Politics, media and the politics of media.
Joe Scarborough recently got into quite a huff—and got the Morning Joe crew to huff with him—over Harry Reid’s attacks on David and Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialists who fund dozens of conservative causes and Republican campaigns. Reid had said, rather catchily for him, that Senate Republicans “are addicted to Koch.” The Senate majority leader also said the brothers “have no conscience and are willing to lie” in political ads, and that they’re “un-American” for trying to “buy America.”
Reid said he doesn’t begrudge the Kochs their wealth, but “what is un-American is when shadow billionaires pour unlimited money into our democracy to rig the system and benefit themselves and the wealthiest 1 percent.”
That might sound hyperbolic unless you have followed the long list of ways the Kochs are indeed buying America. For starters, while their Koch Industries is the one of the nation’s largest air polluters, their money is a huge factor in blocking climate change progress and spreading know-nothing denialism; they fund ALEC and its stand-your-ground political agenda; and they’re waging a multimillion-dollar war against the Affordable Care Act, trying to convince young people, through ads like the one with the creepy Uncle Sam gynecologist, that they should be afraid, very afraid of Obamacare. Through innumerable think tanks, PACs, nonprofits and dark-money trap doors, Koch money has formed a veritable “Kochopus” that reaches deep into academia, industry, state legislatures and Congress. (For more, see here and here.)
But what’s really gotten Harry Reid to put up his dukes is that the Koch-funded PAC Americans for Prosperity (AFM) has spent more than $30 million, and counting, on ads attacking Democratic senate candidates in the upcoming midterm elections. To defeat Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina, for instance, AFM has already dropped $8.2 million on TV, radio and digital ads. As Politico puts it, that’s more “than all Democratic outside groups in every Senate race in the country—combined.” Koch money could easily flip the Senate to a Republican majority, leaving little but presidential vetoes to blunt the GOP House’s politics of cruelty.
Joe Scarborough understandably fumed at the “un-American” charge, but he framed the Koch’s power quite differently.
“Let’s first tell the truth about them and what they do, put some perspective in it,” he said Thursday. “It’s unbelievable what they’ve done for cancer research, what they’ve done for the arts, what they have done for education.”
Indeed, you can tell by the way the bros have been slapping their names on cultural institutions that they think they can get their reps fixed wholesale. In New York City alone, the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center has become the David H. Koch Theater. As you enter the Metropolitan Museum of Art, signs tell you you’re standing on the new David H. Koch Plaza. David Koch’s name had also been elevated by his contributions to WNET, the city’s PBS affiliate. That ended last year, however, when WNET ran an independent documentary critical of him. To placate Koch, they axed a second similar film, but Koch resigned from the board and took his money with him.
But by emphasizing the Kochs’ philanthropy—which, come on, is the least two men worth $40 billion each and tied at number four on the Forbes rich people list, can do—Scarborough was providing exactly what their largesse was intended to produce: praise and a media force field that can deflect political criticism. Not that Joe is terribly adverse to their politics, but the point of his outrage in the Morning Joe banter was to shift focus away from Koch policies to Reid’s breach of polite discourse. Willie Geist said that the “addicted to Koch” line “seems beneath the office.” Former congressman and nominal Democrat Harold Ford sniffed, “There’s no need for that kind of vitriol.” Only Donnie Deutsch got close to the heart of the matter, asking whether the “Koch brothers spending a billion on advertising is good for democracy.”
Training your eyes on an oligarch’s philanthropy and away from what it camouflages is to accept in some way the essential justness of great wealth. As if to second that notion, Governor Chris Christie said at CPAC last week that Reid was “rail[ing] against two American entrepreneurs who have built a business, created jobs, and created wealth and philanthropy in this country. Harry Reid should get back to work and stop picking on great Americans who are creating great things in our country.” Some of those great things include millions in donations to the Republican Governors Association, which Christie (still) heads.
Reid’s attacks are part of a larger Democratic pushback, which includes TV spots (see below) and sites like KochAddiction.com and StopTheGreedAgenda. The strategy is transparent: link GOP candidates to the Kochs and make the Kochs into villains.
Creating a visible villain is, of course, a time-honored political activity. The Dems have vilified Newt Gingrich and more recently Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, while the Republicans’ demons include Nancy Pelosi, the Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers. As for “un-American,” a few years ago Glenn Beck falsely portrayed George Soros, the closest big-time funder progressives have to the Kochs, as a Nazi collaborator.
But beyond a bunch of liberals who follow the Koch trail, will voters know or care about what the billionaire brothers do with their money?
Paul Waldman in The American Prospect doubts it. And so far, he says, the Democratic ads aren’t up to the job. In the very busy spot below, running in Michigan, the Koch brothers appear as barely identified ghosts amid a jumble of hard-to-follow words.
For what it’s worth, the things-don’t-go-better-with-Koch message is getting across, at least with focus groups. Democratic pollster Geoff Garin told the Times, “Our research has shown pretty clearly that once voters recognize the source of the attacks [on Democratic candidates], they tend to discount them substantially.” Focus groups, he said, had an “overwhelmingly negative” reaction to the Kochs’ political involvement and believed that the Kochs’ “agenda will hurt average people and the undermine the middle class.’”
Billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins might have been only kidding when he said that democracies should be run more like corporations: “You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes.”
But if you pay for enough misleading ads, that is, in effect, what a million bucks can do. And the more the media unthinkingly hail your charitable giving, the more mileage a million dollars will get you.
