anyone and was unrelenting in documenting their perfidy (I’d link all the others, but it would take all night to do so).I was practically the only centrist Democratic writer to make the case for punishing Joe Lieberman in 2008 (and for similar reasons, made the case against it in 2006). I took a clear-headed and pragmatic view of the mystery that is Arlen Specter.
My theme has been constant: I love a good party, and the good party I love is called the Democrats.
However, I must make a confession I’ve been postponing for weeks: I have sadly concluded that, at least as regards the Democratic Party in the State of New York (and especially the City), I’ve been played for a schmuck.
It would be unfair to call the New York State Democratic Party a granfalloon. A granfalloon is an association that is both meaningless and proud.
I submit that, based upon the behavior of its purported elected officials as regards party loyalty, the New York State Democratic Party is clearly meaningless. However, it is also completely and utterly lacking in pride. Even in the act of endorsing our “Party’s” candidate for Mayor, our so-called “party leaders” barely acknowledged his existence.
I call my relationship with the Democratic Party “love;” in 2009 New York City, it has become the love that dare not speak its name.
But just as unfair as calling our local Democrats proud would be regarding most of the State’s other purported political parties as in any way different.In reality, of the State’s five ballot status political parties, only the Conservatives seems to meet the Wikipedia definition: A political party is a political organization that seeks to attain and maintain political power within government, usually by participating in electoral campaigns. Parties often espouse an expressed ideology or vision bolstered by a written platform with specific goals, forming a coalition among disparate interests.
I am not deluded that the Conservative Party is a group of purists motivated solely by ideological concerns, or even that they are a group of hard-nosed but practical ideologues. Clearly, the Conservatives’ hunger for a place at the trough often exceeds their wild-eyed ideological fervor.
But regardless of their motives, the Conservatives, are united and committed to attaining their goals. They proceed boldly and have just succeeded in driving the Republican candidate in an upstate seat out of a race for Congress.
On Staten Island, the Conservaties have continued to campaign and run ads for their council candidate, Ken Mitchell, a moderate Democratic incumbent defeated in his party primary, whose victory in a special election proved his base was far stronger in an election where non-Democrats also had a vote. The fact that Mitchell has disavowed interest in continuing his campaign has not daunted the Conservatives’ efforts.
Some may argue that the Working Families Party also meets this definition. They are aggressive and effective and are committed to both an ideology and to expanding their feeding space at the trough.But, in reality, the WFP is not a party, but a multifaceted money laundering operation.
The purported purpose of a political party is to help those who run on their line to attain elected office. This is not the purpose of the Working Families Party.
The 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.
Most parties define party membership as enrolling in that party during the voter registration process. By contrast, the WFP encourages its members to remain enrolled as Democrats. Unlike Democratic clubs, which have no formal role in party deliberations, the Working Families Party gives its clubs a formal role in its nomination process. And its clubs are made up primarily of enrolled Democrats.
But the real heft in WFP’s nominating process belongs to ACORN and a group of unions, each of whom casts a mass of bloc votes on behalf of its membership in a manner reminiscent of the party nomination process in the Soviet Union.
In a manner most reminiscent of the Commission which runs the Mob, if and when those entities comprising the WFP cartel are united in agreement, and only in those instances, does the WFP do real business.In others cases, such as this year’s Mayoral election, the WFP line is a nicely wrapped package that, when one gets home, look a lot like Charlie Brown’s Halloween bag; to paraphrase Swamp Dogg, Bill Thompson asked the WFP for a rope and they gave him a rock. Having nominated Bill DeBlasio (the WFP’s interest in John Liu being arguable and/or sporadic), the Party’s interest in Citywide races has gone into remission for another four years. The same largely holds true down-ballot. Several WFP candidates defeated in the Democratic primary indicated an interest in going on to fight in the general election; some have actually continued to do so. But, with one possible exception, they have done so without party support.
