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2010 Elections

Why New York’s Other Races Are More Fun Than the Paladino Trainwreck

By Avi Zenilman
Friday, October 15th, 2010

Dr. Nan Hayworth

Carl Paladino has no shot of beating Andrew Cuomo. He is a staple of both the national cable networks and the local news. There are at least five New York Congressional Democrats running for re-election in swing districts facing an array of Republican challengers trying to harness voter dissatifaction into political change. How many of those races have you seen covered wall-to-wall in the tabloids? (And, no, the guy from Ohio who likes Nazi re-enacting does not count.)

It was always expected that Cuomo’s opponent would politically suffocate under a pile of opposition research, but Paladino’s decision to explode — this week, it was his comments about gays – have obscured the fact that even the non-extreme parts of the American polity are leaning Republican this year. In New York, a generally Democratic state with a limping Republican party apparatus, Paladino’s combusting engine of a campaign has fired up the base but possibly blocked the situation’s progress. Forget Pataki, forget Giuliani; the image of the GOP in this state right now is embodied by a man who has condemned gay marriage and allegedly forwarded lots and lots of porn, some displaying pictures of a kind of relationship that he would consider deeply unnatural.

The hubbub has caused headaches for Republican prospectives. At a debate Wednesday night, a retired opthamologist with a Tea party bent who is taking on Rep. John Hall of District 19 (Westchester County, Rockland County, Orange County), was forced to answer whether she’d accept Paladino’s support. She said yes, as long as he could make sure people would be able to comfortably pursue their personal life. Hall, who was elected in 2006 and is basically tied, was asked a similar question about Charlie Rangel, a man who is barely in the news.

This funny dance, where a crazy-sounding gadfly both distracts from and destroys surging Republican support, is a dynamic to watch: Paladino has joined the likes of Christine O’Donnell in Delaware as a national target for Democrats, whether it’s because they are easy foils that make it seem like disaster is not impending or because they are just compelling bogeymen (and bogeywomen). But maybe it’s time we should turn our eyes away from the trainwreck and focus on the Hall-Hayworth race, or Tim Bishop’s surprising durability in the 1st district on the East End of Long Island , or the fact that Bill Owens is somehow still leading in the 23rd district by five points even though it should be an obvious Republican pickup.

All of these seats are the ones that matter, the type of small races that can swing Congress, change the shape of the healthcare system or the national debt. The arc of those races are the ones to watch for the next 18 days — polls are just snapshots, and nothing is set in stone. Except for the fact that Carl Paladino will probably lose.

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New York City Liberals Stare Down Cuomo

By Avi Zenilman
Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

State Senator Eric Schneiderman

“I’m glad you all stayed up,” State Senator Eric Schneiderman told the cheering crowd at the Grand Hyatt. It was 1 a.m., the platters of cheese and curiously crunchy honeydew were no more, and all of his opponents in the five-way Democratic primary contest for Attorney General had finally conceded.

The ballroom was filled with some of the most powerful liberals in New York City. Naral Pro-Choice New York President Kelli Conklin introduced Schneiderman, Rep. Jerry Nadler and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn had been working the cameras for hours, and the crowd was filled with people wearing the purple t-shirts of SEIU 1199 — the most powerful union in the state. They all chanted “GUSTAVO! GUSTAVO! GUSTAVO!” when they found out that Gustavo Rivera had defeated State Senate Majority Leader, Pedro Espada, Jr.  They had all endorsed Schneiderman over Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, the former frontrunner and the presumed favorite of Andrew Cuomo. None of them were intimidated by the presumptive Governor, the so-called prince of darkness.

Schneiderman, however, had only praise for Cuomo, which he delivered after he complimented gay rights activists, the labor movement, reproductive rights organizations, the Dominicans in his district, Citizens Action, and a few other groups. The outspoken liberal said that “voters are looking for someone who will stand up to Wall Street,” and he pointed to Cuomo’s “unprecedent work” on that front. In the general election against Staten Island D.A. Dan Donovan, the promise to fight for the little guy — along with locking down the woman vote by painting him as anti-abortion as possible — will be much more salient than straightforward appeals to labor or gay rights.

It’s worth remembering, however, that Cuomo and Schneiderman are not close at all, and that Schneiderman built a incredibly potent progressive coalition that has pre-emptively expressed its disappointment with the soon-to-be Governor’s centrism and recent aversion to hard positions. The base is restless, and in the affable, savvy, Harvard-educated Schneiderman, they have their golden boy. Cuomo, obviously, knows how a press savvy Attorney General can use their subpeona power to push an agenda or hold rivals accountable, which is why he likely would have preferred Rice or trial lawyer Sean Coffey, moderates without their own power base in Albany.

Yet, as Schneiderman said, if he won the general election he would be ready to “step in on day one and continue the same aggressive progressive approach of Andrew Cuomo.”

It sounded like unequivocal support, but it was also a warning. “Everyone has to play by the same set of rules,” he said. No one, not even the governor, would be exempt from the long reach of the Attorney General’s office. In other words, Eric Scheiderman would continue the work of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo by making life difficult for Governor Andrew Cuomo.

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