By Henry J. Stern
November 5, 2010
Though some contests are still unresolved, we have had the time to digest the results of Tuesday's election. Since so much has been written on the subject, we confine ourselves to a few relatively brief observations.
Nationally, the Republicans won rather convincingly, and though in New York State, they lost all six statewide races, they did pick up five Congressional seats and appear to have regained control of the State Senate. The five Democrats who lost were upstaters John Hall, Scott Murphy, Michael Arcuri and Matthew Zeller. Michael McMahon of Staten Island was the only Representative from New York City to be defeated. He had been elected in 2008 after his predecessor, Republican Vito Fossella, had personal problems.
There are two basic conditions that people historically have wanted their government to provide: peace and prosperity. The United States, at this time, has neither. It is therefore logical that people should vote for new leaders. The same desire for change that propelled Barack Obama into the Presidency in 2008 propelled his party out of power in the House of Representatives in 2010. Fortunately for the Democrats, only one-third of the Senators come up for election in each biennium.
That is the way most people voted, except where the lack of qualifications of particular candidates took priority. Witches, kooks, Scientologists, bat swingers and people who are vulgar with regard to the President were generally disfavored by the voters.
That the Democrats lost only six seats in the United States Senate is due to the peculiar qualities of the Republican primary winners in Delaware and Nevada. Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell were not ready for prime time, nor was Carl Paladino, and their shortcomings were well known by the voters. TV coverage will do that..
Apart from the desire for a new direction, public dislike of Congress, and general antagonism toward incumbents, demographics played a major role in the election. Middle America appeared to be pitted against the North Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Middle America won; there, more states are landlocked than on the oceans..
The pictures of a suffering Obama on the front page of Thursday's newspapers, particularly the Times, were extraordinary. You don't have to be devoted to the President to feel sorry for a leader in such obvious distress. The 64 Democratic members of Congress who lost their seats can't feel that well either. We wonder how many will find jobs as lobbyists.
Sadly, the ideas of compromise and bipartisanship in the 112th Congress are non-starters. Both parties will devote themselves to capturing the Presidency and winning the 2012 election. Over the next two year, they will attempt to kneecap each other. The only thing that may bring the parties together is a war, and that is too high a price to pay for political harmony.
As far as our own classically dysfunctional New York State is concerned, the problem is that the Republicans offered no well-regarded candidate for governor. That is in good part the fault of Governor Pataki, who during his twelve year incumbency, 1995-2006, did nothing to build his party or to recruit candidates for public office.
Ed Cox, who would have been a credible candidate to challenge Senator Clinton in 2006, could not win Pataki's support. He favored Jeanine Pirro, the Westchester County district attorney, who wanted to run for Attorney General. When the smoke cleared, Congressman Rick Lazio ran for the Senate and was defeated by over a million votes. Pirro ended up running for AG, and losing to Eliot Spitzer, but her candidacy was seriously damaged by the political maneuvering that preceded it.
It was the weakness of Lazio and the rage of the right that led to the 62-38 victory by Carl Paladino in the Republican primary, but it was the unsuitability of Paladino, as demonstrated by his intemperate remarks, which guaranteed the defeat of the rest of the Republican ticket, despite the ability and appeal of his running mates, neither of whom endorsed him.
Paladino lost to Cuomo by 1,134,228 votes, a margin of 27.1%. Dan Donovan, the Staten Island district attorney who ran for State Attorney General, lost to Senator Eric Schneiderman by 441,171 votes, or 11.1%. The Republican candidate for State Comptroller, Harry Wilson, who negotiated the General Motors rescue and was endorsed by almost all of the state's newspapers, came closest of all the challengers. He lost to incumbent Comptroller Tom DiNapoli by 96,291 votes, or 2.4%.
Wilson and Donovan's electoral weakness is that the Republicans had no boots on the ground, phone banks or get-out-the-vote operations, while the Democrats, assisted by public employee unions with whom they are allied, did. You can't spend all your money on television; there is still a retail aspect to politics. Meanwhile, for the Republicans, demographics in New York State are likely to continue to deteriorate, unless the GOP broadens its appeal..
Governor-elect Cuomo will face enormous problems, including a pending nine billion dollar budget deficit for the fiscal year beginning April 1, 2011. He would have a difficult task even if he were not surrounded by rivals and enemies. The last two governors failed dismally for different reasons. We hope this one has the ability, the bravery, and the cunning to change the way New York State manages its affairs, while coping with the enormous financial burden the state faces..
We wish him the very best, but as Governor, he will have to lead while dealing with elected officials, some of whom have serious integrity issues, while others have problematic judgment, and still others are pawns of the outside forces that finance their campaigns and the legislative leaders who give them directions. Andrew Cuomo will have a more difficult task than his father did when he was elected 28 years ago. It is common knowledge that New York State is in worse shape than it was in 1982. The new governor will have to make difficult choices; the first is finding the most competent people for the agencies and for his staff. That will be the first of many tests of his mettle. Here's hoping.