Slaughterhouse Five (Part Two of Two)
KURT VONNEGUT: If you wish to study a granfalloon, just remove the skin of a toy balloon.In Part One, entitled “Cats Cradle“, I sadly put forth the proposition that all of New York’s ballot status parties, save the Conservatives, were granfalloons. The creator of that term, Kurt Vonnegut, defined it as meaning “a proud and meaningless association of human beings.”
I argued that this was totally accurate description, except for the part about “proud.” I then went on to explain why this was so about both the Working Families and Independence Parties.
We now come to the two main “parties.“
It is my contention that they too do not exist, at the New York State level, except as legal shells. Rather, we are living politically in a Hobbesian state of nature, where roving nomadic tribes form temporary and shifting alliances, and power derives not from some central unit, but rather through the sheer brute strength, or the lack thereof, of the parties involved.
There are within these hollow shells we calls “parties,” tribes of such strength that they resemble parties in the sense defined in Part One. Certainly, the Assembly Democrats are a well disciplined tribe, with a powerful leader whose strength was reinforced about a decade ago by a failed coup attempt and its bloody aftermath.
When he takes an interest, Sheldon Silver can leverage even his least partisan members to toe the line. This year, for the first time in living memory, Dov Hikind is actively campaigning for the Democratic candidate for Mayor. Similarly, Silver was responsible for granting Bill Thompson the form, if not the substance (see Part One), of a WFP endorsement.
Which of course begs the question of what we should conclude when, as in the not too distant past, large numbers of Assembly Democrats have been allowed to go off the reservation.
Similarly, the Senate Republicans have managed, even in the face of defeat, to remain a coherent force. By contrast, the Senate Dems, have not managed to so cohere, and their majority is one of form without substance, with at least four competing and shifting tribes (each of which at some point tried cutting its own deal with the Republicans), dividing uneasily dividing among themselves the perks of power, without obtaining its substance.
Part of this owes to the continuing vacancy in the Governor’s office. A strong Governor can, as Eliot Spitzer proved, do much to obtain a functioning Senate Democratic majority. And, as Mario Cuomo proved, he can do even more to prevent it from ever occurring on his watch. Andrew Cuomo, who combines traits of both these men, may come down on either side of this equation, but, at this point, either result is arguably preferable to the status quo.
But the strength of the Assembly’s Democrats and the Senate’s Republicans should not be mistaken for the presence of a real State Party. Silver has shown an interest in party building mostly as a basis for holding power, and the further party building appears from the interests of his conference, the less he finds it compelling. His interest in a Democratic Senate has varied between the apathetic and the adversarial. His interest in Democratic citywide candidates seems mostly a matter of conference politics, this year, it seemed advantageous to placate the black members of his conference; plus, Silver does not much seem to care for the Mayor personally.If the Senate Democrats, by virtue of tremendous demographic advantage, have finally acquired the form of a majority without its substance, the Assembly Republicans are of little interest to anyone, except as a farm team to develop talent for the Senate. The recent humiliation of Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, following up on the prior defeat of former Assembly Republican Leader Jim Tedesco (who Joe Bruno used to delight in publicly humiliating), neatly sums of their plight.
Assembly Republicans carry all the baggage of Albany even though they arrive home with empty luggage.
To the extent the Republicans exist in the City, they divide into two wings. The “Idealists” and the Senate Republicans.
The Senate Republicans have a symbiotic relationship with the Mayor, to whose campaigns he funnels money, both directly and through laundering second only to the WFP in its clever resourcefulness. Bloomberg money, in all its varied manifestations, is third only to Senate Democratic disorder and Gubernatorial incompetence in keeping the hopes of the Senate Republicans alive. And the Senate Republicans and their resources were second only to Bloomberg cash, in all its manifestations, in delivering to Bloomberg the Republican nomination.
The “Idealists” are mostly, but not exclusively, right wing ideologues. They are not tied to any individual, or any tribal interest. They just believe in conservatism, or, in the case of the moderates among them (shout-out to Carroll Gardens’ Joe Nardiello, doggedly pursuing a hopeless race for City Council with intelligence, wit, persistence, a smile and a shoe-string budget), they are iconoclasts who reject the powers that be, including the Mayor.
