Gored, Greened, Democrats Gripe

To paraphrase Tolstoy, happy political parties are all alike, but

every unhappy political party is unhappy in its own way. The Democratic Party

of New York is very unhappy, indeed.

The Democrats have just one year to drag Anna Karenina from under

the train and bring her back to life. That’s when the party will hold a

gubernatorial primary between Andrew Cuomo, who is white, and H. Carl McCall,

who is black.

“Racial politics are as raw as they could be,” said one Democrat

with ties to both camps. But no one seems to have a clue how to avoid another

wreck.

Just a few weeks ago, Republican Party leaders were keeping their

distance from Michael Bloomberg and preparing for the historical inevitability

of losing New York’s City Hall to the Democrats. Within hours of Mr.

Bloomberg’s surprise win, however, they could barely contain their glee.

“Governor Pataki is going to win next year. Absolutely,” former

U.S. Senator Alfonse D’Amato told The

Observer . He’d just finished saying that the coup de grâce for Michael Bloomberg wasn’t the commercial featuring

Rudy Giuliani’s endorsement, but the one where Democrats and their

partisans-including Congressman Charles Rangel, health-care workers’ union head

Dennis Rivera and teachers’ union president Randi Weingarten-were criticizing

their own nominee, Mark Green.

Democrats know how much this hurt them. And this has left them

deeply unhappy-more unhappy even than in 1994, when they lost both the

Governor’s mansion and the state attorney general’s office.

That they could blame on national trends: Newt Gingrich and his

Contract with America. Today’s unhappy state, however, has everything to do

with the internal workings of their own party and the rifts that are far from

being healed.

“To lose New York, and the way we lost it!” lamented a high-level

Democratic operative not affiliated with either the Green or Ferrer campaigns.

“There’s a lot of finger-pointing, and all of it’s earned. All of it.”

“It’s such a mess,” added another operative. “The Mark [Green]

people are all pissed, Roberto [Ramirez, the Bronx Democratic chair] is

half-cocked, and I don’t think Freddy [Ferrer] comes out a winner. Nobody’s a

winner.”

As for the Green partisans: “It is unspeakable for us to have

blown this campaign, us as Democrats. It’s a disaster!”

Republicans can’t believe their luck. “It was pretty

astonishing,” said Kieran Mahoney, Governor Pataki’s political strategist, of

Mr. Green. “He ran the worst possible campaign in the primary, the runoff and

the general election. The guy had as close to a lay-down hand as you can have,

and he lost.”

It is what he lost-besides the Mayoralty-that has Republicans

gloating. As early as election night at B.B. King’s Blues Club, Republican

Party executive director Patrick McCarthy was cheerfully counting his chips:

half the Hispanic vote, a quarter of the black vote-both unprecedented for any

Republican in New York City. And many New York City Democrats have now pulled

the lever three times for a Republican, he noted, and each time “it gets

easier.”

What’s wrong with a fourth time, in November 2002, for George

Pataki?

Bye Bye, Hope

Of course, much can happen in the next 11 months. But the past

two months have laid down tracks-largely along racial lines-that could portend

an even worse train wreck for the Democrats and two of their biggest stars next

year.

The first casualty of the Mayoral campaign was Judith Hope, the

Democratic Party chair, who issued a statement at 7 p.m. on Friday evening,

Nov. 9-a time guaranteed to minimize coverage in the week’s least-read

newspaper editions-saying that she would resign on Dec. 3.

Ms. Hope took over the party

shortly after the 1994 debacle at the behest of Clinton adviser Harold Ickes.

Then the party was $500,000 in debt and without an office, a staff or control

of the state’s highest office. Now the party is in the black and has a paid

staff and a professional press operation. Under Ms. Hope’s leadership,

Democrats gained a U.S. Senate seat, held onto another, won back the state

attorney general’s office and scored impressive victories in the Republican

stronghold of Nassau County. Even those who criticize her said Ms. Hope was a

formidable fund-raiser and cheerleader for the party.

But unlike Republican leaders, Ms. Hope was never able to crack

heads and force unity. This became most evident in the days following the

Democratic primary, when Mr. Ferrer and his supporters indignantly objected to

some of the tactics used by supporters of Mr. Green.

In the waning days of the runoff, Ms. Hope issued a statement

calling on both candidates to cool their jets, but spokeswoman Serena Torrey

insisted at the time that the admonishment “wasn’t directed at any one

candidate in particular.” At the same time, according to a Ferrer adviser who

said he was present at the time of the conversation, Ms. Hope was calling Mr.

Ferrer and saying, “What did you think would happen when you took [the Reverend

Al] Sharpton’s endorsement?”

But the end for Ms. Hope came

the day after the Mayoral election, when she said that either Mr. McCall or Mr.

Cuomo should drop out of the gubernatorial race. The statement took both

candidates by surprise, according to aides, and won condemnation not only from

the campaigns, but from Senator Charles Schumer, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer

and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Republicans marveled. “You don’t say ‘We can’t win unless X

happens’ unless you know X is going to happen,” said one high-level strategist.

“That’s Politics 101.”

“Judith lit a fuse when she went out there and said ‘No primary,’

and now the bomb has gone off,” said one Democrat with ties to the party

apparatus.

Ms. Hope had long been hinting that she had spent enough time in

the unpaid post. But the timing of her departure was certainly not her own

choice. On Friday, Nov. 9, operatives loyal to Ms. Hope were convinced that

Roberto Ramirez was going to “make a move.” They were certain he and Mr.

