Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Political Lessons

Times have changed. It's not like the Old Days, when we can do anything we want. A refusal is not the act of a friend. If Don Corleone had all the judges, and the politicians in New York, then he must share them, or let us others use them. He must let us draw the water from the well. Certainly he can present a bill for such services; after all... we are not Communists.
-- Don Barzini (The Godfather)

With Goldman Sachs bankers reportedly applying for gun permits to protect themselves from an enraged populace, its not surprising that there is some anger associated with playing the game of politics. As JFK once said, “Politics is the only game for adults.”
The game has evolved into a stage from which to pontificate upon “The Truth,” whatever that is. The trial of Joe Bruno, former leader of the State Senate, for example, shows us that retribution is usually is the order of the day – a tragic-comedy replete with rumors of rogue State Police units, political payoffs and favors.

But, what about the game within the game? What about the casino of supporting a politician in hopes of currying favor at some future time? And, what about the obverse of asking for support in order to get elected in the first place?
It’s like the Emperor’s New Clothes. Few will talk about it on record and those who do, give a stock answer that “You should support and vote for the best candidate, period. That is its own reward. Expect nothing in return. The best person winning, your candidate is the success you should want – and nothing more.”

Okay, that sounds good. It has a good ring to it.

And, in fact, sometimes the success of a particular candidate really is so important that it’s close to the truth.
Downtown, the success of Margaret Chin as City Council Member, and the unexpected victory by Cy Vance as D.A. were two notable examples of people who were critical to a progressive agenda for SoHo and sister communities – as well as Manhattan, in general.

Bloomberg is still a cipher to some – because his skills have been overshadowed by a seemingly dictatorial manner of governing that were only re-emphasized by the term-limits fiasco. However, he is an intelligent and able administrator, who seems more in tune with Aeschylus than Downtown residents. Trump SoHo, the DSNY garage on Spring Street, the overdevelopment, the neutering of the Department of Buildings (no landlord scrutiny and no tenant support), the dangerous and over-the-top bike lanes in SoHo and the failure to reign-in billboard proliferation – are just a few examples of resident dissatisfaction with his Imperial style.
There is no doubt that his friendship will further empower Frank McKay, noted political genius of the Hamptons who heads the Independence Party. That friendship will now be a lot closer – since Thompson clearly would have won the election without McKay’s support, in spite of the $120 million Bloomberg spent.

For others who ran, for those who did not pay enough attention to their base of support, it was a bleak lesson. Alan Gerson, thought of as a “nice guy” (he actually is) counted on Greenwich Village voters but burned his bridges with the Downtown Independent Democrats (SoHo’s powerful political club) -- and was turned out of office. Rumors have it that Gerson angered the President of D.I.D., Sean Sweeney and other important members, by claiming that he no longer needed the club’s support. He was warned by Sweeney that such a point of view would cost him the next election. Despite being an incumbent and having broad community support, as a result of his rejection of D.I.D., Gerson lost his bid for re-election. Activists were so antagonistic towards Gerson that they went so far as to create a website with the slogan ABG – anyone but Gerson. The lesson should not be lost on others.
But, as Monty Python’s famous line goes: 'No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition.' Once elected, many politicians have brushed off their former supporters. It is a familiar gripe.

The recent defection by David Reck, Bill Love and Linda Belfer in a bid to form a new political club, followed on he heels of the Gerson loss.

Described by Sweeney as the Downtown United Democrats (DUDS), the success of this, as yet unnamed group, has completed the regeneration of D.I.D. After having foiled an attempted coup by Reck and Community Board #1 Chair Julie Menin to take over the club, the exit of members who opposed Sweeney will now be complete. He described it as excising a malignant tumor without having to operate.
With 200 members, D.I.D. is now poised to become THE downtown political club. The transitional period is underway and new leadership will be reinforcing its image. Jeanne Wilcke, Adam Sivera, Jim Stratton and Pete Gleason will be joining Sweeney.

Jeanne Wilcke

Adam Silvera

Pete Gleason

Sean Sweeney

In this game, politicians need to pay more attention to the desires of leaders who DO speak for the community. Those who work tirelessly for the benefit of others -- as well as themselves -- must now start making the needs of the community much clearer – and holding candidates accountable for their promises AFTER they are elected.

Thus far, that has been conveniently forgotten.

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