Daniel L. Feldman

Debates, street campaigning, door-to-door

In National Politics, NYC Politics on June 1, 2012 at 10:56 am

Some of the Democratic clubs hosted debates among the candidates. Some civic groups did as well. I remember a debate in the gym at St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic church, on 129th  Street in Belle Harbor, down the block and across Neponsit Avenue from where I lived until I was nine years old. Pauline Emanuel, my fourth-grade teacher at P.S. 114 on Beach 135th Street, showed up to cheer me on. An old regular Democratic clubhouse in Woodhaven hosted another debate; as did Rockaway Independent Democrats, the reform club my mother helped to found in the 1950s and that had supported me in my 1970s City Council races; and a few reform Democratic clubs in Brooklyn hosted others. Usually, the moderator would ask questions, and the three of us would take turns answering, rather than debating each other directly. I don’t remember whether Noach Dear ever participated. I don’t think he did, and if he did, it could not have been more than once.

I noticed something about the way the audiences responded to Katz and Weiner. Of course, I thought I responded with far more intelligence and substance than either, but Katz clearly gave much more relevant and substantive answers than Weiner. However, the audiences responded much more enthusiastically to Weiner, whose comments were “cute” in the attractive sense of that word, or self-deprecating, or funny. I persuaded myself that I got a good audience response too – probably wishful thinking. In retrospect, my responses must have been substantially more substantive, and substantially less effective, than Katz’s.

Knowing what the nation later learned about Weiner’s personal behavior, it may seem odd for me to attribute his success to “emotional intelligence.” Some might prefer to characterize his behavior as reflective of emotional idiocy. But the ability to charm, persuade, and mislead requires empathy, a close relative, if not the equivalent, of emotional intelligence. Studies have found that fraud perpetrators not only score higher on empathy than do other property offenders, they even score higher than a comparison group of college students. So Weiner’s odd personal proclivities could very easily coexist with an empathic understanding that underlay his ability to win over voters.

Democratic politics in the Rockaways had so deteriorated that an unstable and generally bizarre person from the reform club, Lou Simon, had defeated Sy Sheldon after the latter’s long and unimpressive tenure as male district leader (and Simon remains the district leader there). But I won the endorsements of the other reform Democratic clubs after debates at the forums they provided. Wishful thinking notwithstanding, the more intellectual audiences clearly gave me better responses than they gave Katz or Weiner. Of course, when told that he had “the support of all thinking Americans,” Adlai Stevenson quite correctly noted “That’s not enough. I’m going to need a majority.” It wasn’t enough for me either.

If Weiner out-campaigned me in debates, he did even better on the street. He gave short, brief, confident answers to questions. He joked and charmed and endeared himself. Preternaturally thin, his appearance and appeal regularly impelled older women – the largest voting bloc – to pinch his cheeks and urge him to eat more. His poise and charm coexisted with his patently urgent plea for voters’ support.

In contrast, while I did not actually say “if you want to be an idiot, vote for someone else,” I probably made it clear enough that that’s what I thought. On countless occasions I urged voters to “look at the record and make a rational choice.” Voters do not ordinarily do that, and my campaign was no exception.

While Weiner raised about as much money as I did, I believed he needed less time to do so, since Schumer was not actively opposing his fund-raising efforts, as he opposed mine, and may have helped him. Therefore, Weiner had more door-to-door time than I did. I think I rang all the doorbells in Trump Towers, a huge set of middle-income housing projects in Coney Island (built by Donald Trump’s father), and in the Dayton Towers apartment buildings along Shorefront Parkway in Rockaway, another such rich mine of middle-income voters. But Weiner rang them all several times, according to reports I received. Whatever Katz was doing, it did not win her a large percentage of the vote outside her own district. But as the final tally would ultimately reveal, that was almost enough for her to win.



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