The most puzzling riddle of the 2005 mayoral primary is the rise of Anthony Weiner and the simultaneous demise of Gifford Miller.
As council speaker, Miller has a formidable record of progressive accomplishment. Weiner is a Democrat in a Republican House, able to lay claim to only a couple of pieces of significant legislation, and then only as the lead Democratic sponsor. Miller raised much more money and attracted far more endorsements, including the backing of the Democratic organizations in the two counties Weiner represents, Brooklyn and Queens. In fact, none of the elected officials from Weiner’s congressional district endorsed him, nor did his mentor Chuck Schumer.
So why is Weiner now trouncing Miller in every poll, well positioned to force a runoff while Miller is in last place?
Ethnic politics, as always, has something to do with it. No WASP has prospered in NYC politics since John Lindsay in the 1960s. On the other hand, Weiner embodies his outer borough Jewish base. Weiner also makes better television than baby-faced Miller, beating him in the ad and quip contests.
But the real reason for this curious reversal of fortunes is media coverage. Weiner has gotten a free pass, even when his proposals and comments commanded critical scrutiny, and Miller has taken shot after shot, often well-earned, for being a touch too slick for big-time. While there’s no doubt that Miller’s raiding of the public treasury on mailings and phony filings with the city’s Campaign Finance Board merit press attention, it’s bizarre that little that Weiner says and does get any skeptical review at all.
Faced with a $4 billion deficit next year, Weiner’s trademark campaign proposal, a la Bush, is a tax cut.
He says he’ll finance it with a 5 percent budget cut in waste, year after year. His first-year cuts, totaling $1.7 billion, depend almost entirely on Medicaid cuts that must originate at a state level and reductions in tax breaks for still-prospective West Side development, which is not an expenditure reduction at all. He claims he will not exempt any agency from cuts, but how can he slash police and fire, especially since he plans to hire 3,000 more cops and the firefighters union has endorsed him? He’ll also have to effectively exempt schools since he’s calling for substantial hikes in teacher salaries. In addition, he’s already announced in one debate that he’ll protect pensions, even for new hires, though tripling pension costs are literally wrecking the city budget. His rationale for stonewalling pension reform is that it’s a bonanza for the middle class and he wants the middle class to get whatever they get. That’s what he said.
Beyond a handful of other, smaller, and often dubious cuts on his website list, that leaves as future targets only child welfare and other social services. Weiner says he’s going to cut the “worst-performing programs,” but he has yet to suggest a single measure of “performance.” How is it possible, after four televised debates and countless forums, that we have no clear notion of how the man who may force a runoff will finance his signature tax cut? How is it possible that an anti-waste candidate couldn’t offer a single example of a budget cut he’s initiated in 14 years of public service?
Weiner has added sizzle to this year’s primary. He’s attacked Mike Bloomberg skillfully, particularly when he combined the property tax rate and assessment increases, and came after the mayor for a 40 percent hike on the middle class. Even though he chose, curiously, not to emphasize that in his advertising, it’s a challenge Bloomberg can neither factually dispute nor substantively turn around. But Weiner’s problem, should he force and win a runoff, is that 150,000 minority voters who might turn out for Ferrer in November will stay home if it’s another whites-only general election. His other problem is that a majority of the blacks and Latinos who do turn out in November are likely to vote for Bloomberg, especially after they understand Weiner’s implicit definition of waste.