Thursday, November 05, 2009

Democrats Ought To Own Up To Their Own Problems

For all the talk about how the GOP is enduring a schism as a result of losing NY-23 between the conservatives and moderates in the party that enabled Bill Owens to win the district for Democrats for the first time in nearly a century (not counting redistricting), it seems that the Democrats have some serious fence mending of their own.

It seems that New York Democrats are wondering why the White House - and President Obama in particular - didn't do more to help Democrat Bill Thompson in his effort to thwart Mike Bloomberg's third term as Mayor of New York City.

The conventional wisdom heading into election night was that Bloomberg would win comfortably, and the media began calling the election for Bloomberg early in the evening, but the results started showing something most unexpected. Thompson was getting far more votes than anyone expected and the race was far closer than imagined.

It turns out that Thompson was actually a pretty good candidate to run against Bloomberg and his incomparable wealth and lavish spending to win reelection for a third term:
This was a race most Democrats now believe they could have won. Numbering among the co-conspirators in the Democrats’ defeat, in the view of some party leaders and activists, are Democratic grandees, from President Obama — who did not campaign for Mr. Thompson — to the City Council speaker, whose support could not have been softer, to two powerful labor unions that remained studiously neutral.

By the next mayoral election, it will have been 20 years since a Democrat occupied the mayor’s office, and the second guesses were many on Wednesday.

“Bill Thompson was always closer than people thought, and on our side, if people had been behind him more, there would have been more checks, more endorsements, more attention, and that might have made the difference,” said State Senator Eric T. Schneiderman of Manhattan. “It really is disgraceful that a lot of people in the Democratic Party stayed home or kept their checkbooks closed.”

Barbara Fife, a deputy mayor under David N. Dinkins, acknowledged many ills, from an honorable but lackluster candidate to a too-quick willingness of many prominent Democrats to write off Mr. Thompson’s campaign as stillborn.

But she wondered at a Democratic president who could barely bring himself to utter the mayoral candidate’s name, much less to make a swing through New York. “He made people feel this was not winnable; Bill got lumped in with Paterson in many minds,” Ms. Fife said. “Obama had lists he could have given, and support. But he never said boo.”
How indeed. Bear in mind that Democrats outnumber Republicans 5-1 in New York City. It's inexcusable for a sitting Democratic president to not campaign for a Democrat in the City, unless there's more going on behind the scenes.

It is possible that the White House thinks having Bloomberg as mayor may provide some cover on policy prescriptions down the road, particularly on climate change and environmental legislation, or perhaps on health care. In fact, it appears that Bloomberg and Obama may have had a quid pro quo on noninterference in the other's electoral races.
Would it have helped? We don't know. It seems, however, that while Obama and Bloomberg don’t share the same party line, they do share a tacit understanding that they each wield a lot of influence. And given their mutual respect for one another, they won't butt into races where one or the other is competing. Bloomberg didn't weigh in on the presidential race (except for having a cozy breakfast at a New York diner that screamed photo-op, of course).

And he asked Obama not to meddle in the mayoral race. Quid pro quo.

Wary of pressure for Obama to campaign for Thompson, since he was doing the same across the river for Corzine, Bloomberg's aides recruited Geoffrey Canada, chief executive of the Harlem Children's Zone, to call Obama's senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, and ask her to to ask him, more or less, to not choose sides in the mayoral race, according to an amazing Times analysis of the behind the scenes wrangling that propeled Bloomberg to a third term. Bloomberg has personally given $600,000 to the Harlem Children's Zone.

"He didn't pick sides in your race. Don't pick sides in his," a close adviser to the mayor told the Times by way of describing the Bloomberg campaign's pitch to the White House.
Still, to snub a Democrat in the City isn't going to sit will among one of the biggest Democratic party enclaves in the nation.

The White House slapped Rep. Anthony Weiner after he criticized the sorely lackluster White House efforts in backing Thompson, saying that Weiner should have manned up to face Bloomberg himself. Weiner responded by saying the White House should just call him fat; a reference to the failed Corzine attack ads against Chris Christie that threw Christie's weight into the campaign.

Others have come out to criticize Weiner as well for not running against Bloomberg, but the question would remain as to whether Obama would have come out in support of the Democratic party candidate in light of his understanding with Bloomberg. I would posit that it wouldn't have mattered who ran against Bloomberg in the race; Obama is not likely to have come out to campaign for any Democrat knowing the behind the scenes machinations.

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