Transitions: Mayoral Election Digest; The Loss of Liberty
The End of Ideology. The revolutionary left did not contest this year's municipal elections. The Communist, Socialist, Socialist Labor and Socialist Workers tickets were not on the ballot. Somehow the ballot seemed incomplete without the SWP's striking emblem: a lightning bolt shattering the chains of capitalism wrapped around the globe. n As for more idiosyncratic candidacies,
one daily reported that Kenny Kramer, the Libertarian mayoral nominee, received 2620 votes, a shade less than one-fifth of 1 percent of the poll. Kramer's claim to fame is derived from Jerry Seinfeld, who used his appearance and personality in creating a character, also named Kramer, in his television comedy. Kramer is merely the latest attempt of the Libertarian Party (in most states, a party of ideas; in New York, a party of stunts) to gain attention by nominating a celebrity to high office. Some may recall the Libertarians nominated Howard Stern for governor some years ago. Stern withdrew from the race on learning that he would have to file public reports about his income and investments?something that all candidates for state office and many civil servants do as a matter of course.
The other minor celebrity in the mayoral race, Bernhard H. Goetz, subway gunman turned vegetarian activist, polled only 1300 votes as the Fusion Party's candidate. Goetz failed to publish his platform in the city's Voter Guide. If he had, he might have polled more votes: apparently, upon taking office, Goetz intended to appoint Rudy Giuliani his first deputy mayor and let him continue running the city.
When Kenny Kramer, whose activities largely involving milking his false celebrity, outpolls Bernie Goetz, there may be no justice in this life. At least Goetz performed a socially useful, albeit violent and unlawful, act by shooting four punks who were threatening him on the subway. Thus, for a few weeks, Goetz was among the most popular public figures in the city. Jimmy Breslin seems to have consistently argued that Goetz's odd, nerdy demeanor at the time of the incident was an open invitation to the punks: that he wanted to be attacked by muggers so he might kill them, in self-defense, of course. Other than Breslin, no one taken seriously suggests this, and not even Breslin argues that a law-abiding subway rider, however odd his appearance, should be harassed with impunity.
The Fusion Party is controlled by Dominick Fusco, an elderly Bronx lawyer of considerable self-importance. His tiny party's name has historical resonance. Fusion, in New York City politics, traditionally refers to the legal device by which a single candidate, nominated by several parties, aggregates the votes cast for him on each party line. Fusion became synonymous with the reform movement?something wholly different from the so-called Reform Democrats?which historically advocated honest, nonpartisan government in the interests of the wealthy elite. The other piece of any successful reform campaign was the Republican Party, which elects mayors only in coalition with some Democratic splinter group or reform-minded new party.
The City Fusion Party arose in 1933 in response to the scandals in city government revealed by the Seabury hearings. Fiorello La Guardia, nominated by the Republicans and the City Fusionists, polled nearly half his votes on the new party's ticket. However, the Fusionists had no interest in patronage?the loaves and fishes by which one builds a permanent mass movement. Enthusiasm flags in the absence of a paycheck. By the 1950s, the party had nearly faded away. Its tattered remains?largely the right to use a four-leaf clover as a ballot emblem?became the property of Counselor Fusco, a Republican turned Democrat turned Perotista. No election since the late 1960s has been complete without Fusco or his friends somewhere on the ballot. Fusco last ran for citywide office in 1997, when he polled fewer than 1000 votes running for mayor as a Fusionist. This year, he ran for comptroller on the Fusion ticket with Bernie Goetz and polled 6989 votes. From the Little Flower to the Subway Gunman?what a fall was there, my countrymen. As far as ideas are concerned, Fusco's remain a mystery: he, too, published no platform in the city's Voter Guide.
Last and least of the mayoral candidates was Kenneth B. Golding, the nominee of his one-man machine, the American Dream Party. Probably the Board of Elections was too busy running the primary, runoff and general elections within a few weeks to notice that the very name of Mr. Golding's party was illegal under section 2-124 of the Election Law, which forbids the use of the word "American" in a party name. But, then, no one noticed Golding, including the voters. I met him briefly on election night, when I was going home from the gym: he was standing near the top of the escalator leading down to the E and F trains at 53rd St., distributing his fliers and urging people to vote. His platform seemed a tissue of idealism and gentle good will. This didn't count for much in an age of anxiety. Golding polled 583 votes to come in ninth of nine candidates.
