State Dems Have Only Themselves to Blame

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Unfortunately, Republicans aren’t going to make it any better

By Alan S. Chartock

If there is a single thing we saw in this year’s election cycle, it is the futility of incredibly long campaigns that last, sometimes, for years. Some may argue the point, saying that you have to “stage” an election and that the millions of dollars and huge numbers of hours that are devoted to the campaigns pay dividends. To counter that idea, consider the possibility that voters are really not all that stupid and sometimes actually know what they want. In this case, they didn’t make up their minds until the very last week of the campaign. They are even able to decide which of the lesser of two evils they are willing to put up with. Andrew Cuomo was a central figure throughout the process. Carl Paladino self-destructed and lost his angry edge when he went too far. Still, despite his gaffes and considering all the tabloid attacks in the New York Post and the Daily News, he did extraordinarily well, proving that homophobia and racism still sell.

Cuomo must have had an awful lot of people thinking about him with reservations. I suspect that part of the reason why Republican Comptroller candidate Harry Wilson and Republican Attorney General hopeful Dan Donovan did so well, closing like crazy at the end of the election cycle, was that people wanted someone looking over Andrew’s shoulder. Nor was Cuomo particularly helpful to either Democratic Attorney General candidate Schneiderman or incumbent Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. At least one insider suggested to me that Andrew wants in with the millionaires club—Rupert Murdoch, Michael Bloomberg and Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman—in order to move on to the presidency.

The races for District Attorney and Comptroller told us a lot about voter attitudes. I sat on a panel of questioners for one of the debates between Dan Donovan, the Republican District Attorney from Staten Island, and Eric Schneiderman, the brilliant lawyer and State Senator. Schneiderman had an expansive view of the DA’s office; he would continue in the tradition of Andrew Cuomo, whom he called the “Sheriff of Wall Street” (that was actually Spitzer’s title). Schneiderman was endorsed by the New York Times, and Donovan by the New York Post. Harry Wilson, the Republican candidate for Comptroller, was endorsed by most of the major editorial boards. With all that going against him, it was extraordinary that Tom DiNapoli, a very nice man, did as well as he did. His opponents tried their best to tie him to the disgraced Alan Hevesi and to Speaker Sheldon Silver who appointed him to a thankless job in a time of lean when all pension funds took a major hit. The degree of momentum Wilson had going for him toward the end was fascinating because almost no one knew who he was.

One didn’t need a crystal ball to see what happened in the State Senate coming. The unhappy and frustrated voters of Long Island and Westchester threw out the Democrats in the last election cycle. The momentum continued in this election. There were enough marginal Senate Democrats to make a difference this contest. It didn’t help the Democrats that their performance has been terrible since they took control two years ago. It was as if they were taking instructions from “Loser Central.” The middle-class voters didn’t trust them and they only have themselves to blame for their problems.

As one friend put it, “They were like kids in a candy store, stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down.” I responded, “More like thugs in a candy store.”

The fact that State Inspector General Joe Fisch came out with a blockbuster report damning the way in which the big Aqueduct gambling contract was awarded didn’t help inspire any appreciation for them. Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos had to have been kneeling by his bed, praying, “Dear God, please let these people keep behaving as badly as they are.”

People took a long time to make up their minds, but in the end, they tried to balance their bets. Unfortunately, my bet is that nobody learns anything from what we’ve just seen.
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Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.

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