News & Politics

Eric Schneiderman’s Numbers Don’t Look So Hot, Victory and All

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If you’ve never heard of Jay Townsend, guess what?

He runs a small marketing firm and lives in Cornwall on the Hudson and last night he got at least 10,000 more votes than Eric Schneiderman (http://www.ny1.com/content/news_beats/primary_2010_returns/). Townsend is now the Republican candidate against Chuck Schumer and, amid all the percentage-pre-occupied reporting on last night’s primaries, you may not have noticed that Schneiderman, now the Democratic nominee for AG, trailed Townsend by almost the same margin as he beat Kathleen Rice.

Of course Schneiderman ran in a five-way primary and Townsend was in a two-man race. Carl Paladino got 70,000 more votes than Schneiderman, and even bigtime loser Rick Lazio came within 20,000 votes of Schneiderman if his GOP and Conservative Party tallies are combined.

The comparative numbers, even in a primary for doomed November candidates like Townsend and Paladino, revive the fears generated by Democratic losses in Nassau and Westchester counties last year, where party turnout was dramatically down.
Schneiderman clearly ran an effective campaign, beating early favorite Rice, but the Manhattan state senator’s puny total vote should have sent him a message: his city-centric primary strategy just might be a November loser. Instead, Schneiderman’s victory speech was an echo of his primary message, offering no unifying themes for the two-thirds of the Democrats who voted against him, much less all those across the state that didn’t vote at all.

I can’t think of a thing that Andrew Cuomo has done in the last four years that had anything to do with abortion, but Schneiderman let everyone know very early in the evening, when he was trailing by double digits, that, when he won, the only person on the stage with him other than family would be NARAL head Kelli Conlin. The strategy is he plans to beat Republican Dan Donovan, the Staten Island district attorney, by attacking Donovan’s pro-life stance.

He’s featured Conlin’s support again and again during the campaign even while blasting Rice for once being a registered Republican. Conlin actually did television commercials for Mike Bloomberg last year, the fourth time in the last five mayoral elections that she’s backed a Republican. Described by Schneiderman in his speech as “my much younger little sister,” Conlin, who’s actually only four years younger, was so close to Rudy Giuliani that she endorsed him against consummate pro-choice Democrat Ruth Messinger in 1997 and remained neutral in his race against Hillary Clinton in 2000. Giuliani appointed her twice to city posts. The only Democrat she’s backed for mayor since she took over NARAL almost 20 years ago was Mark Green in 2001, and even then, her national organization pointedly declared its neutrality, which Bloomberg cited then as a very mixed message.

Bloomberg is, by the way, Donovan’s top backer, and Donovan has even taken on Bloomberg sidekick and 2009 campaign manager Bradley Tusk to steer his own campaign.

While New York is a very pro choice state and the abortion contrast could help Schneiderman, his inclination to make it a centerpiece, despite its minimal relevance, is pure spin. Donovan’s press and website statements about Wall Street investigations, advertising that he will not do cases that could hurt the backbone of the state’s economy, offered Schneiderman a golden opportunity to go on the attack in his inaugural speech of the general election campaign. That would have been a unifying message, since several of his opponents, especially Sean Coffey, stressed the need for such prosecutions. Continuing the Spitzer/Cuomo tradition of Wall Street cases is an issue, unlike abortion, that is at the heart of the actual functioning of the office.

Instead of pressing the case against Donovan, Schneiderman telegraphed how uneasy he is about the attacks likely to be leveled at him. He departed from his primary campaign script — which was all about the Rockefeller drug laws and how this is a social justice job — only to warn that the Republicans would be throwing negatives at him, because that’s what “they do.” The “only thing in their playbook,” warned Schneiderman, is “to tear us down,” giving everyone listening at 1:15 a.m. a heads-up about just how vulnerable he is to the coming tide (if you want a sample, check out my previous blog item and City Hall magazine’s stellar story).

One negative that hasn’t gotten a lot of recent attention is the controversy surrounding the car accident he had at NY1 when a campaign aide hit the parked minivan of a station executive and, with Schneiderman in the car he owns, drove off. David Paterson, who roamed Schneiderman’s victory party, has been sitting on vital information about the accident, with his State Department of Motor Vehicles dodging Voice requests for three weeks about whether Schniederman’s aide or he ever filed an MV-104, a form required under law of an accident that causes more than $1,000 in damages (this one was estimated at $3,000). Failure to file is a misdemeanor.

The Schneiderman party, as Ben Smith reported at Politico, was stewing with anti-Cuomo sentiment. Schneiderman backers told me the key was that Schneiderman would be an AG “independent of Cuomo,” insisting that “we need that.” In addition to the anti-historical nature of that sentiment, it suggests that we are well on our day to a fissure within Democratic ranks, and that Schneiderman is likely to be aligned with the legislative elements of the party already spoiling for a fight with the next governor.