NEXT TUESDAY’S ELECTION will end an ugly but momentous race. It is a paradox that the contest’s very emptiness, and its persistent distortion by vicious and irrelevant attacks, have rendered the outcome on November 7 all the more significant. New Yorkers now no longer face an ordinary choice between candidates and parties, but rather a profound decision — even more so than in the primary —about what kind of people we are, what kind of city we want, and what kind of politics we endorse. That decision will also affect the political climate of the nation, because national issues such as abortion have been debated in this campaign, because national politicians, including the president, have intervened — and most of all because New York City is the nation’s urban bellwether.
For all these reasons, as well as for his own personal qualities, his experience, and his progressive stance on such issues as housing, health care, crime, and education, we strongly urge our readers to vote for David Dinkins.
AT THE AGE OF 62, Dinkins has been underestimated during much of his long political life, and has lived to see the skeptics humbled more than once. When, after three attempts, he finally won the Manhattan borough presidency in 1985, there were many who doubted he would serve with much distinction, assuming that he would be a timeserver satisfied with the perquisites and courtesies of office. They were wrong. He assembled a capable, motivated, multiracial staff whose members could truly be called public servants, and thus became the only reliable voice for progressive policies at the highest level of local government.
And when Dinkins finally declared his candidacy for mayor, after a period of indecision earlier this year, there were many who predicted that he would be unable to field a competent campaign or attract support outside his own African-American constituency. Again his critics were mistaken. Dinkins unswervingly pursued a strategy of coalition politics, founded upon a message of hope, and won the Democratic nomination with substantial support from Jews and white Catholics in addition to Latinos, Asians, blacks, and gays.
This was a remarkable achievement for New York City as well as for Dinkins and his supporters. Almost overnight, the city moved perceptibly away from the rancor and division of the past decade, and toward unity against the problems that confront us. The most important promise offered so far this year is Dinkins’s commitment to racial and ethnic peace, without which no other progress can occur; the most troubling possibility is that the city will move abruptly backward by rejecting his candidacy.
Such a rejection would be tragic, because it would mean that even an unassailable record on human rights for all people is not sufficient to bring us together. It would be most hurtful to race relations, and especially to the strained communications between African-Americans and Jews. The reflexive reaction by some Jewish voters to Dinkins’s friendship with Jesse Jackson is both unfair and foolish: unfair in ignoring the many occasions when Dinkins has supported Jewish causes, even at great peril to himself; foolish in discarding a proven ally. Indeed, all New Yorkers will benefit when a principled, honorable mayor occupies the black leadership role that has recently been usurped by frauds and demagogues like Al Sharpton.
UNFORTUNATELY those searching for excuses to vote against the hope that Dinkins represents have not had far to look. We dismiss the attacks against individuals in and around his campaign as ridiculous diversions: For every peripheral figure like Sonny Carson, there are literally a hundred, perhaps a thousand, community and political leaders standing with Dinkins who are Carson’s opposites. And if we are to measure a candidate by his choice of hired political thugs, then who has made a choice that’s worse than Roger Ailes?
Yet there are also substantive questions about David Dinkins’s judgment. Although Dinkins has plausibly answered the issue of his tax liability for the cable television stock transferred to his son, he has acknowledged that he responded to questions about Inner City Broadcasting too slowly and grudgingly. And while the Manhattan borough president — in contrast to some of his white colleagues who receive far less scrutiny — has generally been prudent and ethical in his conduct, his Board of Estimate votes in favor of Inner City were ethical lapses of a kind that should never have occurred.
We believe that Dinkins, his son, or his friend Percy Sutton, Inner City’s chairman, ought to provide documentation of the stock sale so that any lingering doubts about its authenticity can be erased. Under the circumstances this is scarcely an onerous demand, and we hope that Dinkins will be forthcoming.
But a certain hypocrisy has also been apparent in the public’s reaction to the Inner City affair. It is important to remember that this matter was only a single episode in a long career of public service, and that the normally scrupulous Dinkins deserves to be contrasted with other clubhouse politicians who have sold their Board of Estimate votes to corporate and development interests with sickening regularity. These same officialswho happen to belong to other ethnic groups-rarely suffer the loss of either newspaper endorsements or white votes.
Concern over personal ethics, however legitimate, should not eclipse the broader political and social significance of this election. New York has known David Dinkins for many years, and his role as a defender of the poor, civil rights, the environment, and individual liberties is firmly established. He knows who he is, and so do we. We are certain, for instance, that David Dinkins will not read an opinion survey one day and change his mind the next about every woman’s right to choose an abortion. We are confident, too, that if budgetary constraints require sacrifice, a Dinkins administration will not punish the poor while the wealthy prosper.
THERE CAN BE NO SUCH CERTAINTY about Rudolph Giuliani, the Republican candidate, whose political life has been a rudderless journey from liberal Democrat to conservative Republican. The former prosecutor seems quite comfortable praising unions one day and bashing them on another. He is perfectly capable of excoriating Ed Koch’s polarizing, pandering tactics and then, when convenient, adopting them. Giuliani currently identifies himself rather vaguely as a “moderate fusion candidate,” and attempts to wrap himself in the mantle of Fiorello La Guardia without realizing that it is several sizes too large. Far from dividing one community from another, as the Republican candidate now seems so eager to do, the Little Flower was a legendary unifier.
Giuliani’s behavior since the primary has been deeply disappointing to the many New Yorkers who admired his crusades against corruption and organized crime as U.S. attorney. When he first declared that he would run for mayor, it was reasonable to hope that Giuliani would raise real issues of moral decay in government and set forth a program with broad appeal to Democrats and independents. And Giuliani, like Dinkins, has tried to discuss at least an outline of what he would do as mayor.
But Giuliani’s positive message has been drowned in the sewage of one of the dirtiest campaigns in New York’s modern history. With its emphasis on the old police records or supposed radicalism of Dinkins activists, and its racial scare tactics, the Republican negative barrage emits the odor of the old Nixon plumbers operation. The smell will almost certainly grow worse before Election Day, because Ailes and the other Giuliani strategists evidently consider any attack appropriate, no matter how vile.
When Giuliani is questioned about the tenor of his campaign, he invariably accuses Dinkins of attacking him first — by calling him a “reactionary Reagan Republican.” Though this epithet is not nearly as nasty as the accusations he has hurled at Dinkins, it does invoke a subject Giuliani would prefer not to discuss. He likes to say that his administration would include “Republicans, Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives,” and to gloss over his own identification with the GOP (except when he is raising money).
But the hard truth is that in American politics there is no such thing as a “fusion” victory. To vote for Rudolph Giuliani is to enhance the prestige of the Bush administration, the Republican National Committee, and Lee Atwater. It is to endorse the degradation of democracy by the likes of Roger Ailes. And it is to promote the ideology of a party that has been telling New York City to drop dead for two decades.
We hope New Yorkers seize the opportunity to repudiate the politics of the Republican campaign and to prove that this city is still the stronghold of tolerance, decency, and hope. There will be conflicts ahead over bias and budgets. But we can begin to resolve them by electing David Dinkins. ❖
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 24, 2020