I hope never to live in a City run by the likes of Alex Zablocki, the Republican candidate for Public Advocate, or Robert Hornak, their candidate for Queens Borough President. But one has to be thankful for their actually making an effort and giving voters a choice. In Brooklyn, by contrast, the Republican candidate’s major policy statement is that Marty Markowitz has not worked hard enough on behalf of Bruce Ratner (Thanks to the abdication of the Greens, those wishing to express a contrary opinion must vote for a Libertarian).The one thing the “Idealists” of all stripes share is a disdain for the mayor. On “Urban Elephants,” the conservative-Republican equivalent of “Daily Gotham” founded by Mr. Hornak, Bill Thompson is currently leading Mike Bloomberg in the on-liner Readers’ Poll.
It is instructive that, other than the self-financing Peter Koo (see Part One), who last year ran a race for State Senate, and therefore also has connections to their tribe, those Republicans actually making an effort, who have any semblance of a chance of victory, all are running in districts which strongly overlap seats held by Republican Senators or were recently so and are now Republican targets. All (including Koo), not coincidentally, have the endorsement of the Independence Party.
I should note that in Queens, the Republicans can at least argue that their IP endorsement came from “the good guys” faction (term “Good Guys’ used ironically; see Part One), but in Brooklyn, Bob Capano running against one of the Council’s most conservative Democrats (Vinnie Gentile) from the right, had to publicly kiss the ring of Brooklyn Independence Chair Bob Conroy, a “Pod” who is a devoted member of the Fred Newman/Leonora Fulani, left-wing anti-Semitic cult.This race surely illustrates the absence of “party” life better than any in the City. Gentile lost a seat in the State Senate to Republican Marty Golden largely because of a conspiracy involving Joe Bruno Democrats like Carl Kruger and the Garson Crime Family. They were joined in this conspiracy by Dov Hikind, while Shelly Silver sat on his hands rather than stopping it. Also joining in the conspiracy were Democratic Councilman Mike Nelson (now supporting Bloomberg) and several Democratic Districts leader who forsook their fiduciary responsibility while doing so.
After the election, Hikind immediately spearheaded an effort to elect Gentile to Golden’s seat on the council, figuring that a Republican Senator and a Democratic Councilman were more profitable than the other way around.Meanwhile, word on the street is that the entire Democratic Party establishment has discouraged all subsequent efforts to challenge Golden. This includes not only regulars, but insurgents of the likes of Steve Harrison (who had supported Golden against Gentile and then ran for Golden‘s council seat as the most conservative candidate in the race, but even after his born-again conversion to liberalism, feared what an influx of Senate Republican money would do to his Congressional hopes). To his credit, I will note that now that Democratic “Majority” is led by a Senator from Brooklyn, Vito Lopez has actually expressed interest in giving Golden a race.
To square the circle, Gentile had previously kissed up to Conroy himself (The “Pods” backed Gentile while the “Good Guys” preferred Golden) and Capano used to work for Marty Markowitz, who is nonetheless backing Gentile, even as Markowitz supports Mike Bloomberg who backs Capano. Besides right-wing ideologues and those beholden to the Mayor or Marty Golden, Capano’s biggest support comes from Harriet Rosenberg, a Bay Ridge community and Democratic activist considerably more liberal than Gentile, whose beef with the Councilman is entirely personal and of little interest to anyone outside of her gene pool.
With the two Staten Island Republican incumbents virtual locks for victory (but shout-out to Jim Poccia for his valiant race against the volatile if humorous Jimmy Oddo) the Bloomberg/Senate Republican/IP bloc’s is most concerned with three races in Queens.
Two of the races overlap the Senate seat held until last year by Republican senator Serph Maltese and now held by Democrat Joe Addabbo; indeed, the two Republican candidates are among the top Republican prospects for retaking Addabbo‘s seat. .
