Maybe Culpa

I woke up this morning to be greeted by this:

LOSERS

Gatemouth - The Room 8 blogger for years has anonymously spewed hyper-technical invective at local politicians and the press, but at least his critiques have often proven to be accurate. Not so with his flop of an endorsement in the congressional special election. In a typically lengthy late-June column, Gatemouth endorsed David Weprin as the candidate that Crowley should pick as the Democratic nominee because the blogger said Weprin could appeal to the district’s Orthodox community. When Crowley did pick Weprin, Gatemouth crowed loudly that his column made the difference. Yet much of the Orthodox community abandoned Weprin by Election Day, and many pundits are now saying a more dynamic candidate like Assemblyman Rory Lancman would have faired better. Sticking to his guns, the big-mouthed blogger insisted in a post-election column that the Weprin pick was correct.

Could anything be worse?

Yes, being nominated for “Loser of the Week,” and the coming in fourth.

I am not merely a loser, I am a poor loser. 

To add insult to injury this appeared as well:

WINNERS

Colin Campbell – No matter how the election turned out, the young political junkie behind The Brooklyn Politics won. Seemingly out of nowhere, the unpaid blogger (and sometime City Hall contributor) with no press credentials or prior experience became a go-to source for scoops and analysis. National bloggers quickly learned to link to Campbell on the Turner-Weprin race, but he earned a local following by learning the nuances of district leader races and other obscurities. Way to make your name, kid.

This is the second time Colin’s gotten kudos for his work on the 9th CD race. The first time was when Politico decided Colin was worthy of inclusion on their list of “50 Bloggers to Watch,” specifically citing his  early recognition that David Weprin would be the strongest candidate for this seat , which mostly consisted of him saying I was right (they also cited his prescience in deciding Liz Holtzman would be a weak choice, for which I was also the source).  

The first thing I should note is that I am not anonymous. I am pseudonymous. Further, City Hall News knows this, since they were the first New York City blog to print my real name. 

The next thing I should note is that  in none of my three post-election columns did I insist that the Weprin pick was correct.”

In the first, I said, among others things:

Weprin appeared to be a good choice on paper. But in retrospect, Lancman would have been a strong choice, with a proven record of being shameless on the matter of Obama and Israel (though such a campaign would have been hard for the national Party to swallow).

I did note some criticisms of Weprin I thought inaccurate, and made conclusions which included: 

With a 54/46 blowout, I’m not sure that anyone could say a better candidate would have mattered, and a better local consultant was not happening under these conditions.

Earlier and better intervention might have saved this race from a loss which revealed the real truth, which is that the President, and Democrats in general, are in trouble….A better, smarter, local game might have saved this seat, but it would not have remedied the greater problem which Democrats face.

But I do not think this amounts to saying the Weprin pick was the correct one.

In my second post-election piece, I questioned whether Melinda Katz and Anthony Weiner, would have been stronger candidate than Weprin, but this was not an assertion that the choice of Weprin was  correct.

The one piece I wrote where I can be accused of defending the Weprin choice, after the deluge began, was posted before the election, not afterword.

That piece dids argue that of those potential candidates actually willing to make the race (already a constricted class) many mentioned by the political chattering classes would be weaker than Weprin. And that is undoubtedly the case. I think Liz Holtzman would have been a better than two to one blowout.

But, even there I went on to note: 

Only Rory Lancman, Karen Koslowitz and Joe Addabbo could even make the argument they were stronger (and can one really see Koslowitz, who barely won back her Council seat, as being a stronger debater than Weprin?), and all of them would still have had to face changing demographics, a bad economy and voters furious about Israel.

My point then being that  they too would have faced the same problems.

Further, I will note that, by the end of the campaign that, Far from defending Weprin, I was extremely harsh about both the candidate and his management.

So I think City Hall News is being unfair.  

But I will go further—I think they should have put me on the winner’s list.

On June 7, 2011, City Hall News was still saying that Weiner’s seat would be tough for a Republican to win.

By their own standards, such a pronouncement would make them worthy of the “Loser” tag.

