So let’s get all this straight. The Republican governor who used to describe himself as conservative cuts a mammoth health-care-legislation package with union leader Dennis Rivera, who used to describe himself as left-wing (should I tell you the names of the très gauche figures he once described to me as his political heroes? Nah; there’s no point, since it appears they’ve changed). The governor’s Democratic opponents attack the deal from the right as fiscally irresponsible – one of them, Andrew Cuomo, going so far as to trash it in the company of a man from Change New York, a conservative, no-tax advocacy group that spent years heckling the bejesus out of his father.
Then the same governor unveils a budget that, as the Post noted with dour circumspection, raises spending at a rate unequaled even by Mario Cuomo, in a year in which the state is supposedly facing a $5 billion shortfall. Then the governor joins forces with the Democratic attorney general to argue that Ken Feinberg, the special master in charge of the 9-11 survivors’ money, is being too stingy.
More: In a special State Senate election on the East Side in which both parties are investing heavily, we see almost every major union backing the Republican. This includes Rivera’s health-care union, even though the Republican in question, Assemblyman John Ravitz, actually voted against Rivera’s bill!
Then we have the sight of the Republican mayor – however notionally he may lay claim to that adjective – paying a call on Al Sharpton. He is also renouncing Rudy Giuliani and rehabilitating David Dinkins. And finally, since I mentioned the increasingly more-bark-than-bite Post, let’s note its by-now-regular pillorying of George Pataki and its heavy skepticism with regard to Mike Bloomberg, both appearing while the paper has written one or two nice articles about Hillary.
Just what is happening in this town?
Welcome to post-partisan New York. we have reached this point as a result of three forces that, taken together, have handcuffed the Democrats; unless they grasp the trend and do something about it, they are in trouble.
The first force is Pataki. Everyone has observed by now that he’s moved to the left, but no one has put his movement in the proper historical context, which is that he has redefined New York Republicanism to such an extent that he is now well to the left of that old conservative bête noire, Nelson Rockefeller. This may seem hard to believe at first blush, but it’s true.
Rocky left two chief legacies: the World Trade Center and the drug laws to which the word draconian has been affixed virtually since their implementation. No one can seriously dispute that Pataki is to Nelson’s left on both questions. Nelson used a public agency (the Port Authority) to build a huge office complex (the Trade Center). But Pataki has said that any new development at the site must be financed privately. On one level, this is a traditional Republican belief in letting the free market do its thing without government interference. At the same time, though, Pataki is saying that public funds won’t be used to prop up commercial real-estate interests. In Pataki’s New York, public money will go to public purposes, like rail lines; indeed, the privatization of the WTC was driven by Pataki’s view that the Port Authority should get out of the real-estate business; the $3.2 billion that Larry Silverstein is still paying to the authority is intended to fund transit projects.
As for the drug laws, Pataki hasn’t done much yet, but he thundered during his State of the State speech that this will be the year to undo them. Other states, some with GOP governors, are cutting prison budgets and releasing inmates in the name of savings. If they can do that, Pataki can do this.The second and third forces shaping the new, post-partisan New York are related: The Democrats’ self-immolation in last year’s mayoral election and the rise of Mike Bloomberg. In the former case, the Democrats painted themselves into a racial corner in which even the quite liberal Mark Green was judged impure. There’s a lot of passion in that corner and tons of media attention around the race issue for those who scream the loudest. But one thing that is not in that corner, as the election showed, is 51 percent of the vote.
For all the hoo-ha last year over black and Latino defections, that is not the Democratic problem. The systemic Democratic problem in New York is the moderate Jewish vote. No Democratic mayoral candidate since Ed Koch has won more than half the Jewish vote. If the party keeps moving in that direction – if, in other words, it responds to Pataki’s leftward drift by moving still further left itself – it will face many more depressing election nights.
And with Bloomberg, we see the advantages for the GOP of having a Republican who is actually a Democrat. The president is coming to the mayor’s townhouse for a fund-raiser; at the same time, he can get away with going to see Sharpton and hear nary a word of criticism from the right (prediction: Bloomberg’s acknowledging Sharpton will have the effect of neutralizing him; Rudy’s intransigence only made Sharpton a hero to his constituency). Republicans are so tickled to control Gracie Mansion that they’ll allow Bloomberg to do anything short of socializing the pension system.
Where does this leave Democrats? A defeat of Pataki is unlikely, though it’s still early. What they can do, though, is take back Gracie Mansion in 2005.
By which I don’t mean they should try to beat Mike Bloomberg. I mean they should embrace him. Okay, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Bloomberg hasn’t really done anything substantive yet, and is gliding along largely on the basis of bipartisan goodwill (everyone wants to see him lead the city’s turnaround). But let’s assume, come late 2004, that Bloomberg is succeeding, governing from the center-left vantage point he’s staked out, and polling well. Under such circumstances, who, I have asked a few Democratic elected officials and operatives, should be the Democratic mayoral nominee?
I thought this was my brilliant idea alone, but everyone I asked said Bloomberg without skipping a beat. No Democrat can say this publicly right now, of course, but lots of people are apparently thinking it. The scenario is fairly straightforward. Persuade him to re-enroll, promise him the backing of major party officials and organizations, and give him the right to choose the next state chairman. Whatever. And the Republicans will have no one to run against him.
Unless Rudy is riled up enough by then to do it. Then we’ll be back to partisanship.