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Lately, MSNBC seems to be waking up every few mornings to find a celebrity rattlesnake in its boot. First, Bill Maher said MSNBC was obsessed with Chris Christie and that Bridgegate had become its Benghazi. Then Alec Baldwin took to the cover of New York magazine to denounce his former network for running “the same shit all day long.” “The only difference” between shows, Baldwin wrote, “was who was actually pulling off whatever act they had come up with.”
MSNBC killed Baldwin’s Friday night talk show after only five weeks when the actor made a homophobic remark, which he contends in New York wasn’t homophobic at all. He also calls Rachel Maddow, whom he suspects was behind his ouster, a “phony.” But such Hollywood hairballs, coming on the heels of a series of apologies, anchor defenestrations and schedule rejiggering, could make a casual viewer wonder, Could there be buried in Baldwin’s bruised ego a critique of the network worth listening to? And is Maher right that MSNBC is in danger of becoming the Fox News of the left?
First, Baldwin: he’s right about one thing. With exceptions like Morning Joe with its center-right tilt, the wildly erratic Chris Matthews and Steve Kornacki’s and Melissa Harris-Perry’s two-hour, in-depth weekend shows, there is a sameness to MSNBC’s roster. The daily, hour-long format, often featuring hosts from other MSNBC shows and a familiar rotation of guest pundits can be mind-numbing—just as it can be on Fox News and CNN. (I’m tempted to say, just as it’d be on any cable news network with twenty-four hours to fill. But Al Jazeera, by emphasizing granular reporting across the world, is disproving that old saw.)
Ronan Farrow’s new show may evolve, but when I flipped it on Monday and saw him chatting it up with MSNBC’s favorite Republican, former RNC chair Michael Steele, and MSNBC host Alex Wagner, it could have been any one of the network’s shows—this one just had a young semi-celeb at the glossy desk. MSNBC should at least give him some fresh material—and running a daily segment called “Heroes and Zeros” doesn’t cut it.
I admit, most of my frustration with MSNBC is my own fault: I watch it too damn much! It pulls me in. I still marvel that a TV network can be so unabashedly left-liberal and survive in the corporate media—much as I marveled during the several years of Air America radio (where Maddow began). MSNBC is light years ahead of its rivals in its racial diversity; most of its hosts are super-smart (unfortunately, producers keep trying to leaven the wonk with whimsy, like the ironic music accompanying Chris Hayes’s pre-taped pieces or Maddow’s too-cute re-enactments); and the network delves regularly into under-covered subjects, like the environment (which, by the way, Hayes and Maddow excel at).
Of course, you don’t hear a peep from MSNBC about its corporate parent Comcast and its controversial proposed purchase of Time Warner Cable. And it doesn’t often venture off the Democratic Party ranch. But until Keith Olbermann—who not surprisingly endorses Baldwin’s rant—fitted MSNBC with a left foot, Fox seemed to have snuffed out any hope that “the liberal media” might actually live up to its name.
Saying things on national TV once relegated to The Village Voice or The Nation understandably lends MSNBCers a confidence, almost a sense of triumphalism, which sometimes trips them up into merely nyah-nyah-nyahing the right. Fox does this with far more gusto at the left, but it doesn’t serve MSNBC well. A friend of mine says she can’t watch MSNBC anymore, because “they’re smug. Anyone who doesn’t agree with them, they treat like they’re stupid.”
The flip side of smug is a sense of insecurity. Hosts are coming (the estimable Joy Reid, as well as Farrow, debuted a show this week) and going (Baldwin, Olbermann, Martin Bashir, Dylan Ratigan). Clearly they’re under constant pressure to rack up ratings, something the Chris Christie scandals have indeed helped them do.
Which brings us to Bill Maher’s critique. Unlike Baldwin, Maher “loves” MSNBC. But in a Valentine’s Day post he decided to break up with the network because it’s preoccupied with another man, the New Jersey governor.
Maddow defended the heavy coverage on Maher’s HBO show the next week. “I am totally obsessed with the Christie story, unapologetically,” she said, “and will continue to be obsessed with it while amazing things in that story continue to happen.” Maher conceded that Benghazi isn’t a real scandal while Bridgegate most definitely is—though, he added, “It’s just that it’s not Watergate.” And he softened that too-easy trope that MSNBC is the Fox News of the left, saying, “I hate false equivalency. MSNBC, one of the great things about it is that they are scrupulous fact-checkers whereas Fox News are scrupulous fact-maker-uppers.”
If the non-Fox media have been hard on Chris Christie lately, it’s in direct proportion to how hard they fell for him before. For years, the media—and this includes MSNBC stars like Scarborough, Matthews and, on occasion, Al Sharpton—loved the blunt-talking, fuggedaboutit Jersey guy who had the guts to “work across the aisle.” When Bridgegate revealed that in fact he had been intimidating and threatening Democratic office-holders all along, it unleashed a torrent of pent-up, actual reporting.
So, yes, as Bill Maher says, MSNBC has been obsessed with Christie, but no, they’re not covering him too much. And yes, as Alec Baldwin says, in stronger words, the shows have fallen into a sameness.
It’s a problem, however, that can be remedied, sometimes as simply as having a host light out for the territory. Ed Schultz, for instance, is running a weeklong series on the Keystone XL Pipeline, reporting from Nebraska and listening to the citizens TransCanada is trampling over. Ed, who began as a (surprising) supporter of the pipeline, now appears to be leaning against it. It’s a change of heart and venue that’s making his show, and at least one hour of MSNBC, suddenly suspenseful and dynamic.