In Flushing, WFP-supported S.J. Jung, a Korean-American, had run a close second in his run for the Democratic nomination, with the other Korean-American, the organization choice, running a strong fourth. Doubtless, a divided vote accounted for some of their problems, as did the tendency of Korean-Americans to enroll as Democrats in smaller percentages than Chinese-Americans--not coincidentally, the ethnic group of the primary winner, Yen Chou.
But in the general, the lay of the land did not look unpromising. The Republican candidate, Peter Koo, was also Chinese, had a big bankroll and was running a real campaign. The Green candidate was also named Chou, which created an opportunity for confusion. Being the only Korean, with the large number of non-Democratic Koreans now in play, Jung had at least a theoretical shot, and he applied for general election matching funds with his eye on the prize.
The WFP’s union muscle responded by muscling Jung out of the race. He was diced and sliced like a piece of meat at a barbeque restaurant on Main Street, but without the side of kimchee.
In Forest Hills, the primary runner up, WFP-backed Lynn Schulman, concluded that the 26% showing of the victorious former Councilwoman, Karen Koslowitz, was a sign Koslowitz could be taken in the general.
However, another 13% went to Koslowitz’s former comrade in arms, former Assemblyman Michael Cohen, whose fortunes were burned by association with the Ray Harding aspect of the Hevesi-scandal, but who surely appealed to the same voters who liked Koslowitz. Moreover, other significant blocs of votes went to candidates representing socially conservatively ethnic constituencies, not necessarily inclined to support the openly gay Schulman, who would be competing for a general election voter base quite a bit more conservative than that in the Democratic primary.
S.J. Jung wanted to proceed in the general with little more than a plausible theory, while Schulman seemed to lack even that. But, this only made the inevitable result the same, though, unlike Jung, Schulman has proceeded regardless.
A bit more plausible seems the argument of Bed-Sty’s Mark Winston Griffith, who along with several others, held incumbent Al Vann to a highly unimpressive 30%, despite the significant resources Vann has in the community, where a Vann-allied network of not-for-profits holds considerable sway. Vann barely stumbled into re-nomination, and Griffith yearned for a head to head shot.
Further whetting Griffith’s appetite was the area’s occasional history of electing candidates on lines other than the Democrats. Twice in the last two decades, these voters had elected an Assemblymen who ran on a minor party line after having been knocked off the ballot in the Democratic primary; his name was AL VANN, who had a better operation on the ground than his opponents in those race. With a real WFP operation on behalf of Vann’s opponent, that advantage might be erased.
But WFP has shown no interest in Griffith’s general election campaign, at least not that they will admit to publicly.
And in Bushwick, WFP nominee Maritza Davila (a favorite of Brooklyn Democratic Leader Vito Lopez who became the WFP candidate by virtue of a shotgun wedding) lost a close primary to incumbent Diana Reyna, and now continues her fight in the general election, with the WFP showing even less enthusiasm for her than they displayed in the primary.
But, as City Hall News noted, “there is little appetite [among the WFP leadership] for taking on fights they believe they cannot win…These are people that are very much data-driven and strategic thinkers…They’re also into running winning candidates, and there’s not a feeling that any of them are viable.”
As City Hall News also noted, there is the expectation that turnout in the general election will be three or four times higher than in the primary, minimizing the effectiveness of the WFP’s renowned canvass operation.
Schulman accidentally sums up the nature of the problem. According to City Hall News, she believes that all the recent hype surrounding the WFP’s successful first major foray into city elections will allow her to pull an upset. “A few weeks ago, the Working Families Party didn’t really resonate,” said Schulman. “Now, it does.”
But why forfeit the hype by exposing it as just that? Putting its resources into four likely losers is a move which could considerably deflate the WFP balloon, while blowing its fence-mending efforts to smithereens.
Nonetheless, there is reason to suspect that the WFP’s efforts in the Vann-Griffith race may still be operating sub-rosa. If Griffith loses, his general election campaign will be dismissed as a rogue operation (after all, what could be more rogue than defying a party’s leadership by trying to win an election for its chosen candidate?), while if Griffin wins, his victory can be highlighted by WFP’s smoke and mirror brigade as yet another example of the WFP’s towering strength.
