She’s come a long way, baby. In the past four years, Hillary Rodham Clinton has managed to dramatically change the way New Yorkers and millions of Americans think of her. And if her fund-raising success is any guide, there are a lot of people in this country who want to see more-much more-of Mrs. Clinton in the future.
In the first three months of 2005, she pulled in $4 million for her 2006 Senate re-election campaign. She now has $8.7 million in the bank, more than any other U.S. Senator. A Quinnipiac poll shows her beating both Rudolph Giuliani and George Pataki if either man makes a run for her Senate seat. Meanwhile, John McCain is saying she’d make a fine President, Newt Gingrich has declared she’d be the Democrats’ most formidable candidate, and 67 percent of New Yorkers say they wouldn’t hold it against Mrs. Clinton if, once re-elected to the Senate, she bails out and announces a run for the White House in 2008. From being a political hot potato, Hillary now has the look of a winner. Surely this is one of the most impressive acts of public transformation in memory.
Not only has Mrs. Clinton remade her public persona; she’s also been a very good Senator for New York. She has shown political maturity and a capacity to toss aside ideology in favor of solid work with her colleagues in the Senate. She’s proven herself to be a moderate on social issues and a hawk on defense policy. Her handling of the hot-button abortion issue has been deft: Early this year, she made headlines by telling an abortion-rights group that they need to find “common ground” with abortion opponents, outraging many of her New York Democrat friends-who will always vote for her anyway-while winning praise in the heartland. She has filled her speeches with multiple references to God and prayer, such as declaring that religious people should be allowed to “live out their faith in the public square” and saying that religious groups which preach abstinence are on the right track. She also impressed Middle America with her support for the Iraq war and wasted little time in making herself a presence on the Armed Services Committee, where she has a say in national-security issues.
But her flirtation with conservative values doesn’t seem to have hurt her in her adopted state: 69 percent of New Yorkers approve of the way she’s handling her job. Even Chuck Schumer, the state’s very popular and politically savvy senior Senator, cannot match that number (his approval rating is a still-impressive 63 percent). New York’s Republicans are falling all over themselves to say nice things about Mrs. Clinton: 49 percent of them give her a positive rating, up from 37 percent in 2002. She’s taken steps to court local officials who once dismissed her. The Republican lovefest is very much a reflection of the power Mrs. Clinton has accrued, and the perception that she is a serious contender not to be crossed.
This is not to say that she will be able to coast to re-election: In her 2000 campaign, her lightweight opponent Rick Lazio-a Congressman from Long Island with no name recognition and a puppy-dog demeanor-raised $40 million. While Mrs. Clinton has won over New York’s more genial Republicans, antipathy toward her still exists among the right wing, and her opponent won’t lack for funding. But the Republican candidate will be facing the new Hillary Clinton: She’s no longer encumbered with the image of the jilted wife who’s willing to accept her husband’s outrageous behavior. And Bill Clinton has remade himself into a respected and well-liked world ambassador.
Indeed, compared to George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of this reckless administration, Bill and Hillary Clinton are looking mighty good.
Lenora Fulani: Anti-Semite
For New Yorkers who still think the Liberal Party is a force in local politics, or that the Conservative Party is the most-courted third party in the state, it’s time to get with the 21st century. The facts are these: The Liberal Party doesn’t exist anymore, the Conservative Party’s influence has waned, and an entity known as the Independence Party is the third-largest party in the state.
All right, you say: What of it? It’s all part of the dynamics of democracy.
Sure, except for one very important point: One of the leading members of the Independence Party-an official who has been its heart and soul from its very beginning-is an outrageous anti-Semite who has said things about the Jewish community and Israel that ought to have consigned her to political oblivion.
Instead, Lenora B. Fulani-a frequent candidate for every office save dogcatcher-actually enjoys a semblance of prestige and dutiful respect in New York political circles. Because the party she helped found can deliver votes, Ms. Fulani escapes the wrath of politicians who may not like her, but who really want her party’s support. Somehow, they’re able to differentiate between the person and the party.
This kind of timidity is appalling.
Lenora Fulani is a hater, a racist and an anti-Semite who is free to say whatever she wants. She recently stood by comments she made in the late 1980’s, when she said that the Jewish people “had to sell their souls to acquire Israel” and held it only by acting as “mass murderers of people of color.”
Confronted recently with this toxic spewing, she wondered aloud why she would be considered anti-Semitic. Her comments, she said, simply raised “issues that I think need to be explored.”
For some reason, Ms. Fulani continues to be considered a legitimate “leader” in New York and is given access to mainstream forums. After all, she stood by her past comments not on some obscure Web site, but during an interview on NY1, the cable-TV station.
Mayor Bloomberg rightfully denounced these comments, but the Mayor-like Governor George Pataki, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer-would like the Independence Party’s nomination. That’s where it all breaks down. Politicians should scorn both Ms. Fulani and the party she was instrumental in founding.
Only then will the message be clear and unambiguous: There is no place for the likes of Lenora Fulani in New York politics. A small dose of political courage may be the way to banish this ridiculous demagogue.
Attorney General’s Race: Meet Michael Gianaris
With Eliot Spitzer a declared candidate for Governor in next year’s statewide elections, the race is on to succeed him as State Attorney General. Two Democrats have garnered the most attention: Mark Green and Andrew Cuomo.
Those names may be familiar to you, for they have been hanging around New York politics and government for as long as John Paul II was Pope. Mr. Cuomo came to prominence by serving as a powerful behind-the-scenes operative for his father, Mario Cuomo. He has never held office, although not for lack of trying. His gubernatorial campaign in 2002 was one of the greatest flops in state political history.
Mr. Green first gained notice as a zealous reformer who wrote more books than most politicians have read. He ran for office several times before being elected as the city’s first Public Advocate in 1993. His Mayoral campaign in 2001 was not a success.
Both men see next year’s Attorney General’s race as a chance to redeem themselves and revive their careers. Meanwhile, a lesser-known but quite capable Democratic Assemblyman from Queens, Michael Gianaris, also has his eyes on Mr. Spitzer’s current job. He deserves far more attention than he has received thus far, with the media fixated on the two presumed front-runners. For Mr. Gianaris, the job of Attorney General would be more than just a careerist consolation prize, or a mere stepping stone for yet another attempt at higher office. He is a graduate of Harvard Law and has been an active, articulate legislator in Albany, serving as a leader on environmental issues and on homeland security. He’s already raised over $1 million for the race, and he lacks the political scar tissue of Mr. Green and Mr. Cuomo.
Michael Gianaris is a politician with a future. He deserves to be heard.