Thursday, September 24, 2009

The People have Spoken

When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber.
--Sir Winston Churchill

Last Tuesday’s Primary was an eye-opener for many of us Downtown.
The most watched contests were the CD1, CD3 City Council races and, more important the run for District Attorney.

Margaret Chin, an activist who has supported tenants in their confrontations with landlords and developers, won the CD1 seat handily.
She defeated incumbent Alan Gerson overwhelmingly. While she was not as involved in the heated controversies, as was candidate Pete Gleason, it’s clear that Gerson was damaged by the perception that his campaign had started to lose control. The loss of matching funds, the delays in being listed on the ballot and the overhang from his unpopular support of term-limit extension, were fatal to Gerson’s re-election.
While there was increasing rancor over the perception by many activists that Alan had ignored their community needs, the handling of his campaign was really the nail in his political coffin.
As always, Alan is a “nice guy.” We wish him well.
Pete Gleason always was a stand-up guy in the community. He fought hard and has supported the community as a fireman, police officer and attorney.
We look forward to his next move. For the moment his plans involve a return to his legal practice.

The CD3 race was a tough one for many. Quinn has baggage but is seen as a strong citywide City Council Speaker. Her mistakes lie with how her Downtown district constituents view her efforts for them. There are political moves afoot, however, to remove her Speakership.

Kurland fought a good fight and her challenge to Quinn was a closer call than one would have been expected. The message here is that even a strong Speaker may want to consider community outreach that is perceived as a genuine attempt to mend fences.
Especially, if Quinn plans to run for Mayor. The support of Bloomberg over Thompson (which she has alluded to by her refusal to commit), in light of the negative view of the term-limits fiasco that caused many Council members their seats, is clearly a mistake. Gerson can vouch for that.

Many clubs and Downtown activists supported Richard Aborn for D.A. He is seen as a progressive who wanted to make real changes in the criminal justice system.
Leslie Crocker-Snyder was perceived as a conservative, and despite the fact that she reached out to women (calling on her ostensible strong support) and heavily criticized Vance; it was not good enough to seal the deal. She clearly had the advantage going into the race – especially, on the heels of a better than 40% share of the vote against Morgenthau from 4 years ago.
As Vance pulled up in the polls, the strident content of her message started to scare a few people. Not just the criminals.
Vance will be a breath of fresh air, especially in his desire to build on Morgenthau’s successes and focus on the major problem of recidivism.

Cy Vance’s campaign was handled very well. His momentum grew slowly and his message of change did not criticize Morgenthau but alluded to the fact that he wanted to further expand certain efforts. Of course, it did not hurt that “Morgy” heavily supported him. Or, that the Kennedys endorsed him. Even Gloria Steinem helped get out the vote.

Gradually, the well-placed media blitz garnered endorsements from the NY Times, Daily News and NY Post. Even downtown’s prescient niche publication, The SoHo Journal, featured his images and interview with a Warhol-styled cover reproduction – the magazine’s first cover featuring a politician.

Ultimately, Vance’s easy manner, firm stance on crime and innovative ideas, seeped into the voter’s consciousness and took hold. He was elected in a landslide.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Where the Buck Stops

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
-- Yogi Berra (1925 - )

We have reached the point of no return on the final round of Downtown politics. For a Democratic town, the Primary is THE election. The most relevant for us are the District 1 and District 3 City Council (the two affecting SoHo) and Manhattan District Attorney races.

Essentially, the City Council races are the Gerson/Gleason/Chin contest (CD1), the Quinn/Kurland face-off (CD3) and the Manhattan District Attorney Vance, Aborn, Snyder contest.

Calling any of these races is next to impossible.

Quinn has suffered from some serious mudslinging and rancor from community activists over the DSNY garage, the Trump SoHo behemoth and disaffection from her support of the term-limits rollback. Support of tenants, as a bedrock of her community support has been tepid since she is perceived as someone who has failed to really target the landlord games that still permit stabilized tenants to be evicted using the “lawsuit ploy” and does not at all protect market rate tenants from gouging once their one or two year lease expires. Tenants who complain do not get a lease renewal.
However, Quinn is an able politician who knows how to navigate in a dangerous environment. Despite the accusations regarding “Slushgate” it is a fantasy to suppose that Council funds (or those in any other elected office) are not part of the risk-reward system that politics is about. Running a campaign, not to mention living your life, under possible indictment takes a strong, dedicated person. Toughness counts for something, even if you don’t agree with the person who is running.
Kurland, on the other hand, is untested but has gained substantial support from community activists who want a clean sweep. Her bona fides seem to stem from gay rights and a willingness to confront issues important to the community. Her support has substantially grown in recent weeks and those who have written her off initially are now thinking twice.

The Gerson, Gleason, Chin contest is another race that is impossible to call.
While Gerson is the incumbent, his growing unpopularity has only been upstaged by a badly managed campaign. To have lost matching funds and a place on the ballot for a time shows a massive lack of competence – at least about running a contested election. Gerson, by his decisions, seems to have been massively unprepared for a challenge. Not without basis contenders, such as Pete Gleason, have pointed out that this alone shows that Gerson is not qualified to run again. Most of the verbal fisticuffs have occurred between Gerson and Gleason (who backed away from challenging Alan in the last election) and that has not been lost on the minds of voters in the Village, SoHo and Tribeca. Gleason has confronted the incumbent and there is no question that he has damaged Gerson, whose prior popularity has been based up being known as “a nice guy.”

Margaret Chin really is a “wild” card. While having been criticized as somewhat provincial due to her base in Chinatown, her housing activist background is clearly her community-based “ticket-to-ride.” Chin’s often touted 6000 vote base may, in fact, carry her over the top.
But, this race could go in any direction.

The Power race, of course, is the District Attorney race.
Aborn has been the early favorite Downtown. He is seen as a strong, progressive politician who is attractive and falls on the right side of liberal ideals for what we want in Justice.
Snyder is seen by many who support the “woman” card as a guaranteed winner. She has backed off from her previous position, which seemed to support the death penalty and according to her campaign mentor, Jim McManus, is a tough judge who will win the election. According to him, she got the hard cases from Morgenthau and will be a tough, but fair, D.A.
Cy Vance has been the object of a few jabs by Snyder and his campaign surged within the last several months. His progressive agenda is similar to Aborn’s and is popular Downtown.
The fact that the New York Times, New York Post and Daily News have endorsed him has been something of a surprise.

This race cannot be called, either.

Vote in the Primary on September 15th!