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Gotham Gazette

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Citizens Union

What Can We Do To Fix This -- and Should We?


During the past two weeks, our nation has been held in the grip of steely uncertainty, watching the developments in the contested Presidential election. The fact that two weeks after the polls closed we have yet to determine our next President has caught us off our collective guard. There has been a steadily mounting concern on the part of many Americans, confirmed by a constant stream of commentary, accompanied by a litany of legal opinions, encouraged by dozens of marches and protests.

These concerns may or may not be assuaged once Florida's twenty-five electoral votes are ultimately awarded to one of the two candidates, thus determining the winner of the Presidential election.

But in the meantime, while the recounts and the hearings and the maneuverings go on unabated, the questions have been posed: How could this have happened? What can we do to fix it? How can we make sure this never happens again?

Two New York lawmakers, or more specifically, one lawmaker and one lawmaker to be, think they have an answer. Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator-elect Hillary Clinton have two very different ideas about how to reform our current system.

Senator Schumer wants the Federal Election Commission to come up with a standardized ballot format. This proposal is in response to the controversial "butterfly" ballot that may have been confusing to some voters in West Palm Beach. Presumably, designing and printing and distributing ballots at the national level would avoid the confusion that may have occurred when designing and printing and distributing ballots at the local level.

Senator Schumer has a noble objective, to make our elections fairer, more accurate, more reflective of the national will. But I'm not sure that a national standard for a ballot design would be less confusing, just more consistent. And there are problems with this idea. Current state laws have differing standards for ballot access: some third-party candidates would qualify for the ballot in one state, but not in another. Providing for these differences in ballot access at the national level is inconsistent with the states' rights to decide how to conduct their own elections.

But Schumer's suggestion pales in comparison to that of Senator-elect Hillary Clinton. In a baby-with-bathwater flourish, which may or may not be a sign of things to come during her term in office, she suggested, quite simply, that we get rid of the Electoral College.

Hillary Clinton is not the first person to suggest this, of course. It has been long debated by many sound thinkers of varied political persuasions. The troubling thing about Hillary Clinton's suggestion is she seems to indicate the Electoral College should be eliminated not due to an argument of due process, or Constitutionality, or fairness, or representation, but simply because it failed to elect her favorite candidate.

That may be unfair. Hillary Clinton may have had it in for the EC all along, and been waiting for the right opportunity to take her stand.

But chances are, if this election hadn't been such a close contest; if the candidate with the most popular votes hadn't failed to win the Electoral College votes outright; if the razor-thin statewide margin of victory had occurred in Delaware (3EVs) instead of Florida (25 EVs); no one would have even paid attention, let alone agreed, with a suggestion to amend the constitution.

The Electoral College has taken a lot of criticism these two weeks. The assertion many people have made, the assertion implicit in Hillary Clinton's criticism, was the Electoral college was a bad system because it couldn't always be counted on to deliver the candidate with the higher popular vote percentage.

But that, in fact, is exactly why it is such a good system. The truth is, we don't have a national election in this country. We do have 50 concurrent statewide elections. The national popular vote total, while an interesting statistic, is an (almost) entirely irrelevant indicator.

It's true, the Electoral College of today is a marked difference from the one outlined in the Constitution. The framers of the Constitution envisioned a system in which independent electors would exercise independent judgement resulting in an independently elected President. Today, electors are party loyalists, who are bound by tradition, and sometimes even law, to vote in accordance with the popular vote in their state.

But one important factor has remained: votes are cast in blocks, by each state, in a winner-take-all format (the only exceptions being Nebraska and Maine, where votes are allotted by congressional district). The Electoral College, far from being an archaic tradition, forces candidates to campaign not for just for votes, but for votes in enough places to result in majorities in enough states to add up to the magic number of 270.

But these are just a couple of many suggestions that we've heard. And not all of the commentary takes place on the federal or Constitutional level. The close election in Florida has also resulted in a number of accusations by both Presidential campaigns: accusations ranging from simple arithmetic errors, to outright voter fraud. These accusations, directed for the most part at the local voter canvassing boards in several Florida counties, are probably unfair, and largely unhelpful.

All of this is illustrative of a larger issue, the issue of how we should be responding, collectively, in a reasonable manner, to the closest Presidential election in our nation's history.

My advice is this: relax. Sometimes elections are close. Sometimes they are so close that a winner is not immediately apparent. It is not a disaster; it isn't even a bad thing. When was the last time the nation was riveted by the details of self-governance? I have often been horrified by the indifference many Americans feel for our own electoral process. If nothing else, the past couple weeks have gone at least some way toward improving that situation.

That doesn't mean that we can ignore the very real issues of voter disenfranchisement, or the very real problems of inaccurate vote counting methods. We should take seriously the possibility that we need to improve and upgrade our voting methods.

Here in New York, although the Presidential contest was never in doubt, there were very close contests: on Manhattan's Upper East Side, the state senate race between incumbent Roy Goodman and challenger Liz Krueger has not yet been called. And there were some irregularities: reports of long-time voters not allowed to vote, broken machines, long lines, and shortages of supplies.

Next year, New York City is facing what will likely be some of the most competitive city elections in our history. We need to take steps now to ensure that in less than a year, the elections are held in a way that will ensure an accurate and legitimate outcome.

After all, having a close election in which every vote counts is not a bad thing, as long as every vote is, in fact, counted.

Susan Reefer is a Republican pollster and media strategist. She is based in New York City.

The Arts are Apple Pie in New York, But The Candidates Have Been Silent on Specifics


In the current election season, three campaigns stand out for their potential to impact on the arts in New York City. Bush/Gore and Clinton/Lazio are obvious, but not to be overlooked is the State Senate campaign on the Upper East Side where long term Senator Roy Goodman is being challenged by a Democrat, Liz Kruger, in her first attempt at public office. So, what are the issues artists and arts groups would like to hear the presidential and senatorial candidates talk about, and what are the candidates talking about?

