In Praise of Mayoral Underdogs

Written by Tom Allon on . Posted in News Our Town, News Our Town Downtown, News West Side Spirit.


Sometimes they surprise us and win

When I ran for mayor last year, I was so often labeled an underdog by the media, that I jokingly told my friends I was thinking of changing my first name to “Longshot.”

Such is the indignity faced by some very smart and decent people now toiling for long hours in the brow-beating summer sun in their seemingly quixotic attempts to become Mayor of New York City.
Just a quick reminder for those with short-term memory loss: 12 years ago a political neophyte who was unknown outside of New York’s financial and philanthropic world catapulted to the mayoralty in 2001.
In July 2001, no one — including insiders like me – thought Mike Bloomberg had a shot at becoming the next leader of New York. But his strong and well-financed campaign — led by brilliant strategist Kevin Sheekey ­— was aided by the aftermath of 9/11 and Rudy Giuliani’s endorsement and immense popularity.
This year, however, the conventional “underdogs” lack Bloomberg’s game-changing wealth and it is hard to imagine a scenario where one emerges to win in November 2013.
But here I would like to praise these underdogs for their talents and ideas, not write them off as so many have done erroneously in the past.
On the Democratic side, you essentially have five career politicians who make up the top tier (Thompson, Quinn, Weiner, DeBlasio and Liu) and then two other “longshots” — Sal Albanese and Erick Salgado.
Sal Albanese had a very distinguished career as a council member from Brooklyn for more than a decade. In 1997, he ran a strong mayoral campaign for the Democratic nomination, finishing third behind Ruth Messinger and Al Sharpton.
Albanese, a former school teacher, then spent more than a decade in the private sector before he decided to make another run for City Hall. He has some sound, centrist ideas on education, transportation and public safety but because he is trailing badly in the early polls he receives scant attention from the media and political insiders.
I got to know Albanese up close during the race and I was impressed with his thoughtfulness, integrity, courage and desire to help his city. Hopefully, he will get more attention over the summer and perhaps spike up in the polls.
Erick Salgado is a passionate, feisty candidate who also wants to help his city, but his right-leaning views on some issues will likely marginalize him in a Dem primary where almost everyone runs to the left. He jumped into the race after I jumped out, so I didn’t get a chance to know him (at one of the countless mayoral forums), but I admire his gumption to run a real outsider campaign.
Remember Rick Santorum’s late surge in the GOP presidential primary? Maybe Albanese or Salgado will get their day in the sun.
On the GOP side, it looks like a two-person horse race for the nomination — between billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis and former Giuliani deputy mayor Joe Lhota.
On the fringes in the Republican primary is a man named George McDonald, who has had a successful run in helping alleviate New York’s homeless problem the past two decades. His Doe Fund gets formerly homeless people a job and helps restore their dignity.
Although McDonald is considered a real longshot, hopefully his ideas on battling poverty will help the next Mayor combat the rising problem of homelessness and inequality.
On the Independent line, there is former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, a thoughtful urban planner, who is banking on being the only minority in a three-way general election in November.
As John Catsimatidis wisely pointed out a few months ago: “Adolfo Carrion could be the ‘Ross Perot’ of this campaign,” referring to the eccentric third-party candidate for president in 1992 who swung the election to Bill Clinton and allowed him to unseat incumbent George Bush, Sr.
Carrion is a centrist, pro-charter school, pro-business and pro-real estate candidate, who has some impressive experience from his work in the Bronx and as an urban affairs policy person in the Obama administration.
But what Carrion does not have is a major party line (Democratic or Republican) and thus is very likely, at best, to be a spoiler in November.
Mark Green, in October of 2001, walked into my office and proudly told me and my editorial team: “When I wake up each morning and look in the mirror, I see the next Mayor of New York.” Two weeks later, he lost in a dramatic upset by Mike Bloomberg.
Beware political top dogs. They often end up in the dustbin of history.
Tom Allon, the president of City and State Media, was the Liberal Party-backed candidate for Mayor last year. Questions or comments? Email tallon@cityandstateny.com.

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