Dean Looks for New York Love


Howard Dean, still at full clip in his restless national bid for the presidency, is loath to spend a night away from his bed in Vermont.

“He’ll take the red-eye back from California if it means he doesn’t have to stay in a hotel,” says Tricia Enright, a Dean spokesperson. That’s hard when you’re focused on winning some 14 states at once. This week he will be in Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Florida, South Carolina, and back to New York.

But New York is different from most stops. Here, he stays with his mother, Andree, in the comfortable Upper East Side apartment where he grew up. He has traveled to New York over a dozen times since March, and next week’s high-profile visit includes a roast with film director Rob Reiner, and a party with actor Sandra Bernhardt.

If Manhattan is Governor Dean’s second home, he also hopes to make it a political bulwark, providing him more than just a comfy bed in the months ahead. His campaign these days is digging a moat around New York, creating a safe zone should the polls that show him winning either Iowa, New Hampshire, or both, turn up bust.

“If it’s not clear who the winner is after February 3,” says Ethan Geto, Dean’s New York state director, with some confidence, “it will be on March 3.” On February 3 voters will decide primary contests in eight states. New York’s primary is on March 2, Super Tuesday, along with 10 other primaries, including California and Ohio.

In recent weeks, Dean has secured a number of coveted New York endorsements, from labor groups, local and state politicians, activists, and celebrities. On the grassroots front, his campaign says, his volunteer corps here now numbers in the tens of thousands, and last week, those volunteers took to the streets to collect the signatures needed to put Dean and his slate of delegates on the primary ballot.

On his most recent trip over a week ago, Dean made his first round of visits to New York’s communities of color, an important part of the local Democratic base. Using the city’s diversity as a backdrop, Dean road-tested his platforms on labor groups, blacks, and Latinos, groups he will need in New York, but who are also vital in the South, and in states like Illinois, California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania.

New York today is still up for grabs, and securing the state comes with juicy rewards. From New York, campaigns feed a supply line of human capital to nearby battleground states, especially New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Candidates fight for New York cash, and take turns sunning themselves in the abundant media light. And while none of the campaigns say they are looking this far ahead, a strong showing in New York sends warning shots to the Republicans who will overrun the city next August during their national convention.

And of course, New York is an electoral peach, and the Democratic nominee will count on a strong base here to effectively remove the state from Karl Rove’s lustful gaze.

Strategists say that barring an early primary winner, Joseph Lieberman, Wesley Clark, John Kerry, and Howard Dean all have a shot at New York. Al Sharpton is also in the running, but he has had trouble picking up the endorsements he must have expected from his home state.

The Lieberman camp keeps State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in its corner. Kerry boasts endorsements from U.S. Representatives Gregory Meeks and Carolyn Maloney, and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields.

But Wesley Clark is causing the Dean camp the most anxiety here, as he has done nationwide. The two are already competing for New York’s high-dollar donors, and the Clark campaign claims its volunteer base here is growing rapidly. Congressman Charles Rangel backs Clark’s campaign, and with that comes a network of local officials tied to the Democratic powerbroker.

For now, though, Dean rules New York, and by the end of an exhausting Sunday campaign sprint recently, he had showed off his best assets, including the influential labor leader Dennis Rivera; Representatives Nydia Velázquez and Major Owens; and Tom Manton, chair of the powerful Queens County Democratic Organization, a group many of the campaigns vigorously courted.

The big labor bosses gave Dean his first piece of the party base, putting at his disposal 3.1 million diverse campaign allies from the Service Employees International Union, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The diversity stuck, and since then, Dean has paid special attention to race, announcing a host of policy initiatives that will appeal to minority voters, including positions on education policy, affirmative action, and yesterday, a global HIV/AIDS initiative.

Tara Martin, a former aide to Brooklyn Councilmember Yvette Clarke, is chair of the New York Dems’ “Caucus of Color,” and, at just 26, also Dean’s state political director.

“Our strategy is summed up in one word,” she says. “Empowerment. We’re reaching out to people who don’t know what a primary is, people who have felt disenfranchised.” Martin says the campaign will reach this audience by stumping on issues that “transcend race,” like jobs and health care. “Communities of color want jobs,” she says. “The governor talks about racial disparities in health care.”

This appeal, if it succeeds, will dampen the charge that Dean, governor of a state that is mostly white, had made little effort to reach out to other communities. His nontraditional approach—concentrating on proposals, like his higher education policy, which could reach various marginalized communities—might insulate him from the charge of merely pandering with the typical overused civil rights rhetoric.

If Dean’s early rallies and fundraisers in New York were very white middle-class, by the time night fell on his last visit, it seemed he had hardly seen any white voters at all. The day began at a Baptist church in Harlem, where he was surrounded by an elderly congregation. Dean sang along to the hymns, and seemed to enjoy the sensational choir. He told the crowd, during the 60 seconds the minister gave him, exactly what his political director wants to hear: “We need jobs. . . . We need health care.” And then one for the crowd. “And real prescription benefits.”

Next, a stop at Mount Sinai, where Dean praised the hospital’s work with its East Harlem neighbors. “[Dean] understands health care,” said Burton P. Drayer, the hospital’s new president. “He’s concerned about urban health care issues.”

After a labor rally downtown, Dean wrapped up his trip whipping up Major Owens’s crowd, at an awards ceremony at the swank El Caribe club in Brooklyn. His voice cracked a little as he delivered his trusty stump speech, also hitting issues that matter to this largely immigrant community. He talked about voting rights for prisoners and blasted John Ashcroft’s immigration policies. The politically active Brooklyn crew liked what they heard.

Still, the day felt a bit like speed-dating, and a few of the courted remained wary.

Mary Rosario, an AFSCME member who lives in East Harlem, liked Dean’s health proposals. “He seems to support parents,” she said. “And, he is coming to our community.”

“Still,” she added, “I do hope he’s listening.”