Daniel L. Feldman

A Feeble Start toward Reform – Primary Day

In National Politics, New York State Politics on September 16, 2010 at 3:20 pm

The worst part of the New York primary just past, on September 14, was not the result of the campaigns, but that there were so few of them. Certainly we welcome the defeat of State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, but given the ostensibly widespread revulsion at the New York State Legislature, why did so few legislators have primary opponents?

One reason, for which Henry Stern cites Jerry Skurnik, is the absence of public financing for State campaigns, as opposed to New York City, where relatively generous public matching funds have produced a higher percentage of challenges to incumbent members of the City Council.

Another, I believe, is the common assumption that individual legislators can make no difference; i.e. that “three men in a room” control everything. As our book Tales from the Sausage Factory shows, this need not be the case. Legislators with the will and guts to fight the leadership can make a huge difference. We need more of them.

I would like to see our book’s readers mobilize over the next two years to launch a more comprehensive effort to challenge sitting legislators in primaries, and not to wait until the November general elections. Since most districts in New York are heavily Democratic or heavily Republican, most legislators sail to re-election unless they face primary challenges. Every institution needs a vigorous shaking up from time to time, and the New York State legislature is overdue. Apparently the change in the Senate majority from Republican to Democratic, whether or not it survives the November election, did not suffice.

The results bore out this blog’s early prediction of Eric Schneiderman’s success in the primary for Attorney General. Schneiderman must now educate the electorate to the reality that a sitting district attorney, like his Republican opponent Daniel Donovan, offers no necessary advantage in qualifications for the job. Neither Louis Lefkowitz nor Bob Abrams, two of the best, came to the position as former prosecutors.

Carl Palladino’s success in the New York Republican primary for the governor nomination, like Sharon Angle’s successful quest for the Republican Senate nomination in Nevada or Christine O’Donnell’s in Delaware, was greeted with some joy by Democrats who feel that their candidate’s chances are strengthened by facing such extremist Republicans. I am less happy with this result.  

While it may indeed improve the odds for Democrats in the immediate future, that one of our two major political parties has succumbed so thoroughly to ignorance and anti-intellectualism bodes ill for our nation. Only a massive Election Day repudiation of these candidates – a somewhat unlikely prospect – would restore confidence in the future of the American enterprise. Let us hope.


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