Rudy and Hillary: New York’s Name Brands

Rudy and Hillary: New York’s Name Brands

When Alfred E. Smith ran for President in 1928, he did so as a proud son of the Lower East Side: His campaign theme song was “The Sidewalks of New York.” Smith embraced his New York roots, his urban grit and his street smarts.

More than 70 years later, two New Yorkers are hoping to become the first major-party Presidential nominees from the Empire State since Franklin D. Roosevelt and Thomas E. Dewey met in an all–New York general election in 1944.

Rudolph Giuliani and Hillary Clinton can’t be expected to campaign across the country while humming “New York, New York”—such parochialism is out of fashion these days. But it will be interesting to see how much they emphasize their experience in New York.

No New Yorker has captured a significant Presidential nomination since the state’s political power began to wane after World War II. During the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, the state in general and the city in particular were thought of as symbols of something gone wrong in American society and culture. New York’s political power, as measured by sheer electoral votes, slowly diminished as the Sun Belt, led by California, came to dominate national politics.

In the early 21st century, however, all that has changed, and changed utterly. New York is now a symbol of all that can go right in urban America. Crime has been defeated. Neighborhoods have been revived. Capital has voted with its money, and it has poured into New York over the last 15 years.

Adding to the neo–New York mystique is the terrible fact that the city came under attack on 9/11. Although the Pentagon was also attacked, New York and the World Trade Center became a symbol of America’s sacrifice on that day. The city’s resilience in the face of terrorism has only added to New York’s appeal in Peoria and elsewhere.

So, for Brooklyn native Rudy Giuliani and enthusiastic transplant Hillary Clinton, the question is this: Is their association with New York something to brag about in campaign stops across the country, or will they choose to campaign simply as rootless national figures, products of a generic political/celebrity culture?

New Yorkers should hope that both candidates make a special effort to campaign as residents of a state that has managed to reassert its past power and glory with new ideas and innovations. So let them talk unabashedly about what New York can teach the country and the world. Let them praise New York’s tolerance, energy and bravery. Let them show that New York is no longer a political backwater in Presidential politics. They should run on the strength of New York, rather than running away from New York.

Albany ’s Retirement Plan: Lunch at ‘21’

Retirement is no bed of roses for members of the New York State Legislature—there’s the loss of prestige, press attention and proximity to power. So who can blame them if, rather than just going quietly into a dignified, post-electoral phase of public service or private employment, they choose to use leftover campaign contributions to splurge on such necessities as fine wines, lunches at the “21” Club and dinners at the local yacht club?

Apparently, the best way to leave office in New York State is with a large pot of campaign contributions that can then be used by the ex-officeholders for just about any purpose they choose. And it’s all legal, thanks to New York’s outdated campaign-finance laws, which allow retiring politicians to hang onto unspent funds on the slim-to-none chance that they might run for office again some day.

Take longtime State Senator Roy Goodman, the Manhattan Republican who left office in 2001. Mr. Goodman spent 31 years in the Legislature, and when he stepped down, he still had about $1 million in campaign money on hand. As reported recently by The New York Times and the Daily News, Mr. Goodman has spent about $500,000 of that money on items such as a $2,257 lunch at “21,” $11,551 for a party at the Century Club, and $1,684 at the Harvard Club. Financial hardship, alas, is not behind Mr. Goodman’s penchant for churning leftover campaign cash into his own personal slush fund: He is an heir to the Ex-Lax drug fortune and is paid a $190,000 salary as head of the United Nations Development Corporation.

Then there’s Michael Bragman, the former Assembly Majority Leader, who left office with about $1 million on hand in unspent campaign funds. Mr. Bragman used some of that money to hire his wife—at $24,000 a year—as an employee of a campaign committee which did no actual campaign work. Another loyal husband was former Democratic Assemblyman Eric Vitaliano, who left office with about $92,000 and started a charity, the Vitaliano Foundation, which happens to be run by his wife. Mr. Vitaliano, meanwhile, has found employment as a federal judge.

More conscientious politicians would, of course, choose to return their unspent campaign donations to the contributors who put their faith and trust in them—or, better yet, they would give it all to worthy charities. New York needs to reform the ridiculous law that allows the absurd situation in which raising money for a campaign masks the accumulation of a personal retirement fund.