By contrast, I was touting Republican strength in Weiner’s district long before Weiner had run into trouble.

On 11/15/10, I noted:

Closer to home, Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose district includes a high Jewish population, an increasing percentage of which are Orthodox, in 2010 got 59% of the vote; the last time Weiner had a Republican opponent, in the not particularly Democratic year of 2004 (when John Kerry got only 56% in his district), Weiner got 71%. In Brooklyn’s overwhelmingly Jewish and increasingly Orthodox or Russian 45th Assembly District, incumbent Steven Cymbrowitz, was held to 57% by Joseph Hayon, a Sephardic Jew active in the Brooklyn Tea Party who spent $615 on his campaign.

On 12/31/10, I got Weiner’s vote percentage correct, and explicated further:

In Anthony Weiner’s race, his opponent, Robert Turner, actually ran a race, which was largely ignored by the press. Turner took 39.14%. Now, I am not going to claim that Turner got all those votes from Orthodox Jews; he clearly targeted conservative White Christian areas and rampaged through communities like Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach.

But Turner targeted the Orthodox as well, and it worked. 

In  the 48th, Turner beat Weiner 50.90% to 49.10% and in the 45th, he won 50.15% to 49.81%.

This is jaw dropping.

Weiner is a Citywide figure who these voters once backed for Mayor. Unlike Nadler, who is at the right end of left Zionism, Weiner’s buff card could accurately read “Likud.” If there was ever a member of Congress to have taken the necessary steps to insulate himself from an Orthodox revolt, it was Tony Weiner.

But, it is more than that.

Not only has Weiner represented most of these voters in Congress for nearly a decade and a half, but these voters largely track the original district that elected Anthony Weiner to the New York City Council in 1991.

In other words, Anthony Weiner was this year rejected by the voters who know him the best and for the longest.

That is a pretty profound message…

The real lesson is clear. This year, being a Democrat running among Orthodox Jews was an obstacle to be overcome. The once sacred Orthodox pattern of holding down-ballot Democrats harmless for perceived transgressions at the top of their ticket has finally come to an end. This year, the default vote was Republican, and it was the GOP who was held harmless down-ballot for transgressions at the top of their ticket…

Am I saying Orthodox voters are permanently lost to the Republicans?

Not yet...

What I am saying is that Orthodox Jews hate Barack Obama and the Republican are poised to take advantage of it down ballot in a big way.

After the Weiner scandal broke, and some national columnists were saying no one need be worried because Weiner’s seat was safe, I sounded the alarm:

Yglesias makes fun of the idea a Republican could beat Weiner, but the GOP candidate just got 39% on a shoe string budget, and the district becomes more Russian and more Orthodox with every day

In fact, I called for Weiner not to resign, in part because I though his seat could be lost:

Perhaps if Weiner represented a safe seat in a state not losing seats he could recede for a few years onto a back bench, and bide his time until the bad taste went away.

 But Weiner represents a marginal seat in a state losing representation.

As I was probably the first to point out, Weiner’s district is no longer that strong for the Democrats, and the demographic trends are heading south (as in Red State). To the extent it was not marginal; it was because of Weiner's personal popularity, which I submit has been squandered. Republicans have now noticed. As I noted on my Facebook page this weekend:

“What amazes me is that every article, whether left or right, opining on Weiner's strength or weakness in his district, fails to account that such a district, to the extent it still exists, will have different lines come next election..."

...Weiner's resigning would could additional damage. A resignation would lead to a special election under the worst circumstances (resignation by scandal and the Obama/Israel controversy at its hottest)…

I submit no one else in the blogosphere, in NYC or elsewhere, was saying this.

And I kept on saying it:

As I’ve noted before, Republicans have already made strong showings in this areas and have also improved their standing nationally among Jewish voters, especially the Orthodox and Russians.

There are several reasons for this, and Israel is very prominent among them.

I think Orthodox and Russian voters last year were, in part, voting against Democrats--even demonstrably right wing Zionist types, like Anthony Weiner, to send a message about Israel.

And recent statements by the President have made things worse,,.