Sharpton were planning a press conference the week of Nov. 12 to wreak some

kind of havoc. (Mr. Ramirez and Mr. Sharpton did not return calls, but one

member of the Ferrer cabal insisted this wasn’t true.)

Ms. Hope’s partisans were playing for time, trying to put

together support for Assemblyman Herman (Denny) Farrell to take over the party

reins. They urged party stalwarts to insist that Ms. Hope was staying.

As late as Friday afternoon, when many Democrats had already been

told that Ms. Hope was out and would be replaced by Mr. Farrell, Michael

Schell, the No. 2 official in the party, was telling the Associated Press that

Ms. Hope wasn’t leaving, that she had the support of the county chairs and “was

looking forward to the Governor’s race.” The party spokeswoman, Ms. Torrey, was

telling reporters, “She is not resigning, and any suggestion to the contrary is

a complete fabrication.”

At 6:45 p.m.-after Mr. Farrell had lined up the necessary

support-Ms. Torrey paged reporters to say that Ms. Hope was issuing a statement

at 7 p.m. announcing that she was resigning effective Dec. 3.

Mr. Farrell is the Manhattan Democratic chair, and as chair of

the powerful Assembly Ways and Means Committee, is one of the highest-ranking

African-Americans in the State Legislature. He also, as one Democrat put it, ” is Shelley Silver.” That consolidates

Mr. Silver’s power inside the party-a thicket into which neither Mr. Schumer

nor Senator Hillary Clinton seemed inclined to wade. It is also, according to

some Latino officials, a cynical attempt to pit African-Americans against

Latinos.

Nevertheless, Democrats are trying to put on a happy face. “The

Democratic Party had been on an unprecedented run,” said pollster Jeffrey

Plaut, whose firm worked for Mr. Ferrer. “And the loss in the Mayor’s race was

a bad one. But overall,the state is trending Democratic.”

As early as the morning after the election, supporters of Andrew

Cuomo were spinning that their candidate was the least hurt by the fallout from

the runoff because, unlike Mr. McCall, Mr. Cuomo wasn’t relying on an obviously

divided Democratic Party establishment.

Added chief Cuomo adviser Dan Klores, “In the long term, we’ll

end up being healthier. You gotta give people some time to sit down

face-to-face and talk things through and just, you know, be mensches . You have to ask what’s best

for the constituents, not just what’s best for our own little fiefdoms. Right

now it’s too open. People are too wounded, too angry, too ambitious.”

Then there’s the argument that Mr. McCall was one of the earliest

supporters of Mr. Ferrer, and had counted heavily on a Ferrer win to put

together the black-Latino coalition Mr. McCall would rely on for his own

campaign. That he got behind Mr. Green after the runoff left him further than

ever from that coalition and its statewide potential.

But McCall advisers see a different calculus. “It’s lose-lose”

for Mr. Cuomo, they say. “To win, he has to keep Carl from winning the

primary,” said one. “And if he keeps Carl from winning the primary …

psychologically, it will be tough for blacks and Hispanics to pull the lever

for him. And he can’t get the vote anywhere else with Michael Bloomberg out for

George Pataki.”

One Democrat who has managed several city and state campaigns

said the racial volatility in the party essentially defangs Andrew Cuomo, who

is used to playing hard and tough. “We’ve had a lot of years with the Cuomos.

They’re nasty people. They’re like the Clintons; they’ll do anything to win,”

the Democrat said. Mr. Cuomo will now have to pull his punches against Mr.

McCall-perhaps in areas that should be fair game.

In response, a spokesman for

Mr. Cuomo, Peter Ragone, said it was “a disgraceful comment and an example of

exactly how the race card is being played in the Democratic Party. Anyone who

has spoken to or read any comments from Andrew Cuomo over the past several days

would know that he has been calling for clean primaries that are not divisive.”

Popular Pataki

Either way, both Democrats are in trouble. And though things can

change-voters are becoming increasingly impatient with officeholders, and the

economy is in a downward spiral-important factors like money are established

now. Having a Republican in City Hall dries up the money spring for Democrats,

and Governor Pataki already has many times in the bank what either Mr. McCall

or Mr. Cuomo has.

Meanwhile,

Mr.Pataki’s popularity rating, post–Sept. 11, is at 80 percent, his highest ever.

Even before the World Trade Center attack, he was what pollster Jeffrey Plaut

described as “a Republican with Democratic policies in issues like health care

and the environment.” Consultant Norman Adler, who has worked for both

Democrats and Republicans, calls the Governor “unbeatable-Democrats have very

benign feelings towards him.”

As for the Democrats, they’re still nursing their wounds.

“To this day, no one from the Green campaign asked me for help,”

said Bill Lynch, a former deputy mayor under David Dinkins who is a vice chair

of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Lynch said he received calls “every

day” from Bloomberg advisers Alan Gartner and Das Velez.

The Thursday after the runoff-after the so-called solidarity

meeting to address some of the Ferrer camp’s concerns-Mr. Green met with Ferrer

advisers, including Mr. Lynch, Mr. Rivera and Mr. Ramirez. According to Mr.

Lynch and others who were present, Mr. Green told them, “I don’t need you to

win; I need you to govern.”

Right after that, Mr. Lynch said, “I went to Virginia to work on

Mark Warner’s campaign.”