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Governor Chris Christie says he’s been humbled, that he’s been doing some “soul-searching” after his staff got caught arranging traffic jams to punish political enemies.
But bullies bully out of weakness, and Christie is now weaker than he’s ever been. He can’t possibly give up his only real political asset—a talent for intimidation that makes victims want to be on his side to win his protection—when he needs it most.
In only the latest example, his legal team is spitting paper at the Jersey pols who’ve crossed him. Christie’s choice as lead attorney for his office’s “internal review,” Randy Mastro, sent a letter, obtained by the Bergen Record, to Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer requesting a “private interview” and documents, including her correspondence with the press.
“In a show of force,” the Record reports, Mastro also wrote to “Hoboken officials that he had assembled a team of ‘five former federal prosecutors’ to look into Zimmer’s claims.”
Zimmer, of course, claims that Christie officials had threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid if she didn’t support a particular real estate development, charges those officials deny.
At the same time Christie lawyers were beckoning Zimmer to their den, the governor’s office sent a memo to supporters with press clips about Zimmer that, it says, found “serious questions of authenticity, contradictions, and hypocrisy.”
Zimmer’s allegations are now the subject of a US Attorney investigation, and her attorney replied to Mastro by saying, “We question whether it is appropriate for the Governor’s Office, in essence, to be investigating itself, particularly when an investigation of the same subject matter is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
“Five former federal prosecutors,” charges of hypocrisy, a “private interview”—this stuff reeks of bullying. But Mastro, the Record writes, “seems to try to dispel any notion that the letter is meant to intimidate a witness—he notified federal authorities in advance that he would be contacting potential witnesses, he wrote.”
Still, as James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, told The Star Ledger, Mastro’s letters show him acting more like a defense attorney than as a fact-finder conducting an “internal review” to learn who dunnit. “The letters strike me as a fairly heavy-handed attempt to intimidate—and cleverly done,” Cohen said.
No matter how much humble pie Christie insists he’s eating, he just can’t quit the bullying. Remember how, during his marathon press conference, a reporter told him that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said it’d be “premature” for the governor to visit his town and apologize for the dangerous, five-day traffic jam his people created at the George Washington Bridge? Christie ignored Sokolich’s wishes, parked his entourage at Sokolich’s office, staged some photo ops with citizens not throwing tomatoes and left the Fort Lee mayor saying he was relieved that Christie promised there’d be no more retribution. Now Christie’s lawyers have invited Sokolich and his staff to hand over documents, too.
The attempt to put the squeeze on New Jersey mayors does double duty by also intimidating other potential witnesses and officials receiving subpoenas (the New Jersey legislators investigating the bridge scandal issued eighteen new subpoenas yesterday).
It’s all part of the web of fear that Christie has established throughout New Jersey. It’s aimed as much, if not more, at Democrats than at Republicans, and until the GWB scandal broke, that fear was passed off as the Christie miracle of “bipartisanship.”
Even though the former front-runner in the GOP presidential race now looks like he’ll never make it to the primaries, even though Christie boosters like Joe Scarborough say he should resign as the head of the Republican Governors Association, anyone who the governor’s office can conceivably touch still lives in fear of his wrath.
The bully can still steal their lunch.
UPDATE: This afternoon Christie spokesperson Colin Reed sent an e-mail pushing back against New York Times reporter Kate Zernike, saying she made “no fewer than five misleading statements” on Morning Joe today. Most irksome perhaps was what she said about Mastro’s letters: “They’re trying to sort of threaten people, not explicitly, but saying, you know, we’re going to go back after you if you come after us.”
Read Next: Jarret Murphy on de Blasio’s State of the City Speech
Chris Christie was not only booed at a couple of Super Bowl events this week but he’s now catching flak for blowing the big bucks the game was supposed to rain down on New Jersey in the first place.
Four years ago Christie celebrated the deal with the NFL that would bring the game to his state for the first time, saying, “It’s great for New Jersey’s morale and the sense of who we are.” But as The Star-Ledger wrote in an editorial yesterday, Christie allowed Jersey communities to be treated like a “bunch of nobodies who just happen to have a football field close to Manhattan.”
“The NFL promised some $550 million would be coming to the region. Most of it will be going right back out” with the league, the Ledger says. “New Jerseyans probably ought to blame our embattled governor for the second-rate treatment we’re receiving today.”
“New Jersey did not fare well,” the paper quotes the chair of the New Jersey Hotel and Lodging Association as saying. “We didn’t get the windfall we all thought.”
That’s in part because the NFL deal included Sochi-like measures to “wall off the MetLife Stadium from the surrounding community,” meaning that “local bars and hotels would not be permitted to run the shuttle buses they normally use to transport fans to the games.” (Fans who booked hotels within walking distance of the stadium had to take $35 cabs to Secaucus, where they then waited hours in an overheated, overcrowded “mass transit debacle.”)
And while New York City retained official Super Bowl naming rights (like calling Broadway near Times Square “Super Bowl Boulevard”), towns like East Rutherford, home of the stadium, and Montclair weren’t allowed to call their Super Bowl parties “Super Bowl” parties “because of threats from the NFL’s lawyers,” the Ledger says.
