A long time ago, Al D’Amato’s brother, Armand, beat a criminal rap, George Pataki got elected governor with D’Amato’s backing and D’Amato won a new term as U.S. Senator. D’Amato went around bragging that he had “won the Trifecta.”
Later, Chuck Schumer took on D’Amato and beat him, and now Schumer has won the Trifecta himself. He is thought to have gotten Kirsten Gillibrand selected by Gov. David Paterson to be U.S. Senator. Now it looks like Schumer got the President of the United States to call Rep. Steve Israel, who would have defeated Gillibrand in a primary, to ask him to stay out of the race. Finally, Chuck has just had his staff counsel named U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, probably the most powerful in the United States.
It would appear that Chuck Schumer may be the most powerful politician in the United States. After all, he is generally credited with having delivered the U.S. Senate to Democrats. The party owes him a lot, and the President owes him a lot.
So let’s see whether this is good for the people and for democracy. Primaries were invented to give people a choice. When the country passed a constitutional amendment providing for the direct election of senators and getting that choice out of the hands of the cigar-smoking backroom boys, it was a good thing for democracy. When a President makes a telephone call and tells a fine candidate to get out of the race, it is decidedly not a good thing, especially when it would appear that Israel was the leading candidate. One can only wonder if, with Chuck whispering his ear, Obama called the others whose names have been mentioned, like Carolyn Maloney and Carolyn McCarthy.
Chuck once called and asked if he could come to Albany to announce that he would vote for the war in Iraq. I was delighted to host him, even though I was certainly opposed to the war. It was a great thing for the public radio stations I run, but because I wanted to keep things from degenerating, I announced we would have audience members write their questions on cards and I would read the cards to the senator. When I came into the hall, an older man was yelling at a staff member that he “…didn’t care who I was and he was going to stand up and have it out with the $%^&^*”
I asked him to lower his voice and told him I expected him to play by the rules, at which point the guy standing next to him threw a cup of hot coffee at my head. Someone called the police, who asked if I wanted to press charges. I declined. But the best part came when Chuck walked into the hall and asked in a loud voice, “Where’s the peacenik who threw the hot coffee at Chartock?” That was Chuck at his funniest and his best. Now I think the situation may be becoming more serious.
Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.
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