In the case of Bush/Gore, not much, except violence on TV, in films and video games. A few general remarks from Gore about the importance of the arts on some of his fund raising visits to the city does not constitute an arts policy. The scary part for many liberal Gore supporters in New York, who also see the arts as important, is how close Bush and Gore are on the issue of controlling culture. However, neither of them as President can directly do too much to control the arts. The First Amendment is a pretty impressive barrier -- unless Bush is elected and his Supreme Court appointments undercut recent complex rulings on the First Amendment. In fact, it is possible that the greater risk lies not in the area of First Amendment rulings, but in the growing tendency of the Supreme Court to allow power at a state level to supercede federal controls. That may become a back door for "community standards" to prevail, especially in states whose constitutions do not have protections for free speech similar to the First Amendment.

Visit the web sites of both senatorial candidates and guess what is missing. Nothing about art or culture! So, what should Bush/Gore and Clinton/Lazio talk about if they want the arts vote? Here are a few suggestions.

Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts; how much is appropriate and how should the funds be used? Would they support fellowships for individual artists -- once a significant part of the NEA and now almost extinct? It would also be helpful to hear their positions about the arts endowment's sister agencies, the National Endowment for the Humanities and Museum Services.

Support for Public Television; how much and would they approve conditions about content, geographic distributions, etc.?

What are their views on the issues surrounding the Internet and copyright? It is clear that current copyright law simply does not adequately address this new medium. Both the next president and the junior senator from New York will help shape changes in copyright legislation over the next few years.

Where do these candidates stand on legislative efforts to limit advocacy by non-profits? Sooner or later one of the many legislative efforts by far right Republican House members to hamstring the voices of non-profits will reach the Senate and possibly the President's desk. Non-profit arts groups fear this type of legislation given the regular legislative assaults on the arts.

And, specifically for Ms. Clinton, how can you reconcile your recent recommendations to control advertising for young children with the First Amendment? For Mr. Lazio, exactly what would you do about all the violence you abhor on TV, video and film?

Though neither senatorial candidate's campaign responded to email and phone calls to ascertain their positions on the arts, there are some clues. One should keep in mind that in this city, candidates for public office are generally for the "arts" -- it's like apple pie and motherhood.

Unless Lazio has voted on one of the many convoluted efforts to deny funding to the National Endowment for the Arts, there simply will not be a clear indication of his position from his years as a member of the House of Representatives. Tracking that type of vote is next to impossible, since these were often amendments to amendments, and sometimes voice votes. However, arts advocates do not think of Lazio as someone who poses a threat. The problem is they also don't have any sense of his fighting for the arts. At this point, any statement from his campaign is like to be what we call the "tea and sympathy" response, so it is doubtful that anyone will get a clear sense of his views.

The Clintons are both generally regarded as arts supporters, and compared to Jesse Helms's kind of opposition in Congress, they certainly are. Still, it is troubling to see no reference to arts or culture on the Hillary Clinton web site. Her need for a heavy turnout among city voters, where there are over a hundred thousand artists (mostly registered Democrats and with demographic profiles that scream voter to any pollster) ought to cause someone in that campaign to take ten minutes and correct the oversight. Again, it would probably not be a particularly substantive statement, but even tokenism might be welcomed by some.

Ultimately the race that has potential for a real and immediate impact is none of the above, but the state senate campaign between Goodman and Kruger. Senator Goodman, a liberal Republican often acceptable to moderate Democrats, is chair of the subcommittee that recommends the appropriations for the New York State Council on the Arts. He has pushed successfully for several years for increased funding for that agency. Despite Ms. Kruger's thoughtful position on social issues, and her appreciation for the value of the arts to the city, non-profit arts groups and artists might lose a great deal if Goodman is defeated. Unless, of course, the Democrats take over the State Senate, in which case the arts chairmanship would probably continue in the hands of a city representative.

The likelihood that the Republicans will lose control of the state senate is about on a par with hearing real substance on arts issues from Bush/Gore or Clinton/Lazio. Perhaps we should find a way to have a fight over arts vouchers, or special tax cuts for artists. Or perhaps everyone in New York City and Hollywood, who earns a living in the arts, should close their wallets until these candidates speak to our issues.

Norma Munn is the chairwoman of the New York City Arts Coalition, a citywide advocacy group. She is also president of the Artists Community Federal Credit Union, and is a former chairwoman of The City Club of New York.

In the News: The Primaries


The Democratic Rundown

by Jonathan Trichter

On September 12th, New York City Democrats in effect chose their elected officials. This is when we voted in party primaries. The Republicans had a primary race this year within the city limits, an obscure one in Staten Island. But there were a ton of Democratic primaries. This is a Democratic town, so in many cases our primaries were tantamount to the general election, and are where the real competition took place.

Real competition is not something that happens in every race, of course: At the top of the ballot was the Senate race between you-know-who and someone you don't know; Hillary Clinton's primary opponent was Mark S. McMahon, an orthopedic surgeon. Was anybody surprised that he lost?

But there were some noteworthy contests, and though most incumbents won out over their challengers, there were some interesting outcomes, including the resurrection of Adam Clayton Powell IV and of Pedro Espada Jr., the selection of two strong candidates for State Senate, Lorraine Coyle Koppell in the Bronx and Liz Krueger in Manhattan, who will be formidable challengers to the Republican incumbents, and the overwhelming election of a woman who is dead. Here is a run-down, based on results from unofficial tallies. [The Citizens Union Voters Directory offered a non-partisan but opinionated guide to all primary races, including those of third parties, and will put out a new guide for the general election in November.]