The END of Order. During my ride home, some filthy mendicant entered my subway car, demanding alms because he didn't rob people or use drugs. In effect, he argued his social maladjustment entitled him to commit such crimes with impunity and only his graciousness allowed us the privilege of supporting him instead. I recalled that brief, happy span in the early years of the Giuliani administration when one might ride public transportation without intrusion from some social parasite. Alas, this now seems but a fond memory. The reappearance of the permanent homeless on subway benches seemed somehow symptomatic of the Mayor's loosening of the reins as he moved toward the end of his second term.
Instead of maintaining general public order, the police power seemed focused on punishing ordinary citizens for the crimes of terrorists by repeatedly forcing us through intrusive personal searches. Liberty?one of the ideas for which this country supposedly stands?is a negative thing. It is simply the right to be left alone in the peaceful conduct of one's affairs. That right has been destroyed with no effective protest.
One saw it coming even before Sept. 11. Earlier this year, a police officer prevented me from leaving the building in which I work. He simply told me that I couldn't leave the building. I attempted peaceably to go my way. Then his sergeant came up and said I couldn't leave the building because the President was in the vicinity. I attempted to step past him. He threatened me with arrest.
Now, I had been convicted of no crime, made no disturbance and was not subject to any court order restraining my passage on a public street. I had not consented to the restraint. However, as I told the sergeant, I obeyed him because he had a gun. Naked force counts for a lot with an unarmed man.
Now some Neanderthal security guard can paw through my briefcase when I enter a public library as well as when I leave one. Deputy U.S. marshals examine my clients' papers when I enter a federal courthouse. I can be repeatedly compelled to empty my pockets for examination on entering the Brooklyn and Manhattan municipal buildings. All this without my consent. I am waiting for some guy with jackboots to demand my papers, please. I have given up waiting for someone in authority to create security measures with any greater intelligence than that shown by a deer caught in headlights.
Amidst all this, I keep remembering Ben Franklin's epigram: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
The Loser. If one can be so cynical as to suggest someone can earn a public office in the gift of the people, then within the context of New York City's political system Mark Green had earned the mayoralty. As commissioner of consumer affairs and public advocate, Green had held city offices giving him publicity without power, which meant he made no serious mistakes while becoming and remaining one of the city's best-known politicians. I had been acquainted with Mark Green for more than two decades, since we opposed each other for a Democratic congressional nomination in 1980. He soundly beat me at the primary and was as soundly beaten by the Republican incumbent at the general election. I found him arrogant and condescending. He seemed compelled to prove his intellectual superiority by insulting people. Nonetheless, I voted for him at the 1980 general elections, being a good loser, and voted for him again when he ran for U.S. senator in 1986, as he seemed more qualified than his opponents.
Over his decade in public life, as he ducked and weaved from left to center, he reminded me of the suggestion of Pierre Laval, a brilliant French politician of the years between the World Wars. He once told a youthful rightist, "You've made a strategic mistake. When you are young, you should go to the Left. Go as far to the Left as you can. And spend the rest of your life coming back. They'll think you're a statesman." Laval began his career as a revolutionary socialist. He ended up against the wall, shot as a traitor. With Green, one's distaste stemmed from the sense that his politics had moved to the center from calculation rather than maturity or conviction. This is the sort of thing that weakens one's faith in a politician's sincerity. You should believe in something, even if you only believe you'll have another drink.
Perhaps Green believed?his arrogance can rise to the level of delusion?that his independence of the usual Democratic Party constituencies would enable him to govern without having to pay off the leadership of the unions, the teachers, the blacks and the gays. As we now know, however, you have to win the election before you can govern, and if your party's constituents don't turn out for you, you will lose.
This is a kind of institutional veto, and not a bad thing. As a longtime regular Democrat and clubhouse lawyer put it to me as we leaned on the brass rail in Dusk on W. 24th St., "Mark Green is a man who has no friends." He then poured most of his Maker's Mark down his throat. "We," gesturing grandly to encompass the entire city, "would have been fucked." The election of Mark Green's opponent doesn't guarantee that we won't be. It proves we knew enough to try to avoid it.
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