Thursday, November 5, 2009

Morning after regrets

The Vote for Mayor, Block by Block The Vote for Mayor, Block by Block

As the cheering dies down over at William C. Thompson Jr.’s headquarters, where close almost passed for victory on Tuesday evening, New York’s Democrats are left to consider a colder reality: This was a race most Democrats now believe they could have won. Numbering among the co-conspirators in the Democrats’ defeat, in the view of some party leaders and activists, are Democratic grandees, from President Obama — who did not campaign for Mr. Thompson — to the City Council speaker, whose support could not have been softer, to two powerful labor unions that remained studiously neutral.

Why were the grandees quiet? And why could the President campaign in Jersey but not in NYC? Curious.

By the next mayoral election, it will have been 20 years since a Democrat occupied the mayor’s office, and the second guesses were many on Wednesday.

“The conditions were there all along for a formidable challenge to the mayor,” said Andrew Breslau, an observer of city politics and the executive director of City Futures, a nonpartisan urban policy group. “There was class resentment in this economically fraught time.”

And yet, once again, Democrats struggled to run an effective mayoral campaign. The causes for this are many.

The Democratic political machines stand covered with rust, with bosses ruling as minor potentates rather than boroughwide forces. Mr. Thompson was Brooklyn’s native son, yet the borough president, Marty Markowitz, piped up that he was a Bloomberg guy. The City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, a Democrat, endorsed Mr. Thompson with the enthusiasm of someone facing a tooth extraction.

Nice. Party loyalty, anyone?

Nor did Mayor Bloomberg offer an easy mark. He had good favorability ratings and lavished more than $90 million on his campaign, collecting prominent Democratic consultants as a schoolboy might collect stamps. He created an aura of gilded invincibility, which the media retailed. For labor unions like 1199 S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East and the United Federation of Teachers, whose leaders are acutely sensitive to power, it seemed wise to stay silent.

Wise, or prudent? Wisdom implies good judgment and savvy; what labor leaders, among others, exercised was pusillanimity (contemptible fearfulness).

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