IN THE BRONX:

  • The most exciting Democratic primary was in the 17th Congressional District, where State Senator Larry Seabrook challenged six-term Congressman Eliot Engel, unsuccessfully. (Engel 50 percent, Seabrook 42 percent) Larry Seabrook is African American while Eliot Engel is Jewish, and Democratic Party boss, Roberto Ramirez, has made it his mission to elect more minority representatives. When Engel was first elected, the district was predominantly white-ethnic. But the demographics shifted; the majority of Engel's constituents are now minorities. So Engel was fighting the Bronx machine in a race about race. [See Gotham Gazette Issue of the Week entitled "The New Ethnic Politics" which focuses on this race] The race got nasty, with published reports accusing Seabrook of filing joint tax returns with his wife when he had already divorced her, and Seabrook accusing the Engel campaign of leaking the information. If though Engel has won, though, this could be his last term. For the 2001 reapportionment may make this a minority district once and for all.
  • For the 32nd State Senate primary, incumbent David Rosado ran against former incumbent Pedro Espada. In 1998, it was Rosado who unseated Espada by less than 1,000 votes. In 2000, Espada has now returned the favor, winning by a large margin.
  • The cutthroat congressional primary in the 17th CD has spilled into the State Senate primary for the 33rd Senate District. Samuel Bea, Jr. was the undistinguished incumbent. As payback for being abandoned by the local party, Engel backed Ruth Thompson. Thompson won.
  • The 34th SD includes the affluent Riverdale section of the Bronx. The state senator there is Republican Guy Velella. Two Democrats, Michael Benedetto and Lorraine Coyle Koppell, were vying for the opportunity to challenge Velella. While Benedetto had the backing of the Bronx Democratic machine, it may be because he was the weaker candidate; Velella has enjoyed good relations with Democratic Party bosses. Coyle Koppell is the wife of former Attorney General G. Oliver Koppell. She won.
  • In the 76th Assembly District, incumbent Peter M. Rivera had an easy primary, winning 62 percent of the vote. His opposition, Charles R. Serrano, has run against him three or four times and has never come close.

 

IN BROOKLYN:

  • In 1998, Anthony Weiner defeated Noach Dear and Melinda Katz in the Democratic primary for New York's 9th CD (United States Senator Chuck Schumer's old seat). Dear ran as a Democrat in this year's primary and will run as a Republican in the general, which means he is favored to lose twice.
  • In 1998, Barry Ford ran an ill-fated primary against incumbent Rep. Edolphus Towns in New York's 10th CD. This year, Ford ran again, with the same results: Towns defeated him, 57 to 43 percent.
  • Major Owens is the Congressman from the 11th CD. His challenger, Una Clarke, was his friend and protegee, and is now a member of the City Council. The race was acrimonious, the candidates accusing each other of exacerbating tensions between African-Americans and Caribbean-Americans. The incumbent kept his seat.
  • In the 17th Senate District, Richard Velazquez challenged incumbent Nellie R Santiago. Vito Lopez, who runs an effective political operation, backed Velazquez. To siphon votes from Santiago, Lopez fielded a third candidate whose last name is also Santiago (no relation to Nellie). If the intention was to confuse voters and split Santiago's support, it didn't work. Nellie Santiago won with 53 percent of the vote.
  • In an upset that party experts expected, in the 40th State Assembly District, incumbent Edward Griffith lost to his challenger, Diane Gordon, who was supported by Congressman Edolphus Towns.
  • Rhoda S. Jacobs represents the 42nd Assembly District, which is 90 percent African American. Jacobs is Jewish and is vulnerable against any African American candidate. Yet somehow, she has survived two legislative reapportionments. Zacary Lareche, her Haitian challenger, got knocked off the ballot, so Jacobs endured again.
  • On top of running the Kings County Democratic Party, Clarence Norman represents the 43rd Assembly District. In 1998, community activist James E. Davis caught Norman off guard. Norman barely ran a re-election campaign, and Davis got within a few hundred votes of victory. This year, Norman has focused his energy on defeating Davis decisively -- and did so, with 60 percent of the vote.
  • Lena Cymbrowitz represented the 45th Assembly District until she passed away just weeks ago. That did not stop 85 percent from voting for her anyway against perennial primary challenger Michael J. Hizme.
  • The Assemblywoman for the 46th District is Adele H. Cohen. This year, Cohen almost got primary competition from Alec Brook-Krasny. Brook-Krasny is part of the new wave of Russian immigrants who came to America in the 1970's. It may soon be time for these Russian Jews to make an electoral mark, but not yet: Brook-Krasny did not make it on the ballot.
  • Roger Green represents the 57th Assembly District. He has a reputation for being a lazy campaigner. His opponent, Hakeem Jeffries, is a successful lawyer with a reputation for being a workhorse. I thought this would come down to the wire. But Green won handily, with 59 percent of the vote.

 

IN MANHATTAN:

  • Upper East Side Democrats living in the 12th Congressional District (CD) voted to re-nominate Congresswoman Nydia M. Velazquez with 77 percent of the vote. While Rep. Velazquez is a safe incumbent, she has had internal disagreements with local party leaders. So, no free passes for Nydia; the party always runs a token candidate against her. This year, her name was Mildred Rasario.
  • Upper West Side Democrats from the 15th CD re-nominated the Hon. Charles Rangel by 83 percent of the vote. His opponent was Ruben Vargas. Vargas has run against Rangel before. Sometimes he gets knocked off the ballot. Sometimes he shows up on the Right-to-Life line.
  • In the 26th State Senate District (SD) on the Upper East Side, Democrats chose Liz Krueger overhwelmingly over perennial candidate Robert J. Bellinson, 76 to 24 percent Bellinson usually runs unopposed in the primary and then gets pummeled by Republican Roy Goodman in the general. This year, Liz Krueger poses a more credible threat to Goodman.
  • Olga Mendez is the 22-year incumbent of the 28th SD (this senate district represents a sliver of Manhattan but more of the Bronx). A Democrat, Mendez plays footsie with Senate Republicans; as the majority party in the Senate, they have all the power. Still, Mendez has kept her party credentials and the support of local leaders. Though she drew a fiercely Democratic opponent named Felix Rosado, she easily defeated him, 68 to 32 percent.
  • In the 68th Assembly District (AD), incumbent Nelson A. Denis was trounced by Adam Clayton Powell IV, 53 to 40 percent. In the past, Powell has been a mediocre candidate. Nevertheless, the initials "ACP" pack potential energy.
  • Incumbent Edward C. Sullivan won overwhelmingly against Louis M. Nunez in the 69th AD. Nunez is politically aligned with Rangel's opponent, Ruben Vargas. It's a good thing that neither Nunez nor Vargas quit their day jobs.
  • The race in the 72nd AD was between incumbent Ramon S. Echavarria and Adriano Espaillat, whose family feud with Democratic leaders is as intense as the Hatfields and the McCoys. For the political families involved, this race was critical. Everyone else just hoped that nobody gets hurt. Espaillat won with 83 percent of the vote.
  • Republican John Ravitz holds Manhattan's 73rd Assembly seat. In the Democratic Primary, Jerome Polansky ran against Kirk A. Swanson, a race that, the morning after, was too close to call. Indeed, only eight votes separated the two candidates! Two years ago, Polansky dropped out of the primary. This year, he is in it for keeps. Of course, this seat is Ravits' for keeps, unless he runs for Mayor in 2001.

