Barrett: How Will the Ballot Police Protect Kirsten Gillibrand from the Harold Ford Invasion?

Thank God for the ballot police.

But for them, five or six elected Democrats would've already committed the crime of running against Kirsten Gillibrand.

Now we have the man Harry Reid obviously mistook for Barack Obama, Harold Ford Jr., illegally panhandling at Steve Rattner's 5th Avenue apartment, shaking down big donors in a brazen attempt to challenge our unelected senator, handpicked by our unelected governor. Zero tolerance for broken window violators!

Thank God, most of all, for NY Ballot Police Commissioner Charles Schumer. The senator who won a four-way primary in 1998 left the Riverside funeral of Percy Sutton last Wednesday and spent the afternoon threatening Ford if he dared to cross state lines to commit what even Robert Gibbs seemed to think might be a federal felony. Not even the hours of salutes to Sutton for empowering black leadership -- though Schumer is said to have slipped out of the memorial very early -- slowed our top cop's pursuit of miscreants.

Schumer and his "Up in the Air" seatmate Gillibrand, who was covering up for her mentor's "bitch" remark about a stewardess even while he was confessing to it, have also unleashed their own street crime unit to stop Ford in his tracks. First up was Kelli Conlin of NARAL-NY, who's earned her stripes to police Democratic primaries by endorsing Republican candidates for mayor almost every time since she took over the organization in 1992. She did a television commercial for Mike Bloomberg last fall, and even went down to the city council's term limits hearing to testify in favor of making him eligible for a third term. She wouldn't endorse Hillary Clinton for this senate seat in 2000 so long as her benefactor Rudy Giuliani, who named her twice to top city posts, was in the race. She preferred Rudy to Ruth Messinger, as pro choice a Democrat as has ever been nominated for city or state office.

Conlin did break with tradition to endorse Mark Green against Bloomberg in 2001, but that, too, looked oddly orchestrated, since her national organization simultaneously made a pointed announcement of its own neutrality, testifying to the pro-choice reliability of both candidates. Though Conlin couldn't make up her mind for the many months Rudy stayed in the senate race a decade ago, she didn't take 24 hours to condemn Ford, whose NARAL ratings averaged 80 percent over his 10 years of representing a Tennessee district in the House. Conlin apparently believes women should have a right to choose but Democrats shouldn't.

Empire State Pride Agenda jumped on Ford, too, angered because he was against gay marriage before he was for it, just like Schumer and Gillibrand. On this question, for heterosexual politicians, it's all about when they jumped out of the closet. He voted for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, but supported civil unions, unfortunate, as he was, to arrive in the House 10 years before Gillibrand, and leaving just as she got there in 2007. Even as late as December 2008, Gillibrand was blessed by an unusually personal gestation period on the marriage issue, since the interview she gave opposing it wasn't actually published until after Governor Paterson gave her a senate seat and she'd switched positions on the issue, making it possible for her to claim, as she does, that she's all but performed them. She told an upstate gay publication that to her "mom's generation," marriage "is a covenant between a man, a woman and God," so gays should accept the rights of marriage without requiring the actual word, which she said "is a religious word."

The Nation has jumped on Ford for voting for the Iraq war though Gillibrand was the only Democrat in the New York congressional delegation to vote for a Bush war funding bill in 2007 (she was too busy representing tobacco companies when the initial authorization passed in 2002). Of course Hillary and Chuck and every white member of the city's congressional delegation minus Jerry Nadler voted for the war. But who's counting? Ballot police take down one target at a time.

And speaking of targets, forget about guns. Gillibrand's 100 percent rating from the National Rifle Association occurred before she discovered that there was gun violence in New York City, where she lived for a decade. The guns she kept under her bed upstate were for hunting. The best Ford got from the NRA was a B rating compared to her A, and he got a C when he ran for senate in 2006 and has even earned F's from the group. The Schumer minions, though they once blathered about this as his signature issue, will put a gun to your head if you bring it up now.

The only Democrats to become New York senators in my lifetime without a primary were Hillary Clinton and Bobby Kennedy, both of whom made Ford, by comparison, look like a New York native when they surfaced as candidates. Pat Moynihan narrowly won in a five-candidate primary and then beat a conservative incumbent. Schumer has, strangely enough, conceded that his primary made him strong enough to defeat a three-term Republican incumbent. No Democrat in modern times has lost a New York senate seat after a divisive primary, the specter that has the Schumer ballot police all worked up over Ford, just as they were over Congressman Steve Israel and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney before her.

It doesn't even seem to trouble these cops that they are killing the prospects of the highest rated television debate in recent times, reality TV disguised as politics, a toe-to-toe battle of in-authenticity. We may even see the spectacle of two candidates changing positions on key moral questions DURING the course of a half-hour debate, flipflopping at the podium sequentially. No one's seen this kind of aerobic flamboyance since Richard Simmons had a show. Ford is, even now, flipping on Boss Schumer, who drove a primary challenger out of the Tennessee senate race on his behalf three short years ago.

Does any real Democrat with an open mind and a progressive heart have the slightest idea of who they'd vote for between these two at this stage? How can you tell? They will still be evolving primary morning. With Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki, Rick Lazio, Peter King and Susan Molinari already taking themselves out of the running, Gillibrand might not even have much of a general election opponent to face, leaving Democrats like Schumer with nothing to fear but the lack of fear itself. It used to be that candidates took their best shots at opponents when they actually faced off in a race; now it's all about clearing the deck before an opponent declares, and with Schumer involved, forget the assault weapons ban. That's why we're the safest city in America, especially for unelected Democrats.

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