John Faso inspires a crowd in Brooklyn.Photograph by Jon Dolan
The Brownstone Republicans don't meet in a brownstone. They meet in the mauve-beige first-floor community room of Cadman Towers, one of the finest structures built under Mitchell-Lama.
There were about 60 people assembled at last night's candidate forum: ten or so low-level journos and a gaggle of party loyalists who have the passing familiarity of early-bird-special regulars. Even in what is, by all accounts, a grim hour for New York Republicans, the collegiality inside this safe space trumped the dispiriting political climate outside.
The evening's premier guest, gubernatorial candidate John Faso, arrived promptly at 6:30 and almost immediately launched into the one thing all local Republicans can speak about with unmitigated glee: Alan Hevesi and Eliot Spitzer's refusal to accept Christopher Callaghan as the inevitable best man for the job.
"In essence, what he's saying to the voters is 'Don't vote in the race for comptroller,'" Faso said. "'Don't vote in that race.' And what they want and this is the dirty little secret is they want Mr. Hevesi to be elected so Spitzer and Shelley Sliver can pick who the next comptroller is." Then he outlined his tax-cutting plan and transitioned into the line that endears him most deeply to this crowd. "The essential difference between myself and Eliot Spitzer is he believes in the power of government to ordain human behavior. I am very skeptical of the power of government to ordain human behavior."
It's an unmentioned irony that if government wasn't in the business of ordaining public life to some extent, massive middle-income housing blocks like this one wouldn't exist and the Brownstone Republicans might be squeezing into one of their members' own homes.
But there were stranger things to wonder about last night. Like how can a politician whose entire platform is based on cutting taxes to stimulate investment have raised but one-tenth the money of his liberal, Democrat opponent? Why hasn't the national party stepped in to spend New Yorkers' contributions on a New York race? Why haven't state officials been more supportive of their standard bearer? ("Pataki stabbed him in the back," noted an elderly man to harrumphing approval.)
"It's a big money game," said Faso.
And yet political events aren't about political realities. A woman at the back of the room whom Faso called on by name offered a comment-question about the irrefutable success of the Bush tax cuts. A room of Democrat activists at the height of Clinton's popularity wouldn't have shown the kind of spirited approval these people did for Bush at the nadir of his popularity and power. Of course, no small amount of that against-the-odds enthusiasm extends to their troubled candidate for governor. Sort of.
A man at the front asked Faso if he'd be interested in running in a special election for what will soon be Alan Hevesi's old job. After a polite briefing on the procedural impossibility of such an occurrence, Faso, more a straight-talk guy than a hope-and-dreams hawker, stepped back and looked into the middle distance where embattled pols see possibilities no one else can: "Every day I wake up and I tell myself, 'I can win. I can win. I can win.'"
The place went bananas (in an understated blue-blazer way, of course). And for one brief moment, the basement of this Soviet-style housing project became the epicenter of promise for a tax-slashing, free-spending, investment-soaked tomorrow that will lift all boats in a monsoon of trickle-down manna. It's the weirdest irony, and the only one everyone there could savor.