Autopsy on Alfonse


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.”

The state GOP committee put out a press release on this appearance saying Hevesi had “undercut” Schumer by “extolling” D’Amato, but no one in the media picked it up. Morris’s partner, Mark Guma, issued a statement on Hevesi letterhead responding that Hevesi had also praised Schumer’s “extraordinary record of leadership” during the same interview, noting that Hevesi had reiterated his endorsement of Schumer and predicted that he would “make a great senator.”

Hevesi explained in the statement that he was merely discussing “D’Amato’s strengths and weaknesses in objective terms,” suggesting that Schumer wasn’t. It was enough to remind observers that D’Amato publicly promoted Hevesi as a mayoral candidate in 1995 after Giuliani broke with the GOP to endorse Cuomo.

While minority pols, particularly Bronx Democratic boss Roberto Ramirez, have been boasting about turnout in this election, only 2707 more people voted in the 26 predominantly black and Latino city assembly districts than in 1997. Despite all of Ramirez’s hoopla, turnout in the Bronx’s four Latino districts was down when compared with 1997, 1994, and 1992. But in nearly all of these 26 districts, the margin of victory was way up. Schumer won by 354,467 votes in neighborhoods from Brownsville to Tremont. That was a 32,698-vote greater margin than Abrams had. And since Abrams was running in a presidential year, the turnout in 1992 was 156,592 votes higher. The remarkable jump in Schumer’s margin— juxtaposed against such a sharp drop in turnout— means that virtually all the blacks and Latinos who went to the polls did so to vote Democratic.

Incredibly, with almost no difference in turnout between this year and last, Schumer got 186,343 more votes in the same districts than Ruth Messinger. That’s how resoundingly those same blacks and Latinos who voted for Giuliani either stayed home or rejected D’Amato. Schumer won in those districts by 27,325 more votes than even Cuomo did four years ago. Since candidates run against each other, not history, it’s only margins that matter, and 1998 was a year when minorities delivered breathtaking margins in district after district.

In the five black districts of southeast Queens, for example, where Floyd Flake was backing D’Amato, Schumer won by 77,601 votes, a margin wider than Messinger’s, Cuomo’s, or Abrams’s by more than 10,000 votes. While not nearly as dramatic, Schumer’s margin in the Bronx’s four Latino districts was 4550 more than Cuomo’s and 25,432 more than Messinger’s.

Research: David Kihara, David Shaftel, and Nicole White