Less than two months ago, the Super Bowl was on track to be another opportunity, like his re-election itself, for Christie to “run up the score” on his way toward the GOP presidential nomination. But fixated on national glory, Christie forgot the locals—like all those people still waiting for the Hurricane Sandy relief funds he promised amid great media hoopla. Apparently, millions of those dollars have become part of a political slush fund. (See Steve Kornacki’s comprehensive report here.)
One measure of how much has changed for Christie is that the local Jersey color he used to revel in now seems entirely out of reach. In October, before Bridgegate and before he went all faux humble, Christie recalled telling NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that if the lights went out for his Super Bowl the way they did at New Orleans’s a year earlier, “there will be bodies strewn in the parking lot for the people who are responsible for the lights going out, because that’s the way we handle matters in New Jersey.”
Christie knows better than to say that today. The people who shut down the lanes on the GW Bridge aren’t lying in a parking lot somewhere—David Wildstein at least is asking for immunity, and promising Christie’s political corpse in return.
Read Next: Dave Zirin on images of the military during the Super Bowl.
The twenty-year Republican reign over one of nation’s most liberal cities has officially come to an end: Bill de Blasio, a true progressive, will be the next mayor of New York City.
De Blasio, who ran on both the Democratic and the Working Families Party lines, is expected to beat former Giuliani deputy mayor Joe Lhota in a historic landslide. With 69 percent of the vote in, de Blasio is up by forty-eight points, and exit polls have him winning across the city and with voters “regardless of race, gender, age, education, religion or income.”
Whatever the final numbers are, de Blasio will clearly have the mandate needed to start the long, hard work of shifting power and resources from the 1 percent the last mayor favored to the middle-class and poor.
De Blasio and his team will be up against not only entrenched Wall Street interests but also Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo has already signaled he’s opposed to one of de Blasio’s signature goals, funding pre-K and after-school programs for all New York kids by increasing taxes on those making $500,000 and up.
“Obviously the higher the percentage” of the vote, de Blasio said yesterday, “the more the work ahead is facilitated and strengthened.”
It’s too early, of course, to predict how the city will change under a de Blasio administration, but one thing at least has already changed. As a Nation editorial said, “de Blasio won big in the primary, and then ignored the conventional wisdom that after a primary, Democrats must pivot to the right. He describes himself as an ‘unapologetic progressive.’ ”
De Blasio—and, more important, the voters—also ignored the right’s fear-mongering “soft on crime” and “class warfare” attacks, attacks that had worked only too well for decades. But this year, they became more ludicrous with every repetition—hitting a nadir of self-parody yesterday with a New York Post cover that posed de Blasio’s face next to a hammer and sickle on a commie-red background. The confidence with which voters seemed to flick off these stale tropes indicates we’ve moved into a new era—at least in NYC.
There’s reason to hope that de Blasio’s win will help boost progressives elsewhere, but all politics is local. Indeed, right across the Hudson River in New Jersey, millionaire-protecting, teacher-and union-bashing Governor Chris Christie has won big (but not nearly de Blasio big) against another real progressive, Barbara Buono. It’s different there. Christie manipulated his electorate by calving off Cory Booker’s Senate race a couple weeks ago; some Democratic machine politicians actually endorsed Christie; and, especially after he hugged Barack Obama like a life preserver in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, voters came under the sway of his bluff personality and media that happily mistake him for a moderate.
We might not know for days what percentage of voters who pulled the lever for de Blasio did so under the Working Families Party line. But he and the two other candidates running for citywide office won as Working Families Democrats, and serve as evidence that this progressive victory is not merely the result of “Bloomberg fatigue” or a craze for the latest celebrified pol but rather a conscious vision of a politics that actively, and unashamedly, fights for economic and social justice.
UPDATE: The final numbers: de Blasio's margin of victory—a historic 49 points—is better than the polls predicted, and it's more than double Christie's winning edge of 21.5 points, which is a drop from the 30-plus points that many polls had him at.
The Nation editors endorsed de Blasio for mayor back in August.
We all know that Bill de Blasio will win the New York City mayoral race by a landslide tomorrow—but the right is desperately hoping that maybe, just maybe, some last-minute explosive revelation about de Blasio will help his Republican opponent, Joe Lhota, “eke out” a victory, as Lhota told Chuck Todd this morning he would indeed do.
Crazy, huh? But in just the last few days, de Blasio has been hit with negative stories, from the minor to the self-inflicted to the ridiculous, that could ever so slightly knock a few points off his margin of victory, which polls have steadily put at around forty points. Let’s start with the ridiculous:
He’s still a commie! Really!
Having failed earlier in the season to red-bait de Blasio for supporting the Sandinistas in the late ’80s, the New York Post—remarkably, at this late date—is at it again, and with a laughably desperate Hail Mary. On today’s cover, they’ve smeared de Blasio in red ink, literally, showing de Blasio’s face next to a hammer and sickle. The headline: “Back in the USSR!: ‘Progressive’ Bill’s secret Cold War trip.”
It’s hard to say which makes the Post look more frozen in amber: the quotation marks around the word progressive (that’s just code for pinko, see?) or the word secret, a notion that’s belied by the unrevelatory story inside, “De Blasio visited Communist USSR in college.”
De Blasio didn’t try to hide the trip he took as a NYU student in 1983; as the Post itself writes: “De Blasio listed the trip on a résumé from the 1990s. Under ‘travel,’ he said he visited ‘West Africa, Europe, Israel, Puerto Rico, USSR.’ ” These are the sort of places that college students, if they’re lucky, get to write home about. As a spokeswoman for the de Blasio campaign, said, “When he was a presidential scholar at NYU, Bill attended an annual trip that took him to Lithuania and Russia. In other years, he traveled—along with other presidential scholars—to Spain, Israel and Senegal.”