In the Rockaways and Howard Beach, Republican hopes are pinned on accidental incumbent Eric Ulrich, who won his seat in a special election when Frank Galluscio, the choice of the Queens Democratic organization and the WFP, was knocked off the ballot for bad petitions, and his supporters decided to sit on their hands rather than to back one of the Democrats left in the race. Galluscio’s supporters are now counting on the party loyalty they failed to provide themselves.
In Ridgewood, the incumbent Democrat is Elizabeth Cowley, cousin of County Leader Joe, which is probably the best insurance against the usual underhanded maneuvers that go on in this area by the likes of DINOs like former Assemblyman Anthony “Tony Fats” Seminario, although it also helps that Seminario is on his way to jail.
Crowley is challenged by Tom Ognibene. Although a hard-nosed and savvy pol not immune to the awards of patronage (his wife was Deputy Director of the Board of Elections) and accusations of corruption (Like Dov Hikind, he managed to go scot-free after someone pled guilty to bribing him), Ognibene once qualified as an honorary “Idealist,” attempting to challenge Bloomberg in the 2005 Republican primary, and actually running in the general election as the Conservative candidate.
Though it was not his intent, Ognibene’s candidacy arguably helped Bloomberg make his case as the non-ideological candidate guided by civic virtue rather than politics.
In actuality, Ognibene’s candidacy helped to prove the opposite. One of thuggish Conservative Party Leader Mike Long‘s few virtues is his non-ideological (his soul mate on the issue is Jerry Nadler) support of a Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel (which has the added advantage in Long’s eyes of increasing contributions to Conservative coffers by maritime interests). But Ognibene represented Ridgewood, a community whose noisy rail traffic would increase exponentially if the tunnel were actually in operation.
Though Bloomberg had previously fought for the tunnel, he switched his position shortly after Ognibene entered the race, depriving Ognibene of one of his few issues salient to some block of voters (and having the added advantage of allowing the Mayor to slap Mike Long one upside the head).
Bloomberg dedicated some considerable time to destroying what was left of Ognibene’s career. When Ognibene’s chosen successor was indicted for rape and copped a plea (and, lacking a French passport, was forced to change his career), Ognibene ran in the special election and Bloomberg backed a different Republican, Anthony Como.
But though Como won the special with the Mayor’s help, he proved weaker than Ognibene, and lost the election in fall 2008, at the same time the Republicans lost the Senate seat, leaving a considerable portion of the party activists in the district without a means of financial support.
As with the Independence Party, where the king’s ransom paid to each side had to be topped off with a cherry of a Bloomberg negotiated truce, the Queens Republican support for Bloomberg came with not only wet beaks for all, but the happy reconciliation of Bloomberg and his former adversary. Bloomberg is now backing Ognibene for Council.
In the Bayside-Little Neck area of Frank Padavan’s Senate district, Republicans had initially given up, assuming a strong conservative Democrat, like Jerry Iannece or Paul Vallone would make their efforts superfluous. Then, unexpectedly, the fragmented vote among the race’s five white candidates allowed Korean-American Kevin Kim to emerge victorious.While white voters are still predominate in the district, they are a majority on the run, and they know it. Nothing in New York City is uglier than the politics of those in a changing neighborhood trying to stop the change (except, possibly, the politics of the former majority deluded into believing they can restore the old order). Kim’s candidacy presented a godsend to the Republicans.
The problem was their candidate was a great gobbling turkey. Articles in the Queens Tribune and Village Voice have detailed Republican Dan Halloran’s membership in a sect variously described as Pagan or Heathen, with a tendency to prance through the forest wearing garb more suited to a Renaissance Fair than campaigning on Bell Boulevard.
As a member of a pre-Christian sect myself, I feel duty bound not to dwell upon the peculiarities of others when some of my fellow chosen celebrate the New Year by swinging live poultry over their heads. There are an infinite number of ways to acknowledge the eternal, and in Dan Halloran’s case, also an infinite numbers of eternals to be acknowledged; the important thing is to pray early and often.
