2005-10-28 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

Vote Your Heart
by Stuart W. Mirsky


According to the Daily News, one of Rockaway’s two City Councilmen, Democrat James Sanders, who recently beat back an insurgent effort to deny him re-nomination, has come out for Republican mayor Mike Bloomberg in the upcoming election. Citing the mayor’s actions and words, Sanders told the News that “Most of the people understand that I am a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party, and - a point of information - so is the mayor.” What Sanders meant, of course, is that Mayor Bloomberg has been at pains, particularly in this election cycle, to differentiate himself from the Republican Party whose banner he carries while associating himself, as closely as possible, with the Democrats, whose party he used to belong to.

At a recent breakfast with the mayor at a local restaurant on Beach 116 Street, there were signs for Bloomberg everywhere. The mayor was introduced to the crowd by a self-avowed registered Democrat who proudly proclaimed his Democratic fealty and his belief in Mayor Mike. But nary a mention of the Republican Party was to be heard. (In fairness, the mayor did offer a one or two sentence nod to local GOP district leaders Terry Ariola and Ed O’Hare, in his subsequent remarks, but he barely broke his rhetorical stride in doing so and hastily moved on to other non-Republican matters.)

Adding insult to injury, The New York Sun ran a big picture on October 24th of the mayor appearing at the Kings County Democratic Club in Brooklyn. No comparable pictures have come out of the mayor in Republican environs . . . nor has he so far accepted a standing invitation to address the Rockaway Republicans who have extended an invitation to him three times since this mayoral race began. Combine this with the mayor’s repeated forays into national political issues in which he has, invariably, sided with the Democrats against President Bush and you can’t shake the feeling Republicans have been had.

Mayor Bloomberg is a competent city manager who has some real accomplishments to his credit. But he has not followed the Republican philosophy of governance, preferring to raise taxes to maintain the size of local government rather than reduce government to permit tax reductions. He has followed an intrusive policy of expanding government interference in our lives through his smoking ban in public places and by expanding mandatory reporting by physicians to the City’s Health Department re: certain personal health matters. He has increased punitive fines and enforcement of same, making it harder to do business in the city.

But perhaps worst of all, he’s used his resources to overwhelm his political opposition. After initially smothering a nascent Republican revolt on the right by driving challenger Tom Ognibene, a Middle Village attorney and former City Councilman, off the Republican primary ballot, he has gone on to blanket the airwaves with commercials, many of them questionable on the facts, overwhelming a weak Democratic nominee, Freddy Ferrer, who looks like he is now set for an historic defeat.

At the same time, word has it that Bloomberg adamantly opposed any other citywide Republican candidacies so that he would be unencumbered by other Republicans who might distract the electorate. That’s why there are no Republicans running for Comptroller this year (Democrat William Thompson is running unopposed) or for Public Advocate (where Democrat Nancy Gotbaum is opposed only by a Conservative candidate, Jay Golub, a Queens resident and dentist who recently left the GOP out of frustration).  

The mayor says he doesn’t believe in party labels though he had to secure one, the Republican, to win his first term at City Hall. During that term, he sought to change the voting system in the city by mandating so-called non-partisan elections which essentially minimize the importance of political parties and labeling. This was soundly rejected by the voters and so the mayor is again running as a putative Republican, though he’s been endorsed by City Councilmen James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), as well as Councilwomen Eva Moskowitz and Margarita Lopez in Manhattan. Savvy Democrats know what’s up. This election year, they command both ballot lines in the mayoral race, having effected a friendly takeover of the Republican Party through millionaire businessman Mike Bloomberg.

So now we’re down to the wire and people have to decide whom to vote for. If you’re a Democrat, the choice is pretty easy. Either vote your party or vote for the stealth Democrat on the Republican line. Either way you win.