But the Post, forever trying to frame its foes, wants to make the trip sound subversive, if only because it went against the prevailing group-think of the time: “It was the same year,” the Murdoch paper reminds us, “that President Ronald Reagan referred to the country’s regime as ‘The Evil Empire.’ ”
The Belafonte Bump
Introducing de Blasio at a Harlem church on Sunday, Harry Belafonte likened the Koch brothers—actually, their supporters—to the KKK. From the Politicker:
“Already, we have lost 14 states in this union to the most corrupt group of citizens I’ve ever known,” he said near the end of his speech. “They make up the heart and the thinking in the mind of those who would belong to the Ku Klux clan. They are white supremacists. They are men of evil. They have names. They are flooding our country with money. They’ve come into New York City.… The Koch brothers, that’s their name,” he said, adding, “They must be stopped.”
As Mr. de Blasio took to the stage, he greeted Mr. Belafonte with a big hug, before heaping praise on the singer and civil rights activist, who remained seated by his side.
Asked about Belafonte's comments afterwards, de Blasio said, “I have great respect for Harry Belanfonte, but I think that was the wrong way to talk about them and I don’t think that’s fair.” He rightly reminded reporters what’s wrong with the Tea Party–supporting Koch empire: “I do think the Koch brothers have hurt the American Democratic process greatly. I think they have been amongst the most aggressive at trying to undermine campaign finance laws that keep money out of the political system.”
It’s too late for even the New York Post to turn Belafonte into de Blasio’s Rev. Wright. But Lhota’s campaign gave it a shot, releasing its own over-the-top statement, saying: “It’s reprehensible that a candidate for mayor of the city of New York would closely associate himself with an individual who has equated the American government to al Qaeda and the 9/11 hijackers and has a long history of hateful, racist remarks.”
David Koch gave big money to a pro-Lhota PAC before the general election kicked in, and just a few days ago, donated $200,000 to a second pro-Lhota PAC after it won a Citizens United–like court decision to lift New York State contribution limits.
Stop-and-Frisk Lives to See Another Day
At least for a while. Conservatives are hoping that another court decision will hurt de Blasio. On Thursday, a federal appeals court temporarily halted reforms of the city’s stop-and-frisk policy that de Blasio has fought hard against and that a judge had earlier determined was unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.
Former Mayor Giuliani campaigned in Staten Island with Lhota, who served as one of his deputy mayors, hailed the latest decision. “The court of appeals has just basically said to [de Blasio]: that is a bunch of malarkey,” he said. “I hope it had a dramatic effect on the race.” He later added, “I think [Lhota’s] gonna to win the election,” he said.
But de Blasio has said that, if elected mayor, he’d drop the city’s lawsuit, effectively stopping the worst of stop-and-frisk.
Sleep for Me but Not for Thee?
This was one of those self-inflicted wounds. De Blasio is known for being late. No huge deal, lots of pols are late (remember Bill Clinton and his “Elvis time”?). But on Saturday, de Blasio screwed up beyond the usual:
From The New York Times:
Even with a relatively light schedule for the final Saturday before the election, Mr. de Blasio was an hour late for his first rally, on the Upper West Side. “I am not a morning person,” he told reporters later, explaining that he had been awakened by a phone call at 5 a.m. and then had to rest for a few more hours. (A spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio’s Republican opponent, Joseph J. Lhota, posted on Twitter that he wakes up at 5:15 a.m. every day—even on weekends.)
At a “Women for de Blasio” rally later that day
Mr. de Blasio encouraged his supporters to go without sleep in the final days of the campaign. “A combination of espresso and Red Bull will take you all the way through,” he said, “and people will admire you for it.”
None of these developments will derail de Blasio, as the right would wish. At most, they might cut into his margin a tiny bit, becoming footnotes to a historical victory.
Katrina vanden Heuvel throws her support behind Bill de Blasio on the Working Families Party line.
The morning after Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota’s third and final debate in the NYC mayoral race, Lhota went on Fox 5 TV and talked about his latest ad. He said he hoped the TV spot, the first in which he actually speaks, would “send a message out directly from me to the people…about my sincerity and what I can do as their next mayor.”
The ad fails to convey sincerity (in it he repeats his not-credible line that “we are one bad mayor away from unsafe streets, failing schools and fiscal chaos”)—but in the debate last night, he was sincerity central. In fact, despite some of Lhota’s short-sighted policies and an apparent blindness to the folly of, say, trickle-down economics, I found myself liking the guy.
I’m a chump for underdogs, especially when they’re halfway out the door, but last night Lhota showed heart and concern—on racial profiling (“There’s no room for racial profiling in New York,” Lhota said emphatically. “If a store [like Barneys] racially profiles, that store should be punished”), for the homeless (treat them like “humans,” he said, but only shelter the New Yorkers among them), and for the unrelentingly hard work of “union members” during Hurricane Sandy.
Lhota evinces empathy, at least as much as progressive de Blasio, but not quite enough to follow through with helpful or even logical policies (how, for instance, do you ascertain the residency of homeless people?), and not enough to overcome an inability to see the problems obvious to most everyone else.