 

IN QUEENS:

  • In the 34th Assembly District, incumbent Ivan C. Lafayette should won with 59 percent of the vote. After the next reapportionment, however, this should become a predominantly Latino district. Challenger William H. Salgado, who got about a quarter of the vote, is setting himself up for a more realistic run in 2002.
  • The 36th Assembly District is the only Democratic open seat in the city this year. (Incumbent Richard Butler is retiring.) Kimon C. Thermos ran against Butler last year and only lost by 300 votes. This year, the primary was between Thermos and Michael N. Gianaris, both Greek Americans. This is a Democratic seat, so the winner of the primary will be the next Assemblyman. The winner was Gianaris.

 

IN STATEN ISLAND:

The Democratic primary for New York's 59th State Assembly District was won either by Raymond G. Jorgensen or John Lavelle. It was, the day after the primary, too close to call.


Republican Reflection

by Susan Reefer

When I think back on the summer of 2000 in New York City, many years from now, I'm guessing I won't remember the cool, rainy weather. I won't remember the infestations, either of mosquitoes, or scooters. I probably won't even remember much about the Presidential contest, once it sorts itself out.

What I will remember about this summer are the cows.

Here in New York, this summer, there are cows. Everywhere. Wherever you go, in midtown or in the park or in Grand Central, there are cows-- fiberglass, full-size cow statues, painted by artists, commissioned by sponsors, placed all around the city unexpectedly, so that you have the uncanny sense they were passing through one night and just decided to stay. It's the Cow Parade. There are cows that look like taxis, and cows that look like pianos. There is a ballerina cow, a rhinestone-studded cow, and there's the cow the jumps over the moon in the broadway musical, Rent. There's a doorman cow, a tourist cow, a zebra cow.

I am sure I will remember the cows. I am not sure I will remember the candidates. The Republican Party, greatly outnumbered in parts of the city, couldn't even find one candidate to field in many contests. Indeed, there was only one Republican primary race within the five boroughs, the 23rd State Senate District, which covers parts of Staten Island close and Brooklyn, in which Robert DiCarlo, the 43-year-old former State Senator, won out over Charles Capetanakis, a 38-year-old attorney. DiCarlo will thus have a chance to take back the seat he lost in 1996 to Democratic incumbent Vincent Gentile.

Primaries, where they do happen, reveal something worth noticing about the party and its members. In primaries, voters are often asked to pick between two or more candidates, any of whom would be their choice in a general election.

That can sometimes lead to divisions within a party organization, but it doesn't have to. Sometimes a primary, apart from choosing a nominee, allows the party members to sort out what they stand for, individually, and as a larger organization. It can be healthy, and even help the eventual nominee get press coverage and keep interest high during the otherwise politically stagnant summer months.

And for the political observer, a heated primary is the ultimate in political spectacle.

Some primary contests are truly competitive; battles between well-matched candidates vying for the chance to carry their party's banner.

But others, perhaps even most primary campaigns are more abstract. They are intended to make a point, or to pull the more established candidate in one direction, usually away from the center.

This year, for instance, there was a Republican primary in the 2nd Congressional District. Joan Johnson, the Islip Town Supervisor, was the local Republican party's designated candidate. She was hand-picked by the party leadership to try and hold on the seat of Republican Congressman Rick Lazio, who is running for U.S. Senate.

Johnson faced a primary challenge after Republican diplomat Robert Walsh enter ed the race. They have different genders, backgrounds, and levels of experience. Walsh, who is pro-life, feels that Johnson is not conservative enough to represent the district. Going against the formidable Republican machine in the 2nd District may seem illogical, but Walsh may have had his reasons for running that are exclusive of his desire to serve in Congress.

Primaries are a good opportunity for parties to measure the strength of their organization, by turning out the party faithful to support the designated candidate. This can often make the difference. Most primaries are decided by just a fraction of the electorate; often fewer than one in ten registered voters show up to vote in their party primary. It is a number that is usually manageable for even an under-funded and short-staffed campaign.

Susan Reefer is a Republican pollster and media strategist. She is based in New York City.

The Party Platforms


 

If you are an American child on January 20th, 2001 when the next president of the United States is sworn in, what can you expect the new government to do on your behalf?

The answer, based on the two platforms unveiled this month at the Republican and Democratic conventions:

If Republicans are elected, according to the Republican National Committee platform, expect computers in your classroom and your library to be secured against pornography. Your school will enact a zero-tolerance policy toward disruptive kids, and will reinstate voluntary school prayer. You will be protected from offensive and intrusive questionnaires. When you go to sex ed, you will be protected from talk about sex; you will be offered lessons on abstinence instead. Do not expect any new supplies, library books or building improvements if the Republican platform prevails.

If the Democrats get in, you can look forward to a reading exam in fourth grade and a math exam in eighth grade to check your progress. Not to worry: your teachers will also be taking a new test. They'll have to pass a "rigorous and fair" exam before stepping foot in your classroom. If you're a four-year-old, you may be one of the lucky ones to benefit from new federal funding for preschools, and if you're an elementary school student, you may find yourself in one of the reduced class-size schoolrooms funded with federal money. Whatever your age, if the Democrat's platform prevails, your folks will be entitled to take family leave from work to go to parent-teacher conferences.

