Autopsy on Alfonse

A Look at the Real Numbers in '98 Sweepstakes

George Pataki, the latest New York governor with national illusions, got 54 percent of the vote, less than all but three of the 16 Republican incumbents across the country sent back to their statehouses. The only GOP gubernatorial winners who did worse were Paul Cellucci in Massachusetts, Lincoln Almond in Rhode Island (both had 51 percent), and New Mexico's Gary Johnson, who was just a few tenths of a percent behind our supposed vice presidential candidate.

The Republicans' postelection choice of Philadelphia for the next convention suggests that the party thinks it has a better shot of carrying Pennsylvania's 23 electoral votes in 2000 than New York's 33. Governor Tom Ridge, a putative veep, topped Pataki with 57 percent of the vote, and the state's Republican senator, Arlen Specter, won in a landslide. Indeed, Republican governors and senators were reelected together in four states, while New York Dems crushed the Senate incumbent, added an assembly seat to their 97 to 53 majority, and may, when the attorney general count is complete, hold every statewide office but Pataki's.

That is hardly an invitation for GOP leaders to put a New Yorker on the national ticket in hopes of adding the state to the party's column, whether it's Pataki or Rudy Giuliani. Compare Pataki with John Engler in Michigan and Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin— two GOP incumbents with larger national profiles, both of whom got more than 60 percent. Compare Giuliani, for that matter, to Los Angeles Republican mayor Richard Riordan, now the top Republican-elected official in a state with a gargantuan 54 electoral votes. Last year Riordan was reelected by a 27-point margin; Giuliani by 16 points.

The clearest measure of Pataki's poor performance was his showing in the city, where he managed a mere 33.8 percent of the vote, just 5.3 points higher than in 1994 against Mario Cuomo. This time he was facing an underfunded Democrat who'd never been elected outside Astoria, Queens, had four years to prove himself to city voters, and was endorsed by all of the major newspapers. Yet everywhere in this polyglot city, where the hands-on and authentic Giuliani did well in 1997, the remote and prepackaged Pataki bombed.

With all the Yiddish tossed around in the Senate contest, isn't it astonishing that no one noticed that Chuck Schumer is the first Jewish Democrat to ever defeat an incumbent Catholic Republican for any statewide office? Isn't it doubly astonishing that Eliot Spitzer has a shot at breaking that record again in the same year? Bob Abrams beat a Jewish Republican in 1978 when he became attorney general and Herbert Lehman defeated a Protestant Republican in 1949, when he was first elected to the Senate. Neither of those Republicans was an incumbent; nor was William J. Donovan, a Catholic Lehman beat for governor in 1932.

What's surprising is how well Schumer did in Italian assembly districts in the city and among Catholic voters in general. Schumer carried Tony Seminerio's district in Glendale (Queens), which D'Amato won by 12,432 votes in 1992, Giuliani by 15,350 votes in 1997, and even Pataki won by 3441 votes against Cuomo. As nominal a Democrat as there is in New York, Seminerio was bouncing around onstage at the Hilton on election night, celebrating Pataki's win.

Schumer also captured the only other Queens district represented by an Italian, Ann Carrozza's in Bayside, winning by the same 3000-vote plurality that D'Amato got six years ago. Giuliani soared to an astonishing 22,584-vote victory in the same district just a year ago.

Schumer did not win Peter Abate's Bay Ridge district in Brooklyn, but he lost it by only 4121 votes, compared with the 12,720-vote D'Amato win in 1992 and Giuliani's 15,698-vote margin. Schumer also lost the three Staten Island­based districts by a wide 26,259-vote margin. But D'Amato's 1992 margin in those predominantly Italian districts was 51,042 and Giuliani's was 71,502. Republicans have to run up numbers in these districts comparable to Democratic numbers in black districts to stand a chance of winning.

While everyone's noted Schumer's turnaround of D'Amato's traditional statewide Jewish support, no one noticed the incumbent's significant drop-off among Orthodox Jews, who staged a rally for D'Amato the Sunday before the election. Dov Hikind's Boro Park district delivered a 6157-vote win for D'Amato, half its 12,180-vote total in 1992. Giuliani ran up a 15,655-vote margin there in 1997. A Voice election day visit to Boro Park, Williamsburg, and Crown Heights— the three prime Hasidic neighborhoods in the city— found virtually no organized D'Amato effort other than a palm card blasting Schumer as a "traitor" and PLO ally.

The Moynihan announcement and Schumer's victory are reshaping state politics. Should Spitzer win the AG race, state comptroller Carl McCall, whose name appeared on the ballot just below Pataki's, can lay claim to the only real coattails in state politics. McCall's margin was record-breaking, and once voters swung to the Democratic line, they tended to stay there, all the way down to the assembly. A huge and unseen assist to McCall's apparent senate run is that Shelly Silver and the assembly Dems would name his replacement if he went to Washington (watch Silver chase it himself).

Since Schumer and city comptroller Alan Hevesi share the same guru, Hank Morris, the betting is that Schumer will favor Hevesi in the 2001 mayoral sweepstakes already underway. But in a NY-1 appearance on October 1, Hevesi said: "I've worked on some projects with Senator D'Amato, including the Swiss bank issue, and he's been very, very effective." Later in the same interview Hevesi returned to the theme: "Is he an effective senator? Sure." Finally, asked if D'Amato was also a "good senator," Hevesi said: "Yes."

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