Tom Pain: Why I'm Voting for Tom Suozzi and Why I Wish He Wasn't Running (The curtain raiser in a two act tragedy)
My father is a retired investor who’s spent his entire life as a resident of either Texas or Louisiana, and currently splits his time between the two; he can, if pressed, tell you who occupies the third slot on the slate of either Likud, Labor or Kadima, but cannot, for the life of him, name the Attorney General of either of his home states, even though they are elected positions. But, he can tell you who Eliot Spitzer is. Eliot Spitzer is probably the only State AG whose support is worth any votes in the American Heartland (each state’s own AG may or may not be a possible exception), which is pretty amazing for a New Yorker, given that the support in such places by either of our very well known US Senators “ain’t”, in the words of Mr. Garner, “worth a bucket of warm piss”.
The late President of the Phillipines, Ferdinand Marcos, once cancelled an election, citing a poll saying his country’s voters didn’t want one. New York’s punditocracy has essentially called for the same regarding our Democratic Primary for Governor, and even “reform” types who usually scream about any efforts to restrict ballot access have largely joined them. All of Brooklyn is engaged in a fierce and nasty debate over David Yassky’s right to run for Congress, but sometimes it seems that, outside of myself and my good friends at DDDB, no one is willing to come to the defense of Tom Suozzi’s campaign for Governor, and even I wish he weren‘t running.
My reasons for wishing away the primary are not the conventional ones. I don’t buy that this race will hurt the eventual nominee. The same polls, when they’ve bothered to consider the purely theoretical possibility of a Spitzer-free November, have consistently shown Suozzi with a large lead over Republican John Faso. Moreover, I tend to agree with the Times’ analysis that Suozzi’s presence has helped to improve Spitzer's positions on issues like Albany dysfunction and corruption (although the presence in the race of a suburbanite probably made the commuter tax the one issue where Suozzi’s candidacy made Spitzer's stand worse). Suozzi has forced Spitzer to confront some important issues he might otherwise have ignored, and that may ultimately inure to the benefit of us all. Watching these guys go at each other in debate made for great entertainment; they both came out with more stature than they went in with. MORE DEBATES!!! In any event, the blowout victory that seems around the corner is only going to add fuel to the fire of Spitzer’s seeming inevitability. So, where’s the harm?
Unlike the Tasini-Clinton Senate primary, which is clearly draining "left" money from places it is better spent, Spitzer's money would not be going anywhere else useful. That which does not come from his father, Bernard, comes from the usual Albany suspects making sure they are with a winner. If the Albany money weren't going to Spitzer, it would only leave more for Joe Bruno. Suozzi’s money comes largely from Nassau players, and from Spitzer haters; if the former didn't give to Tom, they'd give it to Dean Skelos for use by Joe Bruno; if the latter didn't give it to Tom, they'd give it to Faso. Either way, we are better off with it going where it's going.
As such, goes the argument, the only harm Suozzi’s candidacy is doing is self inflicted by Tom upon himself; he’s a big boy and can handle it. I only wish I could believe it, but because I buy Suozzi’s argument in the first place, the effects of this seemingly unstoppable blowout may be troubling.
The more reform minded of Spitzer’s supporters have continually argued that Spitzer represents a “new paradigm” and that “everything changes on day one”. And, indeed, Eliot Spitzer's record demonstrates he has the potential to be the best possible Governor within the context of Albany’s existing culture. But that culture doesn't need to be reformed, it needs to be destroyed (for examples why, see http://www.r8ny.com/blog/gatemouth/albany_primer_why_does_nyc_get_screwed_at_budget_time.html, http://www.r8ny.com/blog/gatemouth/settling_for_the_steak_knives.html and http://www.r8ny.com/blog/gatemouth/dont_print_the_legend_the_real_story_of_the_commuter_tax_repeal.html; then weep ), and Spitzer's bundled contributions from all the usual Albany suspects are just one sign, among many, that he's made his peace with it. Spitzer’s contributions are a major worry for those of us looking for someone who will try to put an end to Albany's insider culture of corruption. His contributors list reads like the attendance role at the banquet for Albany's permanent power structure. It's all the wrong money from all the wrong people.
I’m not arguing that Spitzer’s governorship would be a mere re-arrangement of the deck chairs on our Titanic ship of state; it might indeed be more like a gut rehab, but will it make much difference when we hit the iceberg? After a look at the names of those who contributed or raised money for Spitzer, I still harbor hopes that Spitzer does represent a new paradigm, but the company he keeps does seem to believe otherwise.