The GOP planks on education, it should be noted, have just about nothing in common with proposals coming out of Bush headquarters. Governor George W. Bush's proposals focus attention on the achievement gap between black and white students, a topic that is never mentioned in the GOP platform (or the Democratic platform, for that matter). You can see the Republican platform and the Bush proposals on-line. The Democratic platform will go on-line later this month.

Standardized tests are going to dominate your school days from now on, no matter who wins. Both Democrats and Republicans will use federal money to reward states that improve test scores and punish those that don't. Bush is more explicit than Vice President Al Gore in tying the sanctions to closing the gap between minority and white students' scores. If Bush is elected and your state fails to reduce the gap, he'll transfer money that would have gone to state bureaucrats directly to your folks. If Gore wins, he'll punish state bureaucrats by giving the money directly to schools.

It will come as no surprise that both parties want parents to create stable, prosperous homes. The Republicans will give parents, no matter what their income, a new $500-a-year child tax credit. The Democrats will raise the minimum wage and increase the amount of money parents can earn and still be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The Republicans say they will toughen the juvenile justice system, even though there are now twice as many children serving time in adult prisons than a decade ago and every state has passed laws making it possible to try youngsters in adult courts. The Democrats are mostly silent on juvenile crime except to call for expanded drug-treatment programs for kids.

Twelve million kids -- one in six -- do not have health insurance. Both parties tried to fix this with the creation in 1997 of CHIP, the Child Health Insurance Program, which covers children from families with too much income for Medicaid and not enough for private insurance. The bottleneck seems to be at state capitals, where legislatures have been slow to draft state versions and welfare officials have been wrongfully steering working families away from benefits. The platforms of both the Democrats and Republicans pledge to do more to get children signed up.

Whether they will do what they promise is a different lesson.

Peggy J. Farber is freelance journalist specializing in children's issues. Her reporting on conditions of NYC children has appeared in City Limits Magazine as well as on National Public Radio.

In The News: The Republican National Convention


Exactly one hundred years ago, there was another Republican Convention; it too was in Philadelphia. At that time a young New York governor, Theodore Roosevelt, was nationally renowned for his leadership of the Rough Riders. At home, though, he was getting on the nerves of the Republican leadership; they felt he was not sufficiently walking the party line.

New York political bosses tried to draft Roosevelt as Vice-President in order to get rid of him; the sitting Republican President, William McKinley, didn't want Roosevelt and resented the interference.

In the end, McKinley's veto was effectively overridden by the sight of a young Teddy Roosevelt walking into the convention hall in his trademark broad-brimmed hat. It was pure political spectacle, and excitement, and anticipation, all coming together at once. The delegates went nuts, the back-room political brokering abruptly stopped. He went on to become Vice-President, and then President not long after.

This is not the kind of story that can happen in modern political conventions of either party. These days, a convention has no real conflict, not even behind the scenes. There are no real surprises. And, there isn't anything spectacular on the order of the 1900 Philadelphia convention that catapulted Roosevelt, even though the Republicans will wind up having spent something close to $50 million for the balloons and placards and the rest of the spectacle of the 2000 Philadelphia convention. Even John McCain rolling into the convention hall on his Straight Talk Express bus could not under any circumstances cause an uproarious shift in the proceedings.

The reason why the Republican convention has no conflict or surprise anymore is not because the Republican Party is made up of shiny happy people holding hands. And not because of Party discipline, or good manners, or a desire to provide the world with a united front.

The reason is that there really isn't anything to do, and nothing to fight about. The players are all in place; even the VP question was answered a week before the convention started. The few remaining social issue-type-questions have been relegated to a "Let' s Agree to Disagree" type category. So that's it. Nothing left to talk about. And that's going to be the real problem for Republican candidates across the country. Without internal struggles to decide what to stand for, political parties have no sense of identity, and very little of value to pass along to the candidates who carry their banner.

That is, after all, one of the main purposes of the convention spectacle--to provide the nation with a sense of what it means, right now, to run for office as a Republican. Or to call yourself a Republican. Or to vote Republican.

Is there a sense of political identity? The answer is, of course, yes: most Americans, even those in states with no party registration, identify themselves with one of the two major parties. But does that sense of political identity come from a pattern of voting behavior, that is, "I am a Republican because I mostly like and vote for Republicans"?

Or is it something more-"I am a Republican even though I can't stand any of the Republican candidates who have run for office in my state in the last ten years"?

Helen Fielding's new novel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, is the sequel to the best seller, Bridget Jones' Diary. In the sequel, the title character Bridget is horrified to find out her new boyfriend votes Tory. As she points out, she votes Labour, because Labour stands for "the principle of sharing...kindness, single mothers and Nelson Mandela...."

It is less clear if most Republicans or Democrats in this country could describe what it means to be a big D or R. That is less of a problem for George W. Bush and Al Gore, who have the famous names and enormous warchests to go to battle over subtleties and fine distinctions.

It is more of a problem for candidates on down the ballot. Party identity is still the best determinate of voting behavior that we have. The less well-known a candidate is, the more important that candidate's affiliation becomes. Rick Lazio, the Republican running for U.S. Senate in New York, is a perfect example. Lazio has served well but without much fanfare, as a Congressman from Long Island. As a statewide candidate, running against First Lady Hillary Clinton, he had a lot of catching up to do in the name identification department. But he started the race with the solid support of those voters who wanted to cast their lot with a Republican.

Candidates running in a state like New York have to rely even more on the party label: New York is a big, diverse, populous place, and anything that automatically connects you with a whole set of social, economic, environmental and national security issues is a welcome advantage.

Whether or not voters will be able to make that connection between Republican candidates and a zeitgeist-like set of policy positions remains to be seen. Rick Lazio, and Republicans across the country, surely hope that those tuned into the events in Philadelphia will not sum it up as just a coronation of the son of a former President.