The Independence Party manifests even fewer signs of being a political party than the WFP .By virtue of its misleading name, the IP’s enrolled membership consists almost entirely of people who checked their box on the voter registration form under the mistaken apprehension that they were not enrolling in any party. The “party’s” actual power derives from its names magical and mystical powers to obscure and confuse. The name is nothing but a kosher stamp for pork products, and the power to bestow it is the object of war between two parasitical factions sharing nothing but a common yearning for the rewards of porcinity.
As I’ve outlined endlessly, one faction is controlled by a group of patronage hounds of no-fixed principles except “jobs for the boys,” who up until recently operated as a wholly owned subsidiary of the State Senate Republicans (its chief power broker stashed by Joe Bruno into a place on Carl Kruger’s payroll for safekeeping and semi-plausible deniability).The good news, such that it is, is that the recent loss of power by The Sen Reps has served to liberate this faction to return to selling itself to the highest bidder on an ad hoc basis. The announced goal of this faction is now to replicate the WFP’s money-laundering operation to allow the real estate sector and other less-than-liberal power blocs to rape our campaign finance laws in the manner of the WFP-affiliated unions, to assist the likes of Koslowitz and Kendall Stewart.
This is what is known as pluralism.
In New York politics, the IP faction thus described is generally known as “the good guys.“ Unfortunately, this is not a euphemism, because, in the context of the “party’s” wars, they at least qualify as the less repugnant. .
The IP’s other faction, which I call “The Pods,” is an anti-Semitic cult headed by a quack “therapist” with a tendency toward pedophilia. Though Fred Newman has written and produced several notable theatrical productions which amount to Jew-hatred propaganda, he has yet to be responsible for any work as lasting as “Chinatown” or “Knife in the Water” (as opposed to “Knife in the Back,” for which he is well-recognized), so he is not an object of media adulation.Nonetheless, Newman’s cult has attracted Bloomberg’s largesse in the nature of political contributions, charitable donations and government largesse (among other atrocities, his theatrical productions are being subsidized by tax-free municipal financing). Earlier this year, the Mayor came to Newman’s home, the place where Newman beds his “therapy” clients as part of their “treatment,” hat and check in hand, to procure Newman’s endorsement.
I’ll give the Mayor this; in obtaining the IP nod (for amounts of cash we can only guess at, since it surely was not all in the nature of campaign funds), Bloomberg certainly proved his credentials as a conciliator. The Mayor single-handedly brokered the reunification of the horrible and the miserable, facilitating a cease-fire in the IP war, in service of his re-election.
In the general election, the major IP action, other than serving as a funnel for an “independent” operation on behalf of the mayor, is to allow Kendall Stewart to receive a further repudiation from the voters of his district.In the primary, the WFP candidate won with 37% of the vote, Mr. Stewart got 25% and everyone else got 38%. Dr. Stewart apparently believes that his problems was not the two aides convicted of stealing government funds Stewart had obtained for them, his slurs against Haitians, his activities as a slum landlord, his unpopular vote for a commuter tax in a district virtually without subway service, his vote to repeal terms limits or the fact that virtually every union with strength in his district was arrayed against him; Doctor Stewart instead determined that he’d been robbed. And now he seeks to avenge the crime committed against him by carrying the IP banner in the general election.
It is to be noted that, in addition to being a Councilmember, Dr. Stewart is a Democratic District Leader for the 58th Assembly District, which went against him 36% to 27%, with 37% going to other candidates. Thus, one could argue that Dr. Stewart has a fiduciary duty, both to his party and to his 58th AD Democratic constituents, to support the victor, Jumaane Williams.
Stewart would be well advised to support Williams. Undoubtedly, an endorsement of Williams by Stewart would redound to Stewart’s benefit, as it surely would cost Williams some votes. .
In the interest of giving readers a rest, I am breaking this piece in half here. In part two, I will resume with an examination of the “major parties.”
Between now and then, I will leave you with a quote from Mr. Vonnegut which explains what this piece's title has to do with political parties in New York:
"No damn cat; no damn cradle."
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