...according to the Forward’s JJ Goldberg:

“Obama, despite all the thunder and lightning around him, didn’t ring many bells. Israelis might not like the president’s hard-nosed stand on settlements, but American Jews don’t agree. Both of the post-election surveys actually gave him high marks for his performance in Israel and Middle East affairs. J Street found solid Jewish support for a two-state solution and for vigorous American leadership to bring the parties together — even if it means pressuring the two sides or openly criticizing Israel.”

The political problem is multi-dimensional.

The first dimension is that a significant minority of the Jewish community does not agree.

And that minority is overrepresented in the 9th Congressional District, where it might not even be a minority...

The upshot is that Obama’s position on Israel may be the more popular one in the Jewish community, but it won’t get him any votes.

It only loses him votes, and it loses them for other Democrats as well.

A J Street poll says that Democrats won the votes of Jews who consider Israel the most important tissue by a margin of only 53% to 42%. Those who discuss Israel every week supported Democrats by a margin of 50% to 48%.

And this is not exclusively an Orthodox phenomenon.  

Even with the Orthodox excluded, the J Street poll showed Jews who considered Israel the most important issue supported Democrats by lackadaisical margins; among Non-Orthodox Jews who discuss Israel every week, Democrats won by a margin of 54% to 44%.

Now move this phenomenon to an area with heavy Orthodox and Russian populations, and add in a special election with nothing on the ballot but judicial races (except for two Assembly specials--one a snoozer; the other, in the Rockaways and vicinity, with a strong Republican bringing out Irish Breezy Point and Broad Channel Republicans, while the Dems are stuck with a guy whose base is in a different Congressional District).

Orthodox Jews daven twice a day; they are easy to pull. And they are raring to send President Obama a message.

Everyone else may still be away on vacation…

…And without a strong Orthodox and Russian Jewish vote, there is no GOP scenario for victory in this district.

And saying it some more:

this race is still losable ….To refresh, John McCain got 44% of the vote here (the only Congressional district in the State where Obama did worse than John Kerry) even before the administration’s pronouncements on Israel caused further attrition in support for Democrats among Orthodox and Russian Jews, both of whom are plentiful in this district.

In 2010, Robert Turner, the Republican running against Anthony Weiner got nearly 40% here, beating Weiner in many Russian and Orthodox areas, despite Weiner’s hardline positions on Israel, which were to the right of Bibi Netanyahu’s.  

I suspect some Jews here would vote for an anti-Israel Republican like Ron Paul or Pat Buchanan against a far right Zionist Democrat like Dov Hikind, just to send the President a message about Israel.

I’ve was almost literally been crying out about this like Jeremiah for months, encountering mostly snarky sarcasm from those on the left. Even after the release of bad polls, this article on Daily Kos, and the thread which followed it, indicate the left‘s response veers somewhere between apathy and Panglossian delusion.

The particulars of the circumstances seemed to cry out for a candidate with s strong record among the Orthodox. I submit that this turned out to be wrong, but I also submit that no one at the time was saying “give up on the Orthodox, they are lost to us.”

While I thought Rory Lancman strong, and capable of shameless pandering to the Zionist right, I thought Weprin’s record of handing out cold harsh cash to Orthodox and other Jewish institutions (including those serving the Russian community) would prove more appealing, based upon my own prior experience with such communities.

I must admit I underestimated the Orthodox community’s rather stunning capacity for ingratitude.

I also underestimated the level of Orthodox and Russian Jewish anger over Israel, which is remarkable, given all the emphasis I had given to it.

Further, I would never have guessed that the anger among some in the ultra-Orthodox community about Same Sex Marriage would be especially acute against an Orthodox Jewish politician who’d supported it (although this would have also impacted against Lancman).

But further, I think that hindsight forgets the circumstances under which I recommended Weprin.

Once the Governor decided that the US Constitution mandated a Special Election instead of a Primary, it was a given that the process would consist of  Joe Crowley choosing the nominee.

It was truly a case of one person, one vote.

Not that a primary would have guaranteed a produced a better result. Martha Coakley was chosen in a fiercely contested primary.