The Democratic View

by Jon Trichter

It is true that Party identification is important to Rick Lazio, since the less well-known a candidate, the more important his affiliation, and voters have yet to learn much about Lazio other than his affiliation. It is also true that Party affiliation is the best determinate of voting behavior known to both pollsters and political scientists alike. But New York is a Democratic state. When asked, the plurality of the general electorate (about 46 percent) says they are Democrats (compared to about 34 percent Republicans).

To win, then, Rick Lazio must reach beyond the majorities who vote along Party lines. By offering his own agenda, different than that offered at his Party's convention, he could break the connection between himself and some unpopular Republican positions. Only then could he hope to steal from the Democrat's majority in New York.

So far, though, Rick Lazio has been content to run an anti-Hillary campaign, void of any agenda except that of hating Hillary. While this may be enough for a core constituency of Republicans, it's not enough to attract Democrats. Until Lazio carves out his own platform, New York Democrats -- from the top down -- will stick with Hillary. After all, Lazio is no Teddy Roosevelt.

Susan Reefer is a Republican pollster and media strategist. She is based in New York City.

Advice for Taming the Dog Days of Summer


From July Fourth until Labor Day, political campaigns usually shift strategies. With most voters tuned out, candidates normally concentrate on raising money for a costly media blitz after Labor Day. But this year's New York Senate race will be different. Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio should easily attract the necessary funds to drive their paid media efforts. They will also attract enough free media to fuel a high-octane summer battle. With both candidates polling more or less the same, in the mid-forties, Clinton and Lazio must use the summer months to their respective advantages. Here are some summer strategies for each candidate:

For Clinton

by Trichter

For months now, Hillary Clinton has been stuck at around 45 percent in the polls. While she has near-total name recognition (92 percent of the electorate are familiar enough with Hillary to offer an opinion of her), she is also viewed unfavorably by 39 percent of that same electorate. (Fifty-three percent view her favorably) These numbers reveal that there are few voters still open to her candidacy. To go above fifty percent, then, the First Lady will have to work through the summer to accomplish three strategic objectives.

(1) Move the campaign dialogue toward policy, away from politics and personality:

Hillary has a natural advantage when it comes to education. Yet, her campaign has not completely claimed the issue as their raison d' etre. This summer, they should publish policy proposals and develop press events that highlight an education theme. The policy proposals don't even need to stand up to strict scrutiny (Bill Bradley's health care plan was roundly criticized in its details, but it defined the debate in this year's Democratic presidential primary). The press events should be bold enough to break through a cynical press corps and capture the imagination of voters, transforming her from a "political personality" to an "issues candidate."

(2) Attach herself to a New York cause:
The carpetbagger issue is a legitimate problem that has tainted Hillary's candidacy. The best way to deal with any legitimate negative is to contain it, as opposed to wasting credibility trying to overcome it. (Did anyone believe her when she said she was a Yankees fan?) To contain the carpetbagger negative, Hillary should devote some summer time to something other than campaigning. Saving a landmark in Schenectady or a park in Buffalo, say, could win her some street credibility. Attaching herself to a New York cause would do more to demonstrate Hillary's sincerity than a hundred campaign rallies.

(3) Define Rick Lazio before he defines himself:
Many voters are still unable to offer an opinion of the substitute candidate. Yet, the same polls measuring Lazio's obscurity also reveal a rapid ascension in his vote total. In the absence of candidate debates or significant ad campaigns, it is reasonable to conclude that the only thing voters have learned about Rick Lazio is that he isn't Hillary Clinton. (According to the most recent Marist Poll, only 43 percent of Rick Lazio's supporters say that their choice is based upon positive views of him.) Consequently, the Clinton campaign is facing a strategic imperative; they must define Rick Lazio unfavorably, highlighting his controversial voting record in Congress. This will raise Lazio's negatives and tarnish his campaign before it has fully begun. And remember the words of Lee Atwater: "He who defines first, defines last."

For Lazio

by Reefer

When he entered the race two months ago amidst the whirlwind of Mayor Giuliani's departure, Rick Lazio had to contend with a desperate Republican Party. With impressive efficiency, he assembled the campaign team, chartered the bus, and secured the requisite endorsements. This zero to sixty campaign acceleration has served to ease the minds of Republican Party stalwarts, but Lazio remains an unknown to most of the voters he courts (one recent poll had him at 24 percent name recognition). In order to garner more than just the Hillary haters, Lazio needs to fine-tune his strategy over the summer months.

(1) Run for Senate, not for a series of Congressional seats:
Campaigning in a state as large and diverse as New York is no easy task. Rather than focus on strategic targeting, which might dictate a tailored message to a regional audience, Rick Lazio needs to find an inclusive statewide message, beyond Native Son, that elevates him to the level of the office he seeks. Finding a theme that engages equally the attention of every voter may be a challenge, but it will be the difference between winning and losing the votes of those who look beyond party loyalty when determining their vote. Linking his campaign to a populist issue, whether campaign finance reform, privacy protection, or a Victims' Bill of Rights, will give voters something tangible to associate him with and move beyond the politics of the City vs. the Suburbs vs. Upstate.

(2) Run on His Record:
Rick Lazio has served well in the U.S. House (a missed vote here or there notwithstanding) and has an unimpressive list of legislative accomplishments. Mrs. Clinton has already demonstrated a strategy of using Lazio's voting record to paint him as a right-wing zealot; a charge which, fair or not, has the ability to scare off moderates. The best way to diffuse these attacks, and simultaneously paint a contrast with Hillary, is for Lazio to steal her thunder and talk about each issue in light of his work in Congress. He should, with reckless honesty, give an insiders' view: the role he played passing particular pieces of legislation, the work he did in conference committees, the deals he cut and what he wished to do differently. This "Real World" approach to running on one's record would have been unthinkable six years ago, but the electorate today has warmed to government experience in their candidates and voyeurism in their entertainment.

