Why Squadron Lost
In her victory speech last night, Letitia James, the last woman standing in what was once a five person race, couldn’t quite say the words without welling up. She is the first woman of color to be elected to citywide office. It wasn’t something she drew attention to during the campaign, and it wasn’t something she rushed to yell out in victory. But it was enormously significant in a campaign season such as this one.
First, there was the campaign. James won the most votes on September 10th, about 191,000 or 36%. Squadron came in second with 178,000 or 33%. A runoff was necessary by law. The two candidates proceeded to do battle. James went after Squadron over his family money. Squadron accused James of failing to release her tax returns and neglecting to report rental income on her Brooklyn brownstone. Politics is a rough sport, but the personal nature of these attacks was somewhat unusual. They also went back and forth over who took the most money from which developers, often the fastest way to ensure that voter’s eyes gloss over.
But a handful of Democrats were paying close attention. These are the people who vote in Primaries. They are the same people who voted twice for term limits and held a grudge against Christine Quinn when she helped Mayor Bloomberg overturn them. Sure, voters have short memories, but not the small percentage of voters who actually come out in a Primary, let alone a runoff election like this Public Advocate race.
At the end of the day, fair or not, these same people didn’t buy some of Squadron’s arguments. Let’s put it this way, if you are talking about your family money being lost to Bernie Madoff that doesn’t engender sympathy, it raises eyebrows about who had money in the first place. In the final days of the campaign, there were some questionable tactics employed by Squadron including a robocall that sounded like it’s intention was to deceive voters. Numerous people have also told me that Squadron did himself no favors in this interview with our own Errol Louis the night before the Primary about that robocall. Again, the people who bother to vote, also take time to watch TV programs about politics.
The unions also made a big difference. 1199 and 32BJ pulled out voters at key precincts in Brooklyn, much like they did for Bill de Blasio. Those same voters who pulled the lever for BdB, also did so for James ( albeit in smaller numbers ).
But at the end of the day, there was a diversity issue. One that people didn’t want to talk about publicly, but which percolated just below the surface. De Blasio and Scott Stringer ( the other two citywide Democratic nominees ) are both white men. That is not an accurate reflection of the changing face of this city, particularly not the Democratic party. The Democrats have been successful in large part because they look like the people they fight for. fair or not, an all white and male ticket just doesn’t sit well with people. Moreover, if James lost, that could very well be the end of her career ( she is older and term limited out of the Council ), whereas Squadron, at 33, continues to serve in the New York State Senate. That point sunk in, at least among some of the elected’s within the Democratic Party who coalesced around James in the final days and weeks.
Obviously, the reasons for who won and who lost are numerous and complex. But if Squadron knew this was an uphill race, it makes you wonder why he went as negative as he did in the final days. Strategists will often tell you that going negative never works. That’s not entirely true. But in this particular case, it appears to have backfired.
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