And, while the Voice has encouraged speculation about Halloran’s connection to the White Supremacist wing of the Pagan/Heathen world, there is absolutely no evidence that Halloran shares such despicable convictions.
No evidence but the despicable campaign he’s run, which amounts to saying that Kim represents interests trying to price US out of the neighborhood by encouraging FLUSHING-style overdevelopment. Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more.
For Dan Halloran apparently does not care judge a man by the color his skin, but rather, only by the shape of his eyeballs.
The Republicans decided they needed to get rid of Halloran, not because of his campaign’s message, which they found on-target, but because Halloran was an ineffective means for that message’s delivery. Running a campaign based upon racism requires the use of code words like “preserving our traditional values,“ which do not easily roll off of the tongue of a candidate who so obviously does not share them. Reverting to an even earlier pre-Christian era, the Republicans decided to replace their Pagan with a DINO. They attempted to recruit Vallone, who clearly belonged in their party anyway.
At first, it looked like Vallone, whose family is a favorite of the Mayor’s, was going to bite. Then his candidacy died. Theories abound. Cleary it was not about loyalty to his non-existent “party,” which, in any event, was not of great concern to a candidate who was already supporting Bloomberg
Why then did Vallone give up? Perhaps Vallone had his eye on the Assembly seat currently barely occupied by Ann Margaret Carrozza (D-Glen Head), who travels through her district every time she drives through it from her Nassau home to make her rare, but very special trips to Albany. Perhaps Vallone was worried about alienating the area’s rapidly growing Asian communities. Or perhaps Halloran would not clear the way by taking a worthless judicial nomination, because he was either unable (he was not admitted to the bar for enough years to actually qualify for the office), unwilling or both.
Vallone cut his losses and endorsed Kim. The Republicans, conscious of the upcoming Senate race, which Padavan barely won last time by a strand slightly thinner than the Vallone’s family’s party loyalty, are now directing resources Halloran’s way.
Before leaving the topic of Padavan’s seat, we should add his efforts on behalf of yet another Democrat defeated in the primary, Bob Friedrich, running against Mark Weprin in Jamaica Estates. Following the “Joe Bruno Dems” philosophy Padavan’s run on for years, Padavan endeavored to run his own Trojan whore in the Democratic Primary, and now seeks a mulligan as he runs him again in the general.
But outside of the candidates just named, the Republican Party as an institution is doing squat, because, in truth, outside of the Senate Republican/Bloomberg/IP Axis, the Republican Party in the City does not exist. In fact, in 16 of the City’s 51 Council District’s, they aren’t even running a candidate (and, in two of the district where they are running candidates, they are running the Democrat). No one gives them money, and no one gives them help and no one gives then even the courtesy of even a pro forma endorsement. And most don‘t care, because they are on the ballot in name only.
Make one exception to that, Mike Bloomberg has taken the trouble to endorse sure loser Gene Barardelli against Bloomberg’s arch-City Council nemesis, Lew Fidler. And though hopeless, Barardelli must be given credit for giving it the old college try, running the same campaign as Halloran, demonizing Fidler for siding with the ascendant and growing Orthodox Jewish community in changing Marine Park, in their demographic battle against the descending and shrinking Irish community. In turn, Barardelli demonizes the Orthodox for seeking to overdevelop the neighborhood (even though Fidler pointedly opposes the zoning change purportedly at the top of the Orthodox agenda).
In other aspects, the race has been more than fair; despite what must be great temptation, Fidler has refrained from making fun of Barardelli’s excessive weigh t(yes, you heard me right).
But as miserable and pathetic as the dominant non-Idealist wing of the NYC Republicans are, at least some of them are interested in building a Republican Party in some areas. Most of the so-called leadership of the so-called Democratic Party seems uninterested in anything beyond their own selves and their immediate tribe.
