The New York mayor's race was weird and depressing in virtually every imaginable way. Yes, Mark Green ran a lackluster, quasi-incumbent's campaign for much of it and yes, I wish the usually pugnacious liberal had not wimped out at the crucial moment when Rudy Giuliani requested a post-9/11 extension of his term. These, however, are minor points. The major ones are as follows:
§ Campaign finance reform is dead. How ironic that Michael Bloomberg bought his victory with the support of John McCain, whose crusade he has now buried. New York had one of the toughest campaign finance laws on the books. As longtime honest-elections advocate Michael Waldman now admits, "Any candidate who agrees to spending limits with even the possibility of a wealthy, self-financed opponent needs to have his glasses checked." Nobody knows exactly how much it cost Bloomberg to become mayor of New York, but it was probably more than presidential candidates are allotted to win the entire country. His millions allowed him to spend more, individually, on direct mail and negative advertising than Green used on his entire campaign. He also purchased the services of putative Democratic loyalists like Al Gore's adman, Bill Knapp, and Bill Clinton's pollster, Doug Schoen. And he did all this with nary a peep from alleged good-government champions like the New York Times editorial board. Columnist Bill Keller, the man who lost an internal contest to become the paper's executive editor, actually championed this financial hijacking of our democracy in an influential column published days before the election.
§ (Some) leftists like losing. A fighter for progressive causes since 1967, when he convinced 179 other Congressional interns to denounce the Vietnam War, Green worked closely with Ralph Nader before choosing a more pragmatic path. His contributions to The Nation over the years, and his work as Public Advocate, reveal a thoughtful dedication to democratic principles. And he put together a multiethnic coalition that was a microcosm of the one cut short by the Bobby Kennedy assassination in 1968, back when we believed we might still one day "overcome." He had a chance to prove–on a national stage–that liberalism can work: that it can govern responsibly and address the concerns of middle-class voters while still reaching out to those who need help the most.
But whereas Rupert Murdoch's newspaper complained, "It is impossible to forget that, for all his recent re-invention, Green has been the personification of the Upper West Side liberal–lefty to the core," many lefties managed to do just that. During the primary, Green was forced into a runoff with Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer, a party hack who ran for mayor as a DLC, pro-death penalty, antichoice Democrat four years ago. This time around he ran a straight identity politics campaign, cashing in on his Puerto Rican background and Al Sharpton's support. As amazing as it sounds, Ferrer barely even seemed to notice September 11, consistently refusing to reconsider his pledge to raise teaching salaries 30 percent. When the close Sharpton connection inevitably cost Ferrer's candidacy any hope of white support, his supporters cried "racism." Sore losers, Ferrer and Sharpton both pouted their way through the general election. Meanwhile, DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, appointed for his ability to raise money rather than his strategic smarts or–God forbid–his principles, made everything worse when he failed to defend Green against false charges that his campaign was involved in exploiting the Sharpton/Ferrer connection. McAuliffe then seemed to want to outlaw all legitimate criticism of Sharpton as a close Ferrer adviser. Hello? Sharpton is planning to run for President, where he will test his spoiler credentials on a national stage. Are genuine liberals–say a Paul Wellstone or a Russ Feingold–forbidden from criticizing him there as well?