Was Rudy Giuliani, the mayor for whom Lhota served as a capable deputy, “divisive,” as de Blasio charged, and as most New Yorkers saw firsthand? Not to Lhota. “The divisiveness,” he said, “was minute compared to” all the good things he did.
Lhota couldn’t even see how his boss was divisive in the Patrick Dorismond case. After Dorismond was killed in a police shooting, Giuliani released his sealed juvenile records in order to prove he was “no altar boy.” “I don’t think that was divisive,” Lhota said last night.
“The fact that Mr. Lhotoa doesn’t even see that is divisive” is the problem in a nutshell, de Blasio replied.
Likewise, on tax issues: When de Blasio asked Lhota why he believes trickle-down economics would work in New York, Lhota simply insisted that his proposal to cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy in order to create more jobs down the line is “not trickle-down.” It is, of course, the definition of trickle-down and, as de Blasio said, “the same policy that failed nationally.”
That’s the problem with a lot of moderate Republicans, like Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma or former Senator John Danforth of Missouri: their hearts often are in the right place, but they refuse to connect that to policy.
But I got to say, another reason Lhota began to grow on me during this race is that he isn’t slick, and in fact is less so than de Blasio.
Lhota is an experienced manager, and maybe he’d be good at running the city’s bureaucracy of 300,000 workers, as the New York Times portrays him today. But Lhota, who hadn’t run for public office before this race, is a lousy politician. He doesn’t sell himself—on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, he didn’t mention that as MTA chief, he restored subway service when so many other services faltered (“I’m not going to use this as a day to politic,” he said), and he barely mentioned the MTA in the debate the next day.
And he often speaks in unnuanced, un-thought-out clunkers: like saying on radio this morning, “Bill de Blasio is absolutely no different than David Dinkins, [he] wants to divide us between black and white, rich and poor.”
Being mayor is as much as a politician’s job as is getting the trains to run on time, and time after time, de Blasio’s showed he’s an experienced politician.
In fact, in two profiles of de Blasio, he’s coming across as a minor master of long-game, three-dimensional chess.
The Times writes today that on when he served on the city council, de Blasio “Blended Idealism With Push for Power,” and that he “showed a zest for taking care of, and taking up the causes of, those important to him,” including his mother and his dentist as well as constituents and the larger progressive community.
New York magazine, meanwhile, quotes a top democratic strategist saying of de Blasio, “He’s more pragmatic than progressive. He’s a deal guy—which is why Wall Street should love him. They’re deal people, too!”
Not that being more prag than prog is necessarily a bad thing. As Bob Master of the Working Families Party also told NY mag, “But look, do I think this is a guy who will never compromise? No. And we don’t want somebody like that. We want somebody who understands how to push things as far as you can go and make the best possible deal when it’s available.”
It looks like we got that guy.
Read Leslie Savan's take on the second NYC mayoral race.
Even without reading the stories on Bill de Blasio’s and Joe Lhota’s families, you can see from the photos just how the New York mayoral race is playing out.
The timing and the lead photos of a New York magazine cover story, “Meet the de Blasios,” and a New York Post three-page spread, “Livin’ La Vida Lhota,” are strikingly similar: both came out yesterday, ten days before the election, and both feature the candidate warmly embracing his all-smiles family in a classical pyramidal composition—the wives and kids forming gentle slopes that lead to the paterfamilias at the peak.
The de Blasio family glows in light. In fact, they all but dissolve into it, fading into the white background, as if floating in heaven. NY mag airbrushed in the halo effect to suggest that expectations of NYC’s future first family may be running too high; the cover photo is captioned, “Their holiday card is going to be great. Then what?”
But there’s nothing airbrushed about the tangle of arms and hands holding each other: the de Blasio family is tight, as united, it seems, as they are racially diverse. The photo also speaks to a diversity of heights. At 6 foot 5, Bill normally towers over the petite Chirlane McCray, his wife, but here he’s bending down into his family, minimizing any separateness, holding them together—as, the picture implies, he would hold together the ethnic, economic and borough-bickering diversity of New York City.
That de Blasio is a skyscraper among six- and eight-floor buildings is more evident in photos of him next to the very short Mayor Bloomberg, the mid-sized Lhota, and the tall Obama. De Blasio’s height, I think, appeals to voters—who doesn’t feel a little more protected by a giant? It might be an unfair advantage, but de Blasio’s physical presence makes Lhota’s warnings that he’d be soft on crime even harder to believe.
In a photo inside the magazine, de Blasio tamps down his height still more. As he and Chirlane lean together into their children, Bill landing below Dante’s Afro, the parents function as a wall of support for their kids. Will they do the same for the city’s much, much larger family?
Bill de Blasio and his family (Source: New York magazine)
Here’s the lead photo in the New York Post story:
Joe Lhota and his family (Source: New York Post)
The Lhotas also glow, but the light surrounding them comes from more earthly sources: light from the window reflects off of the stainless steel pots, the white tiles and glass cabinets of their apartment-sized kitchen, and the blonde hair of Joe’s wife, Tamra, and 22-year-old daughter, Kathryn, not to mention from their smiles.
This photo (unlike several photos lower down in the story) doesn’t say “tight family” as the de Blasios’s does: limbs don’t interweave, Tamra has one hand (and her mind?) preoccupied elsewhere, and you don’t see Joe’s arms at all.
