What lessons can non-New Yorkers draw from the city’s primary elections? Where do we begin?
Right now, you’re probably asking yourself: What do the results of this week’s elections in New York City mean to me?
This could be a pressing question, even if you live in, say, Des Moines. When New York votes, there’s always an Iowa take-away.
For instance, on Tuesday all the sex-scandal veterans were defeated – Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, and a City Council candidate named Vito Lopez. It’s possible you have never heard of that last one, but he was just terrible: the king of grope. Also, a City Council candidate involved in another sexual harassment case lost after voters learned that he had made unwanted verbal advances to a female staffer during games of virtual Scrabble.
So the question is: What lessons can non-New Yorkers draw from all this?
A) Wow, you people have really weird candidates.
B) This is the end of the second act for politicians who lose their jobs because of sexual misbehavior. They'll no longer be able to imagine that they can get back in the game under the guise of wanting to “serve the community.”
C) There are sex scandals, and then there are sex scandals.
Well, A is definitely right. If you are a New Yorker, people in other parts of the country will often tell you: “Boy, I wish I could spend some time in New York!” But nobody ever says: “Boy, I wish I could vote in New York!” And for good reason.
Not B. Back-from-sex-scandal candidates will always be with us, particularly if the comeback target is a seat in Congress. Voters will overlook a lot when it comes to Congress, perhaps because they like the idea of sending these people out of town. Just this spring, South Carolina shipped the disgraced ex-governor Mark Sanford off to the House. Just this week, National Journal reported that Sanford got a special exemption from the rules so that his mistress-turned-fiance could accompany him on a Congressional trip to Israel. I would like to discuss all the thoughts that come to mind when we combine “Mark Sanford” and “trip,” but there is just not enough room.
Possibly C. Remember the recent ouster of the San Diego mayor who gave his name to the “Filner headlock.” Voters may have decided they'll put up with a lot, but not sexual harassment.
Now let’s move on. Really, New York is capable of providing large thoughts that do not concern sex. One of them involves Bill de Blasio, who zoomed from nowhere into first place in the race for the Democratic mayoral nomination. He may have even gotten more than the 40 percent needed to avoid a runoff. We probably won’t get the final results for days. Or weeks. (If this was a major swing state, the nation would never know who got elected president.)
Politicians around the country are going to be looking at de Blasio’s campaign to figure out how he made his meteoric rise. One very big factor was a TV ad he aired that featured his son, Dante, talking about his father’s stand on the issues. Michael Barbaro of The Times, in a postelection analysis, called it “the commercial that changed the course of the mayor’s race.”
Instantly, we see a threat that voters around the country will have to spend the next several years watching ads starring politicians’ children. The good news is that we’ve been there before, and it usually doesn’t work. Perhaps you remember the daughters of Jon Huntsman. Last year’s Rhode Island Senate race featured a cute 5-year-old delivering a lecture about his father’s virtues. It was adorable. Dad lost, 2 to 1.
The thing viewers remember most about the de Blasio ad is not the candidate’s housing policy but the fact that his family is racially mixed: he’s white, his wife is black and Dante has the most impressive Afro since Angela Davis. That was what Mayor Michael Bloomberg was referring to when he called the de Blasio campaign “racist” in a New York magazine interview. “It’s comparable to me pointing out I’m Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote,” he added.
The mayor’s remarks were an excellent example of why the other big factor in de Blasio’s ascension was Bloomberg fatigue.
They also missed the point. The real key to the Dante ad was not that it reminded black voters that the candidate had an African-American wife. It was the way it appealed to our multiethnic yearning for racial harmony. The de Blasio family seems so happy. The pictures of them laughing together remind you both of how far we’ve come and where we’d like to go. It’s the same effect the nation got when Barack Obama talked about his background and you remembered that when Obama was born, less than 10 percent of Americans approved of interracial marriage.
De Blasio is still going to have to prove himself as a candidate, but, at the minimum, we'll remember that he was a guy who made one ad that created one urban feel-good moment, just before Election Day.