(3) Let it Go, Lazio:
As a practice, negative campaigning is tried and true. Hillary Clinton is already running ads attacking Lazio, and Lazio has shown his willingness to respond in kind. Lazio can, and surely will, question the First Lady's position on various issues, the source of her campaign funding, and her inexperience in elected office. But when it comes to the Clinton scandals and the carpetbagger charge, Lazio would be smart to leave it to the late night talk show hosts. While conventional wisdom dictates that Lazio take Hillary's biggest negative and repeat it (and repeat it) until it sticks, there is simply no one left in America who doesn't know Hillary is new to New York. These attacks carry no new information and they have the potential to get on the collective nerve of voters, most of whom must still decide whether they like this guy.

Susan Reefer is a Republican pollster and media strategist. She is based in New York City.

 

In The News: Money Matters


"We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor." So declared the General Congress of the United States in the last phrase of the Declaration of Independence.

Two hundred and twenty four years later, the members of Congress, or would-be members, are certainly pledging their fortunes, though not to each other.

At a time of year when most Americans are attending barbecues, watching fireworks, and walking in neighborhood parades, American politicians are doing the same thing--except they are doing it for money.

If in the United States Constitution the word "money" appears just a couple of times, and "political campaign" not at all, the two are just about inseparable and ubiquitous nowadays, especially at this time of year. To be elected, you need, in the stirring words of Rick Lazio, "a ton of dough." But the act of acquiring it--through contributions, fundraising and business deals--forces the current generation of candidates to exhibit perhaps a tad less sacred honor than the Founding Fathers.

Consider: Jon Corzine, candidate for New Jersey's Senate seat, clinched the Democratic nomination, defeating former Governor Jim Florio. It cost Corzine $35 million. And that was just the primary. Corzine does not seem concerned about the expense, which may be because the personal fortune of this former chairman of the brokerage house Goldman, Sachs is estimated to be around $400 million.

Corzine's Republican contender, Bob Franks, isn't quite as nonchalant. It's estimated he'll need at least $12 million to compete. Thus far, he's raised slightly more than $2 million. He's already trailing his opponent in the polls, 43 percent to 36 percent.

It's different on this side of the river. New York's Senate race gives some testimony to the idea that money isn't, in fact, everything. Though he entered the race late, and is $10 million behind his opponent, Lazio has pulled into a dead heat with Mrs. Clinton. A recent Marist poll put them at 42 percent each, with a four percent margin of error.

Still, Lazio is madly fundraising, hoping to close the gap in funds between him and the First Lady. And that's only the beginning of his financial woes. Lazio is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for insider trading. An apparent neophyte in investing, Lazio nevertheless earned a 600 percent profit in seven weeks, trading stock and options in a brokerage company controlled by contributors to his campaign. State Comptroller H. Carl McCall wrote a letter to the SEC asking for an inquiry. Since McCall is both a political ally of Hillary Clinton, and a likely candidate for Governor in 2002, the Lazio camp dismissed his letter as a political stunt. The SEC, nonetheless, has already begun investigating.

A recent report by the Albany Times Union notes that 18 percent of Lazio's campaign contributions came from real estate, securities, insurance, legal, mortgage and banking sectors - all of which have legislative dealings with Lazio, in his capacity on the House Banking and Financial Services Committee, and on the Commerce Committee.

The First Lady, of course, has had her share of legal and ethical problems relating to finance, though nothing lately.

Jessica Sounds Off:

Jon Corzine defended his extravagant spending in the New Jersey primary as an investment in the kind of party-building that the Republicans have done for years. Now it seems that the Democrats are doing the party-building, with the help of suddenly generous baby-boomers and aging hippies. As a result, the Democrats have a financial advantage in the contest for control of the House. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has raised a little more than $15 million in soft money; the Republicans just $10 million. Will a mere five million dollars buy control of the House? You can barely get an apartment in Manhattan for that.

Susan Reefer is a Republican pollster and media strategist. She is based in New York City.

Cattle Call: Summer Stampede Set for the Boroughs


There is a herd mentality afoot in New York. This summer 500 cows will be set loose from the Battery to the Bronx. But leave your milk pail home. Bring the kids and camera instead. These are life-sized fiberglass faux-cows that have been specially painted by local artists, most of whom competed for the privilege -- and $2000 stipend. A group called Cowparade -- in cahoots with NYC 2000, the Mayor's Office and the Parks Department is billing this bovine boom as the "first public art exhibit ever staged in all five NYC boroughs."

The cows will be in public places like parks, lobbies and medians, although a few may stray to such locales the decks of boats. At the end of the summer there will be a cattle auction. Proceeds will go to children's and educational charities as well as the Parks Department Foundation.

How now, these cows? Blame it on the Swiss. They thought unleashing such a herd in Zurich would be good for civic pride and art appreciation. And so it was, and so this bestial idea traveled to Chicago where Mayor Daley called it "the most successful promotional event in the city's history." Our own Mayor, not yet in his effusively sensitive persona, did his own quasi-kowtowing. "CowParade [will add] to New York City's creative, dynamic environment, stimulating the economy," he said.

Ah yes, the ecownomy.* Don't think these cows are just cheap exhibitionism. The total price tag will top $2 million. That's where cow sponsorships come in. They cost $7,500 per cow, and come along with plenty of marketing benefits for those so inclined. A spokesman said that nearly all the cows are sponsored, singly or in herds. For example, the multinational chemical giant BASF sponsored 55 cows; Paine Weber and Emigrant Savings Bank also took some.

What do artists think? Patricia Nix, who regularly exhibits all over the world, initially said that the cows were too silly for her. She refused repeatedly when the cow committee tried to rope her in. "Then," she said, "I saw this cow full blown in a dream. I agreed the next morning and suddenly I was being held hostage by this huge heifer in my foyer. I worked on it 12-14 hours a day for eight days. My dealer told me that this is one of the most important pieces I've ever done."

Dozens of cows are being painted at the cow corral, and can be viewed at the Park Avenue underpass. Among them are "Mattress Cow," which comes complete with the requisite "pasturepedic do not remove tag," and "Moobile Library Cow" that features various painted titles including "Tail of Two Cities," and "Far from the Madding Cow."

