Bill DeBlasio’s ascension in the New York City mayoral primary is something liberals everywhere are supposed to care about (outside the CORRIDOR THAT MEANS EVERYTHING, here in Los Angeles, we just elected our own fairly progressive mayor, Eric Garcetti, two months ago, but I guess it’s only in New York where one example makes a trend). From my perspective, I’m more interested in the Democratic primary for Comptroller, which pits Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer against comeback hopeful Eliot Spitzer. The polls have been wildly divergent: Quinnipiac has over the past week shown a virtual dead heat, while the Marist poll gives Spitzer a double-digit lead. Polling is notoriously difficult in citywide elections generally, and especially for downballot races, so it’s hard to get a full read on this. But Quinnipiac shows a racial divide, with African-American voters going 60% for Spitzer and white voters 60% for Stringer.
Stringer wasn’t supposed to have any competition. He was the machine candidate, anointed by the Democratic establishment months if not years ago. He bided his time and then took what everyone considered his rightful place. Spitzer upended that. And right from the outset, the city establishment tried to sabotage him. Neal Kwatra, last seen ruining the credibility of Eric Schneiderman while serving as his chief of staff, signed up with and abruptly quit Spitzer’s campaign during the signature-gathering phase, in an incident that really didn’t look like an accident. The goal was apparently to leave Spitzer high and dry amid a tight deadline to get on the ballot, forcing him at least to spend lots of money on signature gatherers (a process Kwatra didn’t set up before leaving) and drain his war chest.
Kwatra quit because the local labor establishment supports Stringer, along with the other establishment groups in the city, led by the local chapter of NOW. The New York Times laid this out in late July.
In reality, this is about one thing and one thing only: money. New York has become a true tale of two cities in the Bloomberg era, and the rich don’t want Spitzer in control of $140 billion in city pension funds, making him instantly one of the world’s most important activist investors. That would be too taxing on the executive class, and they and their friends stick together. So women’s groups or other big-money donors can come up with some “legitimate” reason to oppose Spitzer, but nobody’s really fooled.
Wall Street initially put together a SuperPAC, “Forward NY,” to funnel money to Stringer. Then, when it looked like Spitzer would win, they abandoned the effort. The big reason was that they would probably have to disclose their donations, which would give Spitzer something of a hit list identifying who tried to stop his candidacy (in addition, donors who also had contracts with city pension funds would be breaking the law, and the disclosure would show it).
Progress NYC, a labor-backed group, was able to raise about $450,000 on an independent expenditure campaign (Stringer has always been a labor ally; the SuperPAC is payback). But the ways in which big money has supported Stringer have been more subtle. Not just with endorsements, but through the endless forays by Stringer and his allies into character attacks, as evidenced by the final debate the other night:
(Mr. Stringer) went on to attack Mr. Spitzer for having solicited prostitutes and being forced to resign as governor in 2008.
“Nobody should be elected to office who resigned in disgrace, to an office that requires public trust of a $140 billion pension system,” Mr. Stringer said. “It’s simply ludicrous.”
Later, Mr. Spitzer criticized Mr. Stringer for not attending meetings in recent years of the board of the New York City Employee Retirement System. (Mr. Stringer sent a representative, which the system’s regulations permit.) [...]
Promising that as comptroller he would “comport myself with integrity and honesty,” he added, bitterly, “Maybe that’s out of fashion, I don’t know.”
Passive-aggressive much? Sending a staffer to NYCERS is a far more legitimate issue than a hooker scandal, which has gotten everyone who mostly wants a payout for their Stringer support, particularly women’s groups, into such high dudgeon. Here’s a mailer from the Stringer campaign (which doesn’t have the decency to outright identify itself) intimating that Spitzer should be in jail. If prostitution solicitation is suddenly a disqualifying event, you’d think that everyone would stop working on Wall Street.
At some level, Spitzer had to know the campaign would come to this; politics ain’t beanbag. But the character attacks have been such a feature of the campaign that I guarantee you even close followers of the race couldn’t tell you what the NYC Comptroller does. And it’s not just the prostitution scandal; here’s yet another character attack, some oppo fed to the New York Post about an alleged loan from Spitzer to a Democratic fundraiser. They’re pulling out all the stops for Stringer.
The character debate is mainly a hook so the big-money boys in the city can protect the financial industry from a high-profile rival. We’ll have to wait until next week to see if they’re successful.