Take the purported leader of the Democratic Party in the City’s legislative branch, Christine Quinn. It took a potential revolt of the Council‘s black membership, based seemingly more on racial than party loyalty, to deliver her pro forma endorsement to Thompson. By the time it arrived, Thompson seemed to have determined its value was so limited that it would be more worthwhile, or at least more fun, to leave her twisting in the wind without an opportunity to bestow it. From all appearances, the Thompson endorsement came with Bloomberg’s sanction, since the last things Bloomberg wants is for Quinn to lose her leadership. Conversely, the last thing Quinn wants is a Thompson victory, which would almost certainly lead to a Council where other had the real power, in fact, if not in name.
In the old days, pro forma support of its candidates by the Democratic Party’s leadership was often a fact of life. Certainly, there were clubs who got it exactly backwards, spending endless effort on judicial primaries between candidates no one ever heard of the day before yesterday and no would remember the day after tomorrow, while keeping their doors locked on the days of general elections for Mayor, Governor and especially President.
But there were limits. Only in the rarest instances, as when a fragmented primary produced a candidate out of sympathy with the party’s majority, were there many endorsements for a candidate other than the Democrat. Why endorse a Republican when experts in treachery like Mario Cuomo could convey the same message with a nod, a wink and a well delivered knife-thrust?
But, things have degenerated. In the old days, outside of the Bronx, open endorsements of Republicans for State Legislative seats was frowned upon, even as their victories brought a smile. Certainly, the open slaughter of a Democratic incumbent, like Vincent Gentile in 2002, would never have been countenanced. But in 2002, at least six Democratic District Leaders participated in the Gentile gangbang without any expectation of punishment.
Even rare examples which seems the result of party loyalty, like Ken Mitchell’s decision to forgo a general election race on the Conservative line (detailed in Part One), actually reflect other factors. Yes, clearly Mitchell left the race at the behest of his mentor, Congressman Michael McMahon, who could not afford the alienate the his North Shore minority and liberal base by permitting Mitchell to go against Debi Rose, but one can hardly call this party loyalty when McMahon has endorsed Bloomberg’s re-election.
How much worse things have actually gotten is not only summed up by the number of Democratic primary losers running real general election races (Schulman, Griffith, Davila, Friedrich, Stewart) or those who nearly did so (Mitchell, Vallone and Jung); certain things are emblematic.
The first is when Democrats who’ve been victimized by party disloyalty now feel no compunction about doing the same to others. Example number one is Oliver Kopell. In 2000, Koppel’s wife Lorraine was given the shaft in a race for State Senate by the Bronx Democrats, who endorsed incumbent Republican Guy Vellella in all but name. This year, Koppell did to Bill Thompson what Jose Rivera and company did to his wife, only openly.
Even more telling, Councilman Jim Gennaro, shafted last year in his State Senate race against Padavan by the likes of Bob Friedrich, has also endorsed Bloomberg. Given that Bloomberg’s support, financial and otherwise, was alone important enough to more than account for Padavan’s victory, this is party treachery of almost preposterous proportions.
But nothing beats Brooklyn Democratic Leader Vito Lopez’s open endorsement of primary loser Maritza Davila in the general election.
To explain the shocking nature of what has occurred here, let us put this endorsement in its best possible light and grant Lopez every benefit of the doubt.
Reyna is not one of the Council's brightest lights. Earlier this year, impressed by the fact Lopez was trying to dump her, Daily Gotham’s Mole333 endorsed Reyna, citing her as someone willing to stand up to Lopez and Christine Quinn, when in reality, Reyna had stood up to Lopez mostly by siding with Quinn against him on parochial issues where even Charles Barron and Tish James stood with their colleagues as a matter of Brooklyn pride (Reyna's other notable act of independence was opposing a Lopez-backed plan for housing development which, whatever its politics and process issues, was not without some merit in its own right).
Moreover, endorsing Davila is not like endorsing a Republican; she is a Democrat, who will serve as a Democrat, no matter what line she was elected on. And Reyna won her primary with a minority of the votes in a divided field.