In 1830 British travel writer Frances Trollope (Anthony's mom) noted rural Americans' uncanny ability to live on "terms of primaeval intimacy with [their] cow." It may have taken 150 years, but this summer even we urbanites will know just what she meant.

Rhonda sounds off:

What better cash cow for the city than well, cows. Chicago took in millions in added tourist dollars, never mind that most serious artists scoffed. They scoffed in New York too, but since when does that matter? Here the moovers* and shakers are milking those heifers for all they're worth. CowParade Holdings Corporation, the private in this "unique public-private partnership," boldly predicts that this stampede is "destined to be the biggest event of the Millennium in New York." Maybe, or maybe that's just the mad cow disease talking. In any event, it seems clear that the bovine bacchanal may prove that the art of cowmerce* (and vice versa) is as robust as ever. To beckon potential sponsors Cowparade declared that "with hundreds of cows roaming...NYC, patrons who adopt the most cows will be the most widely recognized." Among the marketing perks offered are banner ads and hyperlinks on the Cow website, discounts on official merchandise, and, of course, a permanent plaque affixed to the base of each cow." It's corporate branding that even an animal rights activist can love.

*so shoot me and send me to the Jello factory - if you really want to groan, take a look at the painful puns piled like cow patties all over the official website: http://www.cowparade.org

Rhonda Zangwill is a writer, editor and teacher in New York City. She does not claim to be a critic, but she knows what she likes. She has been published in various special interest and trade journals, even some that are still in existence.

In The News: The Lazio Effect


Sex, mortality, remorse, the Other Woman, and then, the Other Man.

Welcome to the world of NYC politics. Giuliani's recent sagas monopolized every column inch of the dailies, filled with lurid details (Judi Nathan walking her dog, gasp!), and the physiology of the prostate. And then, the Mayor made his May 19th announcement bowing out of the race, and poof! The End. Giuliani was labeled 'lame duck,' and few are pausing to consider his political future.

Enter the Other Man: Rick Lazio.

The Lazio effect is kicking in. Maybe it's those boyish good looks. Maybe it's the family values. Maybe it's the "I'm a New Yorker" pitch.

Whatever it may be, it's working. Rick Lazio has been transformed from the pesky surburbanite waiting in the wings (Pataki had quietly encouraged Lazio to run for Senate until he officially endorsed Giuliani this summer) to the Man of the Hour, hurtling through the state, campaigning with speed and finesse.

So what's next? Many speculate that Giuliani's exit will shift the race from a match-up of high-profile personalities to a substantive debate about issues. Well, maybe. But Lazio has wasted no time launching attacks, branding Mrs. Clinton as an opportunist and a carpetbagger. His staff maintains that these themes will be central to his campaign. Mrs. Clinton, however, has simply sidestepped the insults, sticking to the issues.

Maybe the new Senate race will evolve into a discussion of the issues. Certainly, such an occurrence is more likely given the differences between the two candidates. Whereas Giuliani and Mrs. Clinton have similar stances on social issues such as abortion, gay rights, and gun control, Mr. Lazio and Mrs. Clinton differ markedly. Lazio supports a woman's right to choose, but opposes late term abortions, a stance that has won Hillary Clinton an endorsement from the National Abortion Rights Action League. Clinton favors registering and licensing all guns, while Lazio prefers "reasonable measures to support the rights of sportsmen." Lazio has made environmental protection a theme of his nascent candidacy; Mrs. Clinton is largely silent on such issues. Stay tuned...

Jessica Sounds Off:

Wouldn't an issues-based campaign be nice? An intelligent discussion about what is best for New York State? A higher level of discourse, that doesn't pander to the public? Yeah, right.

Lazio has already demonstrated that he'll be using crude tactics -- "Hillary's not a real New Yorker, and I am" -- to compensate for his low profile upstate. This coming from a man who doesn't know what the fare is on the NYC subway?

Susan Reefer is a Republican pollster and media strategist. She is based in New York City.

In The News: Roundup


(may '00) McCain's Revenge
The State Senate has just approved a plan to revise the State's Republican primary system. The proposed reforms would replace the arcane petition process that requires each candidate to collect signatures in each district they wish to appear on the ballot.

The strictness of the Republican system came to the fore in the months prior to the presidential primary when George W. Bush supporters and members of the Republican machine tried to knock Mr. McCain off the ballot. Claiming that his petitions were rife with ineligible signatures, they attempted to remove him from about half the state's districts. Their maneuvering prompted outcry from the McCain camp, newspapers and good government groups.

McCain's strategy, to paint himself as an insurgent, the victim of party bosses, proved successful. Not only did he wangle his way onto the ballot, he managed to embarrass a number of high level republicans with a close race. McCain won 44% of the vote to W.'s squeaky 50%.

After the primary, there was little indication that reform was in the works; after all, it is another four years until a presidential primary rolls around. But Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno has pushed for the changes now. The bill proposes to put well-known candidates on the ballot automatically, and dispense with the petition process altogether. It would also change the way delegates and candidates are listed on the ballot. Under current law, the delegates are listed first, with the candidate they represent in small letters underneath. This was criticized from all sides as a) being confusing and b) favoring George W., whose appeared, for alphabetic reasons, at the top of the ballot. This too would be changed; only the names of the candidates would appear.

Hot in New Jersey
The Senatorial race between former Governor Florio and Jon Corzine is heating up. Corzine, a former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, has gone on the offensive, attacking Florio for his much criticized mid-recession tax-hikes during his tenure as Governor. The Florio camp has countered with criticisms of Corzine's expensive campaigning style; his television commercials total about $1 million a week.

While each side is doing his best to spin the damage away, the June 6th primary approaches...

Jessica Sounds Off:

The McCain insurgency is long gone; media hounds and the pubic have nothing left but (ugh) Gore and Bush. But, the deftly constructed brouhaha that John McCain created in New York will have a profound and lasting impact on New York State politics. He should be lauded for his ability to get results -- no mean feat in this state, and for the effect that his candidacy has had -- elevating the level of political discourse.

Susan Reefer is a Republican pollster and media strategist. She is based in New York City.



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