And, most obviously, when compared to the de Blasio photo, this photo says Lhota’s family is white. Maybe the Post was trying to compensate for a lack of diversity by spicing up the print version of the story with the aforementioned headline, “Livin’ La Vida Lhota.” Online, where readers are more likely to snark, the piece is simply called “Life with the Lhotas.” We also learn from the piece that Lhota’s background is not whitebread but “a melting pot of Czech, Russian-Jewish and Italian ancestors.”
The two family portraits come at a time when Bill de Blasio’s family has been front and center—the kids doing TV ads for him and Chirlane usually with him campaigning—while Lhota’s family is rarely seen. As Kathryn Lhota told the Post, “We’re such a private family to begin with and I’m grateful that we’ve been able to maintain it.”
But forty or more points behind, Lhota needed them to step out. And perhaps the New York Post needed it even more, to combat the liberal media. You can almost see Rupert Murdoch’s Post, sibling to the Roger Ailes–run Fox News, saying, “The liberal media’s not going to give Joe a fair shake, we gotta do it ourselves, we’re going to go glow for glow, candidate’s child for candidate’s child. That’s fair and balanced.”
This must not have been easy for Lhota, not only because his family prefers privacy, but because Lhota has been insisting that Bill de Blasio “is using his family because he has no policies.” “Heck, if you didn’t have any policies and plans you’d put your lovely family out there. It’s as simple as that.”
That’s ridiculous: it’s de Blasio’s policies—on housing, taxes, policing—that Lhota has been railing against all along. It is true, though, that de Blasio’s family helped catapult him above better-known rivals in the Democratic primary—particularly helpful was that now-famous TV ad in which Dante vouches for his dad as someone who’ll end “a stop-and-frisk era that unfairly targets people of color.” It’s also true that “diversity” can be used merely symbolically. But in de Blasio’s case, it’s part and parcel of all those policies that Lhota claims de Blasio lacks.
Lhota has also said that de Blasio “has a wonderful family, and he uses that to get across that he’s a nice guy.” But the Post piece ends with Lhota’s family, including their Labrador, making him look super-nice—and maybe even taller than de Blasio. Lhota, who had taken his daughter to all the Harry Potter movies, is asked which Potter character he is most like. From the Post:
“I identify with Hagrid,” the giant groundskeeper. “Big guy with a heart of gold.”
Lindy wags her tail, her big brown eyes fixed on his as she hopes for another treat. Helpless, Lhota slips her more macaroni.
“A heart of gold,” Tamra says. “Absolutely!”
Leslie Savan wonders whether de Blasio will dissapoint progressives, when and if he is elected NYC mayor.
As much as NYC mayoral candidate Joe Lhota has tried to divorce himself from the national, shutdown Republicans, he’s eager and ready to benefit from one of their signature goals: abolishing campaign finance reform. Yesterday, a federal appellate court ruled in favor of a pro-Lhota PAC, saying that New York State’s $150,000 annual limit on individual contributions to political action committees “reduces constitutionally protected political speech.”
This latest money-is-speech decision allows the pro-Lhota group, New York Progress and Protection PAC (NYPPP), to immediately accept a $200,000 donation from an Alabama businessman, Shaun McCutcheon. (McCutcheon just happens to be waging a similar battle in the US Supreme Court.)
NYPPP, by the way, is not to be confused with another Lhota-supporting PAC, New Yorkers for Proven Leadership, which was financed largely by right-wing billionaire David Koch and ran ads on Lhota’s behalf during the primaries. But this latest ruling can free up “speech” for billionaires everywhere.
Lis Smith, spokeswoman for Democrat Bill de Blasio, slammed the decision by the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals, saying it “will empower the right-wing billionaires, like the Koch [b]rothers, and Tea Party groups who support Joe Lhota to drown out the voices of New Yorkers.”
The de Blasio campaign also released the web ad above. “The Koch brothers, the secretive oil billionaires,” it says, have “set their sights on New York City” trying “to elect extreme rightwing ideologues here in New York City. And their billionaire friends are trying to change the rules with a lawsuit…so they can funnel millions of dollars more to defeat Bill de Blasio and elect their Tea Party friends into office.”
Although the sky’s now the limit in how much an individual can give to the NYPPP, the conventional wisdom is that it’s too late to help Lhota.
In today’s New York Times, for instance Thomas Caplan, writes, “The ruling, 12 days before the mayoral election, is not likely to change the dynamics of the race, given the wide lead of the Democratic candidate, Bill de Blasio, and a presumed reluctance by many potential big donors to donate to an underdog candidate this late in the game.” (The Times figures that the decision will, however, “have a much bigger impact next year” in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s re-election bid and other New York state races.)
But I don’t know. Of course, Lhota can’t win, but he can narrow the gap—and, more important, plant a big, fat “I told you so” and establish his influence should a de Blasio administration start to falter.
Lhota had already been on the rise—a bit—since showing a new aggressiveness in the candidates’ second debate, on Tuesday; and with a pro-Lhota group winning this legal case, Lhota himself looks like more of a winner, especially in the eyes of voters and donors who might have otherwise sat out the election.
He’s certainly bringing a new gusto to his insistence that a Mayor de Blasio would cause crime to explode. In addition to the scary Lhota ad that de Blasio has called “race-baiting,” Lhota has lately been fear-mongering on the stump in almost novelistic detail.
Last night, he warned the Juniper Park Civic Association in Queens that de Blasio would bring back the bad old days of the ’70s and ’80s when, he said, “Somebody would smash your window and rip out the dashboard and take your radio and sell it for 25 bucks so they could get a quick hit of whatever their problem was.… I remember walking the streets and thinking I was walking on glass, but I was walking on crack vials.”