But if you’re a Republican things aren’t so clear. By any measure, Bloomberg is preferable to Ferrer in the present race. Bloomberg has a track record of demonstrated competence whereas Ferrer was a popular, but relatively ineffective, Boro President of the Bronx. Ferrer’s also got a history of playing divisive politics and of changing positions with the winds. And he wants to raise income taxes to fund his many campaign promises

. . . which would result in even bigger government than Bloomberg’s given us to date.

So Republicans can vote for an official Democrat or an unofficial one . . . unless they want to break ranks with their own party and vote for the man Bloomberg prevented from running against him in a Republican primary, Tom Ognibene. Still in the running, Ognibene occupies the Conservative Party line in the race, a third party with some traction in New York but unlikely to provide a winning margin to its candidate. A vote for Ognibene is, in all honesty, unlikely to be more than a protest vote at this point. But is it worth protesting now?

Many Republicans are afraid to vote their hearts because they worry that Bloomberg is the last line of defense between themselves and a Ferrer administration which seems set to bring back old-fashioned Democratic governance, i.e., more of everything except government efficiency and economic growth, both likely casualties of a Ferrer administration’s emphasis on increased spending and taxes. But Bloomberg seems so far ahead in the polls at this point that there’s something to be said for casting a protest vote now.

While a vote for Ognibene is unlikely to change the outcome or deny Bloomberg a convincing win, perhaps it can serve as a message to our Democratic/Republican, all-things-to-all-voters mayor. Thanks to his nearly unquantifiable wealth, Mike Bloomberg has built up a nearly insurmountable lead, according to the latest polling data, while Freddy Ferrer is playing out his last hurrah as his fellow Democrats position themselves, over his expected political corpse, to succeed Bloomberg in ‘09 when term limits force Mayor Mike to step down. 

So those who care about real competition in local politics, and who want to see a revived GOP challenge the Democrats in future races, may want to think seriously about casting a dissenting vote by choosing Ognibene over Bloomberg this time around. Otherwise it’s not clear what will be left of the GOP when Bloomberg moves on.

And while they’re at it they should also think seriously about choosing Jay Golub, on the same Conservative line as Ognibene, for Public Advocate. Golub recently demonstrated his stronger grasp of the issues than Gotbaum in a debate on New York 1 and, of course, he is now the Republican candidate-who-isn’t since he favors GOP principles like school vouchers, tighter government accountability and lower taxes even though he couldn’t find a place for himself in today’s New York Republican Party. Choosing him, in the absence of a Republican candidate (thanks to the mayor’s obsession with avoiding such distractions) will be a firm rebuke to a mayoral strategy that sought to deny New Yorkers a real choice.

For the same reasons, it won’t hurt to cast a vote for Republican Phil Sica who’s running to unseat Democrat Helen Marshall as Queens County Boro President, either. The position doesn’t amount to much these days, but Ms. Marshall hasn’t done much with it while Sica, who has been out twice to Rockaway already, is pledging to focus on rebuilding our communities through greater access to Boro Hall, stronger advocacy in the halls of power in Manhattan, and an emphasis on creating new business opportunities. Golub, by the way, has also been out to Rockaway, though neither his visit nor Sica’s were covered by the local papers.

A final thought: this year, as in past years, there are a number of propositions on the ballot. The first two are particularly insidious. Question One proposes to take budgeting authority away from the governor and lodge it entirely in the state legislature. You know what that means. Legislators love pork and if you give them the skillet our bacon will be fried. Keep what little control on the budgeting process still exists in New York State by voting this dangerous proposal down.

On the matter of the transportation proposal, Question Two, a “no” vote would also seem in order. New York State is already deeply in debt, even beyond what we see, because of the various semi-autonomous authorities that generate their own bond issuances. Their debt is not officially carried on New York’s books but New York State is nevertheless obligated to pay it back if the authorities ever default. Don’t let them make things even worse by larding on still more off-the-books debt. Vote no and tell the Transportation Authority to make better use of the monies they already have. We pay their bills, too.  rockirreg@aol.com

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