So the question was, who would be the strongest candidate who could possibly be chosen by Joe Crowley?

Joe Crowley had a personal interest in ensuring his own political survival post-reapportionment. That was a given.  

Further, the candidate was unlikely to be anyone from “outside the box.”

Any outsider chosen was surely going to be an object of suspicion:Where the fuck did s/he come from, that s/he was suddenly picked from out of nowhere to run for Congress?”   

The situation begged for someone with a name. And I don't mean Huma Abedin, Reshma Saujani or Cody McCone.

The candidate would also most likely be Jewish (the religion of most of the district’s Democrats), from Queens (the home of 70% of the district’s voters) and would likely either live in the district or represent or have represented a significant portion of it.

They would also have to be willing to give up their current position—count out Mark Weprin (a likely candidate for Council Speaker) and several others.

So, once you factor in all this, who was viable?

Many of the present or former elected officials whose names were circulated had no connection whatsoever with the district. Peter Vallone, Jose Peralta, Eric Gioia and David Yassky, had never  represented a single inch of the 9th CD.  

Weprin, who had represented plenty of it, got battered for living just a few blocks outside it. Can you imagine what would have happened to Eric Gioia? 

Some had represented, or at least run  in much of it at some time, but had other issues.

Holtzman had lately been a fount of furious anti-Israel commentary.  

Lynn Schulman, a two-time losing City Council candidate, was openly gay candidate in a socially conservative district where Same Sex Marriage eventually became a wedge issue (though she may have been the one Democrat who could have prevented Ed Koch from endorsing Bob Turner).  

By contrast, names like Dov Hikind and Noach Dear would have deeply alienated important elements of the Queens Party, including, but not restricted to the LGTB community.   

Choosing Liz Crowley would have begged allegations of nepotism far more extreme than Weprin’s ancient history.  

Other names, like Claire Shulman and Manny Gold (first raised by me) reeked of being honorary appointments bestowed upon an old friend on their way to the grave.

So, it really came down to a few present or former electeds.

The one really strong non-Jewish candidate, Joe Addabbo, would have handed an open State Senate seat to the GOP, which probably rendered him being chosen impossible.  

Audrey Pheffer, would have really been a strong choice, but had just been made County Clerk.Andrew Hevesi was carrying too much baggage. 

Really, we were left with Melinda Katz, Karen Koslowitz, David Weprin and Rory Lancman. There really was not one other plausible name.

Melinda Katz was the political creation of Alan Hevesi (jailed), Hank Morris (jailed) Ray Harding (convicted) and Jack Chartier (unindicted co-conspirator). It was the year after Hevesi’s son had suffered unexpectedly tough races in both the primary and general (anyone wonder why?). She was also the mother of two single parent test-tube babies.  

Choosing Katz would also have reopened the sleaze mill concerning rumors about Katz and certain members of the Queens Party Leadership. 

Perhaps I’ve underestimated Katz’s strengths, but I submit that it was not unreasonable to worry about her baggage.  

Look what the GOP did to David Weprin.

I submit that, even in the context of  David Weprin, Karen Koslowitz looked too much the party hack/placeholder.  

Weprin and Lancman looked the strongest, not least because of their Orthodoxy, which was the Democrats’ soft underbelly.

Under the circumstances, Weprin’s stronger communal ties (among other things, he’d carried Dov Hikind’s AD in his race for Comptroller) seemed to carry the day.

I will admit I brushed aside the fact Weprin was a dork, although I knew this to be case (I’d compared him to Rupert Pupkin).

In retrospect, I think it may have been the better strategy to write the Russian and Orthodox communities off, in that if seven term incumbent Anthony Weiner couldn’t win them, no one else probably could.

It would have been better to try closing the deal by improving our numbers elsewhere.

Perhaps Katz and Lancman were better suited for that purpose.

However, I submit that the better choice for any candidate would have been for the Queens Party and the DCCC to have realized that they had a real campaign on their hands.

If they had, even David Weprin probably would have won.

And if anyone else had run the “Parkside sleepwalk, DCCC too little too late last minute wake up call” that the Democrats just ran, they probably would have lost too.