Writes Politicker: “The civic association, one of the larger and more organized neighborhood groups in the borough, murmured approvingly.”
But ultimately, economic insecurity will prove scarier than ghost stories of the past. A poll commissioned by AM New York (which just endorsed Lhota for mayor, by the way) that has de Blasio beating Lhota by forty-one points, also found that:
After 12 years under Bloomberg, majorities wanted city government to provide fewer incentives and favorable policies for corporations and developers while doing more for small business and workers. More than two-thirds believed that under Bloomberg city government paid too much attention to the rich and not enough to the middle class and poor.
At least in this race, too much money from the Kochs and related Citizens United–type groups could backfire.
In writing about last night’s raucous NYC mayoral debate between Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota, Michael Powell of the New York Times nailed de Blasio as a Nation sort of guy, but suggested that he might not be so forever.
“The man likely to be the next mayor, Mr. de Blasio now sometimes seems less suggestive of a Nation magazine star than a savvy, even cool-eyed pol. (It’s worth noting that he barred reporters from his fund-raiser and declined to make public a list of the guests),” writes Powell. He’s been doing some of the best, most contextual coverage of the race, and he doesn’t pose either candidate’s shortcomings in fatalistic terms, but rather as something to be aware of.
“Being mayor is an indisputably complicated business, and his feints in directions other than to the liberal North Star are intriguing to watch.”
It wasn’t always easy to see those feints in the bitter second debate last night. They came between arguments over who was playing the race card and whose former boss was the more divisive (de Blasio called Lhota “the right-hand man of Rudy Giuliani when he was going out of his way to divide this city,” while Lhota characterized the Mayor Dinkins era as “the last time we had a race riot in the city of New York”).
But between the fireworks, there were indeed de Blasio’s more subtle movements—call them fudges, inconsistencies or measured calculations—that made the debate feel at times like a preview of possible disappointments to come for the left. Not that a Mayor de Blasio would disappoint on the scale of Obama—de Blasio has an authentic and longstanding commitment to progressive causes—but he is a politician.
As to whether the city should allow a stadium to be built in one of Queens’s densest parks, for instance, Powell pointed out the two candidates’ unexpected answers. De Blasio, he writes, “cleared his throat with some populist rumbling about city tax giveaways. Then he allowed that, well, perhaps, maybe, a pro soccer stadium might raise the money needed to give that dowdy dowager of a park a face-lift.” Lhota gave a flat no, saying, “We don’t have enough park space in this city as it is.”
Neither man supported Mayor Bloomberg’s “green taxi” initiative, which would bring more environmentally friendly taxis to the underserved outer boroughs. Powell writes that de Blasio “suggested that taxi service was fine out there, a claim that disintegrated like a meteor slamming into the troposphere. As I listened to him, I could not help recalling—banish the mean thought!—that Mr. de Blasio raised $250,000 from the taxi industry.” (Read more on that from Wayne Barrett.)
Others pointed out that de Blasio seems to have suddenly switched positions on the popular pedestrian plazas, where tables and chairs have replaced honking cars in congested areas like Times Square.
“I have profoundly mixed feelings on this issue,” said de Blasio, citing his frustration as a motorist, adding “the jury’s still out” on its impact on traffic and surrounding businesses. But Dana Rubinstein noted in Capital New York that de Blasio had previously “’singled out Times Square and Herald Square,’ describing them ‘as wildly successful.’
“De Blasio’s shifting rhetoric provoked immediate anger among pedestrian advocates.
(Lhota’s crazy suggestion was that the hundreds of chairs and tables be put out there “on a part-time basis, open it up during periods of time when there’s a lot of traffic during rush hour and then put it back.” Rush hour, it should be noted, is twice a day.)
There wasn’t much press follow-up, however, on one of the more contentious issues: developer Bruce Ratner’s enormous Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, which de Blasio supports, even though the long-promised affordable housing there is far from being built.
“You know why?” Lhota asked in the debate. “Bill de Blasio keeps taking contributions from Bruce Ratner. Bruce Ratner actually paid for his fiftieth birthday party.” De Blasio replied, “I am proud of the fact that that development, when it is done, will yield thousands of units of affordable housing for the people of Brooklyn and I’ll make sure it happens.” But he didn’t answer the part about the donation.
A headline in Norman Oder’s Atlantic Yards Report blog, characterized the exchange as “wobbly charges met with evasive rhetoric, but no follow-up.” Oder added, “de Blasio has surely avoided every opportunity to criticize the developer, but he sure isn’t the main culprit. Ratner did help pay for that 2011 birthday party/fundraiser, but he was one of many hosts.”
Even de Blasio ally Letitia James, a city councilwoman running for de Blasio’s current job as public advocate, is disappointed on this score. “Not one [elected official] has made any comment with regard to the fact that New Yorkers and taxpayers were basically duped. And that includes the current public advocate, Bill de Blasio, and others.”
It’s premature to be disappointed in de Blasio—I’d be disappointed if he didn’t adjust and evolve enough to lead the whole city, not just the people of Nation-nation. But I do detect in him a need to please too many sides; and, assuming he’s the next mayor, we should watch closely how he deals with developers and financiers. And I’m certainly not disappointed in his overall political instincts—on income inequality, housing, education and policing—they're the best this city has seen in a long time.
Leslie Savan analyzes round one of the New York City mayoral debates.