Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Adios, Papi

Yesterday was a banner day for Democrats and progressives across the country. In high-profile races in New Jersey (Senator Jon Corzine) and Virginia (Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine), liberal Democrats triumphed in each state's gubernatorial races, in both cases winning by larger than unexpected margins. Corzine walloped flipflopping sleazefest challenger Doug Forrester 54%-34%, while Kaine defeated Republican right-winger Jerry Kilgore 51%-46%. The Virginia race, as has been noted throughout the media and Blogistan, was significant for many reasons, not least Virginia is a reliably conservative state, but also because President W flew in from Panama to campaign for Kilgore, just before the election, and because of Kilgore's extremely vile campaign ads).

The Democrats also gained statehouse seats in both states as well, and Kaine's predecessor, popular Democrat and reformer Mark Warner, is poised to gain national attention as a front-runner for Virginia's 2006 Senate race against dolt George Allen, or the 2008 national Presidential race.

In New York's Long Island, Democrats swept almost all the major races; in St. Louis suburb Kirkwood, Missouri, a Democrat upset a Republican closely linked to that state's right-wing governor. In St. Paul, Minnesota, a Democrat, Chris Coleman, unseated another Democrat, Randy Kelly, who'd defied his party to support the deeply unpopular President W. The Democratic mayors of Atlanta (Shirley Franklin), Boston (Tom Menino), Houston (Bill White), Seattle (Mark Nickels), and other cities and towns were handed another term by comfortable margins, Democrats defeated Republicans in Cincinnati (bringing that city's first elected Black mayor, State Senator Mark Mallory) and Pittsburgh (Bob O'Connor), and even the scandal-plagued mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick, won by a 6-point margin after finishing second in the primary to a fellow Democrat, Freeman Hendrix.

In California, voters denied slumping Republican Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger even a single consolation by defeating all of the ballot initiatives he'd championed, and then defeated four others as well. In Washington State's King County, voters reelected the county executive, Ron Sims, who'd faced GOP attacks in part because of the previous year's governor's race, which Democrat Christine Gregoire won on a recount. In Dover, Pennsylvania, voters replaced almost an entire slate of creationist Republicans with more open-minded Democrats. The Party of FDR, Kennedy and Clinton also won small races across the country. And in Maine, 55% of the voters upheld legislation protecting LGBT rights.

Unfortunately, not all the ballot races provided good news. In Texas, every county except Travis County, whose seat is the state capital, Austin, voted to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. In Ohio, voters defeated four reform initiatives that Democrats had promoted. The Democratic mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire, despite visits from some of the major Democratic heavy-hitters, lost to a Republican. San Diego progressive Democrat Donna Frye lost the mayor's race for the second time to a GOP opponent, despite Republican-initiated fiscal and political turmoil in that city. And in New York City, incumbent Republicrat (or Demopublican) billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg defeated Democrat Freddy Ferrer in a blowout, winning 59%-39%. Boricua Ferrer, a Bronx native and the former President of that borough, was vying to become the first Latino mayor of New York City. He faced long odds from the start, however. Bloomberg spent about $70 million of his own money on the race, a tally Ferrer couldn't come close to matching. Bloomberg entered the race with a favorability rating of about 60%, having overcome stumbles early on in his first term, after 9/11, his outrageous property tax increase, and public perceptions that he was "out of touch." Bloomberg also campaigned assiduously among Black and Latino New Yorkers, gained numerous Democratic endorsements, and offered a platform that was to the left of many national Democrats, almost negating his party identification (he'd been a lifelong Democrat until he ran against Mark Green). Bloomberg ended up winning perhaps as much as half the Black vote and one-third of Latino voters, while winning every New York City Assembly district that had a Catholic or Jewish majority. He also won the one district that had an Asian majority, mirroring the sort of broad-based, multiracial, multiethnic, multireligious coalition that had elected David Dinkins in 1990.

Ferrer, on the other hand, turned off some Black voters with a craven statement early in his campaign defending the horrific, indefensible police shooting of Amadou Diallo, while he offered nothing specific of direct interest to Blacks (or anyone else for that matter) in general. Many Latino voters, and especially non-Puerto Ricans, did not buy into Ferrer's ethnic appeals, or his bid to make history. What most sank his chances was that without a Black and Latino base, he had very little White support to begin with, and offered little to attract White voters to his candidacy; had Bloomberg been a disaster, Ferrer might have had a chance, but there was no chance the majority of White voters (or even the 41% or so he needed had his Black and Latino support been solid) were going to support him otherwise. Lo sentieron, Freddy...or maybe they don't/didn't.

With his loss, Democrats have failed in four straight attempts to win the mayor's office, going back to Dinkins's close loss to Giuliani in 1993, Ruth Messenger's disastrous loss in 1997, and Mark Green's failure in 2001. Ferrer's time, sadly, has come and gone, and the Democrats in New York City, who have a massive registration advantage over Republicans, will have to rethink who they choose to run and how they organize and manage their candidate's campaign in 2009 and future years. On the state level, I have no doubt that Democrats Hillary Clinton will romp to reelection next year (though stay away from the White House, Hillary!), and lasergun Attorney General Eliot Spitzer will be the next Governor.

So no luck for now with New York City, but if national Democrats can devise a coherent and even semi-persuasive, progressive platform for 2006 and trumpet the dangerous, persistent incompetence of W Ltd., they stand the chance of retaking both houses of Congress, and though three years is a long time, the White House in 2008.

Two days ago I linked to Doug Ireland's thoroughly insightful article on the French uprisings, and today I'm linking to another excellent piece, by University of Michigan historian Juan Cole, via his blog, Informed Comment. The piece, "The Problem with Frenchness," offers yet a different yet persuasive reading of the crisis, and deconstructs the frequently bandied about idea of "Frenchness" as a concept. Cole historicizes the notion, going on to show that France and Frenchnness have never been "nationally" "pure," and that by the arguments of some right-wing American commentators, even French conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, the son of immigrants, wouldn't be "French." It's worth reading, especially in light of the insane news that France has threatened to deport "foreigners" engaged in the uprisings, even though the vast majority of the incendiary leaders and agents are natives. Perhaps they'll also consider deporting Sarkozy and the rest of the right as well....

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