By contrast, Suozzi came to office at the head of a fiscally crippled county needing Albany permission even to take self-help measures. He hired all the right lobbyist, found his efforts being blocked by the usual suspects for the usual lousy reasons (or no reason at all) and saw himself further stymied by systemic problems the usual suspects were incapable or unwilling to address. Unlike others who’ve confronted the Albany powers- that-be and made their piece with what appeared to be inevitability, Suozzi decided to confront the establishment head-on. He called for a house-cleaning, and took on both Democratic Assembly members (in the primary) and Republican Senators (in the general), helping to beat one of each, which in Albany qualified as a Katrina like disaster, and marked Suozzi as the enemy of all things as they currently exist. The eagerness of Albany’s establishment types for Suozzi to go away can't merely be explained by their desire to have a Democratic administration, since most of these folks lost little or no sleep over Pataki. Clearly, he worries them, and that's a good sign. Albany's culture is the keystone of the state government's problems, and Spitzer has clearly bought himself a piece of the rock. In the context of what lives under the rock, Spitzer’s clear and away our best and brightest, but better to get someone who wants to break the rock into dust. While everyone else shrugs their shoulders at the sorry status quo, no one besides Tom Suozzi, Spitzer included, has had the cojones to go after the Albany Iron Triangle as they sing their same old sorry song (translated from the original Italian):
"Three Men in a Room,
And the Albany establishment is not the only establishment in need of change which has been embraced by Spitzer. I won’t overemphasize the support Spitzer’s received from County Democratic organizations (not to mention the egregious Independence Party, currently controlled by the barely preferable anti-Fulani faction, which supports Spitzer and every other candidate of the Albany bi-partisan ruling class, in its efforts to achieve change, meaning spare change for the party’s coffers, and jobs for the boys, a goal remaining unchanged from the Fulani days). But, it’s one thing to make peace with the Democratic Party establishment, and easy and almost costless to do so when they're almost climbing all over each other, like crabs in a barrel, to be on the winner's bandwagon and get whatever crumbs he may have to offer. It is another thing to endorse candidates who are generally perceived as crumbs themselves, especially when pragmatism would dictate that one stay out.
Spitzer’s support, at this particular juncture in history, for his onetime aide and political strategist Carl Andrews, one of the biggest recipients of judicial patronage in Brooklyn, and the right hand man of recently convicted county leader Clarence Norman, sends a mixed message about the real meaning of the term “new paradigm”. It also shows a steadfast sense of loyalty that is, in some respects, admirable. Spitzer obviously has an extremely high regard for Andrews’ abilities (he apparently attempted to impose him as the Senate’s Democratic Leader), and his willingness to take what can only be regard as an unnecessary political risk in disregard of the conventional wisdom does not merely display remarkable hubris, but in some sense speaks well of Spitzer (and of Andrews). Like he says in the ad, Spitzer never asks if it is popular or unpopular, but simply asked whether it was right or wrong. As he says, it's not a bad rule, but, even accepting, arguendo, it's application in this case, such actions do not inspire confidence that Spitzer is totally committed to avoiding the appearance of conviviality with the culture of “this thing of ours”, and one would certainly not be unreasonable in expressing some doubt concerning whether this is truly is the best way of conveying a message that everything will change on Day One.
While I do believe, that as regards Albany, Suozzi is the real deal (he brings to mind the description of Grover Cleveland: “we love him form the enemies he’s made”) I am not deluded that he is some sort of saint. The Suozzi campaign’s reliance upon money raised from people doing business with his office, and people under investigation by Spitzer, does considerable damage to his "I'm the one challenging the system" rationale. But, I’m not sure it should matter; not because Suozzi’s contributions don't look dubious (they do), but because Spitzer's, although not coming from those doing business with his office, are from all the usual Albany suspects. Suozzi’s contributions raise questions concerning his continued performance in his present job, but since I'm not from Nassau, they don't really concern me that much. The money he's gotten from Spitzer targets would look especially bad if Suozzi were running for AG, but he's not (and, if he were, he wouldn't be getting the money). Suozzi’s money may carry strings, but they aren't the strings one worries about in a Governor. Likewise, the hue and cry over Nassau County employees carrying Suozzi petitions is mostly a non-story. Most of these folks are in two categories: (1) Top-level people who answer directly to Suozzi; eat at the kings table, do the king’s bidding. Most of these folks are true believers who probably volunteered gladly. They want Tom to take them to Albany, or don’t want him to be too badly damaged at home; perhaps they tried to talk him out of the race, but once committed they were in to the bitter end. (2) Board of Elections employees; who cares? They are pure patronage by statute and were hired for just such purposes. Lord knows, if Spitzer needed to petition, Dem BOE employees would have been carrying for him in every county but Nassau. And, Dem BOE employees did carry petitions in every county, including Nassau, for every office which does require petitions, as did their Republican counterparts.
But such stuff, and other mishaps, did damage Suozzi’s message in ways he should have been prepared for, but wasn’t. He also stumbled badly in ignoring the largely successful effort to falsely portray him as a social reactionary (the subject of my unnecessary, but irresistible, part two). Despite his impressive record rescuing Nassau County from the brink of fiscal disaster, perhaps he wasn’t ready for the big leagues (although Nassau is a big league County, and Suozzi’s the best slugger they’ve produced in two generations). Perhaps Spitzer is one of those once in a lifetime all stars who should be regarded as a force of nature; like a category- five hurricane from which the only option is evacuation. Suozzi has been rendered into a political Red Klotz of the Washington Generals claiming he beat the expectations during his latest defeat by the Harlem Globetrotters. At this point, the seemingly massive proportions of Suozzi’s inevitable landslide defeat are going to send the exact wrong message to the Albany establishment. Rather than seeing Spitzer’s victory as the triumph of one reformer over another, they will see it as evidence that the concept of real change bores the public to tears, and they will act accordingly. Even worse, at this point, it’s too late for Suozzi to withdraw gracefully without the establishment drawing exactly the same conclusion. I’ll be voting for Suozzi to diminish the scope of this disaster, but sadly, the damage has already been done.
Spitzer seems inevitable, and is clearly preferable to Faso, who has not merely made his piece with the Albany “culture of bundling”, but was one of its bag men. Certainly, with my neo-lib new-Dem politics, I'm in no position to object to pragmatism, and Spitzer’s Governorship will represent a great and much needed improvement in our ship of state. I'll be happy when he is elected Governor, but I'm not going to delude myself that we couldn’t do better.
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