Father Knows Best

"We call on the Democratic Party, the national chairman, Howard Dean, right on down to the New York state Chairman Denny Farrell, to Brooklyn chairman Vito Lopez...We want the party to realize that the most loyal constituency of the Democratic Party have been black people. Now don't ambush us. Don't take away our power. We're also going to go to the Republicans and say 'How about you. Do you support the principle of power sharing?' And we'll see what the Republicans say also." - -- Congressman Major Owens calling upon leaders of the Democratic Party at various levels to prevent a white politician, David Yassky,  from winning a Congressional seat  long held by black politicians.

OK Major, how are they supposed to not let this happen? Kidnap his wife and children? Blackmail his contributors? Strip him of his committee assignments? Block his ballot access? What is it  that Major Owens is proposing they do?

Obviously, at least a few of these strong arm tactis are the common currency of regular Democratic politics; those who’ve  cast even a passing glance at the recent meeting of the Democratic State Committee in Buffalo have had a chance to observe these tactics in action, particurlarly as they were implemented in setting up hurdles to ballot access for every candidate in the Attorney General’s race, except Andrew Cuomo. Many prominent “reformers”, including several supporters of Congressional candidate Chris Owens, the Congressman’s son,  have expressed their outrage in no uncertain terms.

And well they should; it has long been a hallmark of “reform” thought that the ballot access process should be as open as reason permits, and that party candidates should be chosen by the party’s voters in contested primary elections, rather than by the party’s bosses behind closed doors.

By contrast, the “old line regular” position (as opposed to that held my many more enlightened “non-reformers”) is almost from a different planet. To them, “the party” is not the enrolled membership, but rather the bosses; anyone who dares run a primary against the bosses is running against “the party” .  To make the bizzaro world contrast complete, those who hold this view of what constitutes “the party” often apply it only to the primary, and feel free to endorse the Republican candidate in general elections, often when their candidate loses the primary, but sometimes even when their primary candidate ends up as “the party” nominee. Apparently what constitutes “the party” has little or nothing to do with what the enrolled membership of the party actually decides.

“Reformers” and others like myself, who don’t necessarily embrace this title, find the “old line regular” position alarming. To many of us, this is what we entered politics to fight against. And Chris Owens has spent much of his political life successfully nurturing the impression among “reformers” and “good government” types that he shares their views on this topic. But does he really? His father has essentially called upon the bosses to wield a heavy hammer to influence the results of a contested party primary before the voters get their say. Chris, do you feel this is an appropriate use of the powers of party leadership? If so, exactly what measures do you endorse to drive Yassky out of this race? What measures do you think would be a bridge too far? It is important that you speak out if you find some potential measures morally troubling, as some of the persons being asked to implement them have not been known to lose sleep pondering exactly when the ends do or do not justify the means they are deciding whether to deploy. Since you are a potential benificiary of what may be some ugly tactics, your word would go a long way in preventing any actions which you might find morally troubling, if indeed any such actions would trouble you.

And Chris; while you are pondering that, please also ponder your father’s quite blatant threat to do business with the Republicans. As of late, you have been quite outspoken about such tactics; last year, when Marty Markowitz cravenly endorsed Bloomberg’s re-election, you (to my public applause)  endorsed the Green Party’s Gloria Mattera (in this case, a truly useful idiot) on the theory that “one good turncoat deserves another”. However, in the past, you’ve not always been so vocal;  forinstance, I do not recall your endorsing Tracy Boyland in 2002 as retribution for your father’s similar act of treachery in the 2001 mayoral race, but, blood is blood, so perhaps I should hold my tongue. But Chris, while your silence in that instance might be forgivable, silence concerning  such threats when they’ve essentially been made on your behalf cannot be countenanced. You know exactly what the 2006 Republican Party stands for, and have been outspoken in your opposition to it. Your father’s threat is essentially one to shoot his own constituents in the heart as punishment because someone spit on his shoes. If you spoke out loudly and publicly against such tactics, it would nip the matter in the bud.

The irony is that, however bad such tactics become (if deployed), they won’t work. Yassky’s ambition has always been greater than his fear of any living being; he has too much money in the bank for anyone to impact his fundraising; he is term limited and has almost nothing to lose. Even if term limits were repealed, he has so few African-American in his Council district to make any electoral threats to him a minor inconvenience at best. As Bill DBlasio’s neighbor and former ally, he provided Chris Quinn with crucial support, such that she would  be hard pressed to punish him without losing face with her colleagues; and those amongst her colleagues pushing hardest for action against Yassky were those who pushed hardest against Quinn’s elections as Speaker . 

In fact, any attempts by Party leaders which become public would only serve to make Yassky a martyr, a victim of "the bosses". Moreover, such heavy handed tactics would only serve to embarass the party nationally, allowing the Democrats to be branded as the captives of "special interests" (a code word if there ever was one), at a time when we are trying to attract the votes of largely white swing voters. Fox News will have a field day, and so will intelligent conservatives, not to mention independent neo-liberal voices like the New Republic. 

Perhaps, Major and Al Vann should learn a different lesson from Andrew Cuomo’s coronation, and ask Vito, Denny, and Howard to promise to support Yassky for Borough President,  Public Advocate or Comptroller if he drops out. Now, there’s a boss-driven tactic which might work, as the players have already proven they can deliver upon such a deal.     

 Of course, if the issue of black empowerment is so crucial to Major Owens, the fact that Yassky  is unlikely  to leave the race should not deter him from the pursuing the alternative solution to this dilemna, which is to get one or more of the black candidates to drop out. The problem is choosing which one(s). I suggest one of two ways of determing this. One is that the black candidate remaining should  be the one who's raised the most money (Carl Andrews); the other is that the black candidate remaining should be the one who is leading in the polls (Yvette Clarke).

Major, it is clear that you are correct that continued black representation in the 11th Congressional District is threatened by the presence in the race of a Yuppie who has greedily elevated his own personal ambitions over what you define as the intent of the Voting Rights Act. Therefore, if you are serious about maintaining black representation in the 11th CD, you must do everything you can to get this selfish Yuppie out of the race.

Hint: his name is CHRIS OWENS.