Further, some of those squawking the loudest include Democratic District Leaders who supported Jim McCall for Civil Court on the Republican-Conservative lines or Margarita Lopez-Torres for Supreme Court as a Working Families candidate. As District Leaders, they shared the same fiduciary responsibility to the party as Lopez does now, and they therefore are in no position to complain. In fact, their actions are partially responsible for what has now occurred.
But the fact that Reyna is no great shakes, and that her victory serves no moral imperative independent of party loyalty is really not a defense, it is merely a negation of one line of criticism.
Likewise, the fact that Lopez’s critics are hypocrites may negate their standing to make arguments they don’t themselves believe, but it does not render those arguments wrong.
If Vito Lopez, Leader of the Democratic Party in the State's largeest county, can endorse the loser of a Democratic Primary in a general election without consequence, then where is anyone’s standing to criticize Pedro Espada or Carl Kruger?
Lopez‘s explanation barely holds water: “I am county leader, but I am also a local district leader. I am also a member of a Democratic club [that supports Davila],” So what? As District Leader, doesn’t Lopez also bear a fiduciary responsibility to support the winner of a party primary? And, how does mere membership in a political club, even one which he controls, trump his dual fiduciary responsibility to the party?
Lopez went on to state further in his defense, “It seems like everybody is running as a Working Families Party candidate these days. Call up John Liu and Bill de Blasio and ask why they are running on that line.”
Once again, arrant nonsense, since DeBlasio and Liu are not running against the choice of Democratic voters--they are the choice of Democratic voters. And the idea that they would be running real races in the general if they’d lost the primary is a thing of fantasy, even if, like Lynn Schulman (see Part One), they were actually willing to do so.
Lopez seems unwilling to concede that ultimately, the decisions of THE PARTY are not what is decided by the County Leader, or even by a vote of the District Leaders, but rather by those voters enrolled as Democrats voting in a party primary. A County Leader is free to put his thumb on the scale to influence that results, but wielding such influence, no matter how crudely, is a damned site different than not respecting the primary’s results.
To put this in perspective, in 2001, Lopez’s predecessor as County Leader, Clarence Norman, ran his protégé Tish James for City Council She lost to insurgent James Davis, Norman’s arch enemy, with neither candidate getting a majority of the votes cast. James ran a race in the general election on the Working Families line, but Norman endorsed Davis, even if his sentiments, and real support, went elsewhere.
In 2005, incumbent Davis, with reluctant help from Norman, knocked one of Davis' opponents off the primary ballot, while the other failed to file his petitions on time. That opponent later shot Davis to death. Under the circumstances, Davis’ Vacancy Committee then chose the successor to run on his petitions, and since that petition was unopposed, the candidate thus chosen, Davis’ brother, Geoffrey, became the Democratic nominee.
Geoffrey, already a couple of Big Macs short of a happy meal, was driven further over the edge by his brother’s death and started spinning mad conspiracy theories in public, while embarrassing details about his prior activities spilled out into the press. Tish James once gain ran on the Working Families line, and Clarence Norman once again fulfilled his fiduciary duty to the party by endorsing the candidacy of a Davis, while doing his damnedest to elect Tish.
I suppose that, in a way, Lopez’s candor about what he is really doing is arguably the preferable posture. Certainly, no one in their right mind can argue that Geoffrey belonged on the institution called the City Counsel, as opposed to some other form of institutionalization. But Clarence Norman at least paid lip service to party loyalty.
These days the only lip service we see to party loyalty is people spitting on it.
But in the end, it appears that no one will really let the Reyna race affect their actions one way or another. A line has been crossed with little or no protest beyond the clucking of tongues, mostly from those who would find cause to complain no matter what.
The line crossed appears to be the one which renders the idea that there is an institution called the New York State Democratic Party as absolutely without meaning as if the “Party” were instead renamed “Six Degrees of Facebook Separation.” I say this more in sorrow than in anger because Lopez, Gennaro and Kopell are not the problem here. They are merely symptomatic of something I should have realized a long time ago, but was in denial over.
The party is over.
As Vonnegut would say: “So it goes.” And as Nick Lowe would say, “but where it’s going no one knows.”
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