It’ll be a happier new year for President George W. Bush, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and City Comptroller Bill Thompson than for Andrew Cuomo, Rep. Charles Rangel and the Clintons.
That’s the verdict (with a disagreement or two) from a panel of experts consulted by The Jewish Week for a political roundup of 2002, and a forecast for the year just begun.
Bush was hailed for accomplishing the unthinkable: Achieving Republican control of the full Congress in a midterm election, when the presidentís party generally faces setbacks. "It was his personal involvement that caused the Senate victories," says former Mayor Ed Koch. "He’s the biggest winner since Abraham Lincoln."
Koch also predicted a sunny year for Bloomberg, who won control of the city’s schools (a feat that eluded Koch and two successors) and pushed through an extensive, controversial smoking ban in his first year. "I was the first to get a smoking bill, but he improved it enormously," said the ex-mayor.
Thompson is viewed by members of our ad-hoc panel as a rising star who has served quietly and effectively, avoiding controversy, and is well poised to run for mayor in 2005, as is City Council Speaker Gifford Miller. "There are no stars in New York politics, but there are politicians moving up," groused Fred Siegel, the Cooper Union history professor and urban affairs commentator. "Thompson and Miller are mostly functioning well because of the lack of competition."
Former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger was more enthusiastic. "Gifford has done astoundingly well in the way he has conducted the Council and picked issues on which to stand against the mayor," said Messinger, a former Council member from the West Side.
Other winners cited include Gov. George Pataki and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. "Pataki quickly destroyed the Democratic Party’s base and made the mayor believe he is going to help bail out New York City," said Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf. "He also co-opted the unions."
Spitzer, according to Brooklyn Democratic district leader Mike Geller, "has a good reputation, lots of money and has proven he can win statewide." That makes him a likely Democratic front-runner for governor in ’06, says Geller.
Last year’s mayoral also-ran, Democrat Alan Hevesi, won credit for a rare political comeback after narrowly beating Republican John Faso to become state comptroller. His win not only reaffirms that Pataki has no coattails, but also discourages veteran pols with recent bad luck from cashing in their IRAs.
Public relations and political consultant Ezra Friedlander chose Borough Park Councilman Simcha Felder and Nassau County executive Tom Suozzi, both Democrats, as rising stars. Felder, he said, "gives the Orthodox Jewish community a good name" by building coalitions with other members, even those with whom Felder disagrees. Suozzi, he says, would have wide appeal among suburban voters in an expected gubernatorial bid.
Political consultant Suri Kasirer advised keeping an eye on Miller, Thompson and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion. (She’s an adviser to Thompson.) "They are all young, smart and very impressive," said Kasirer.
State Sen. David Paterson was cited by several experts as a rising star, having seized the Democratic minority leader spot from Martin Connor, who was seen as lackluster and ultimately foolish for taking paid work from Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano.
Which brings us to the losers. Eschewing easy picks like Sen. Trent Lott and failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate H. Carl McCall, members of our panel named Harlem’s Rangel, who came no closer this year to his goal of becoming Ways and Means chairman, and also invested heavily in McCall’s uphill campaign. "In every sphere in which he operates (city, state and federal) he’s lost considerable ground," says one expert. Rangel’s call this week to reintroduce the draft isnít likely to lift him from the political doldrums.
Assemblyman-turned-political consultant Roberto Ramirez also made the list of those having an off year after his clients failed to gain ground in races for state senate, governor and comptroller.
Bill and Hillary Clinton were also mentioned for failing to energize the Democratic Party this year, and their active endorsement of the party nominee at the top of the ticket had little impact on the outcome for the second straight year. A slew of Clinton White House alumni also lost their bids for elected office across the nation. "They have yet to demonstrate their much-talked-about ability to reinvigorate a Democratic Party in their adopted state," says Kalman Yeger, a former senior adviser to Fernando Ferrer when he was Bronx borough president.
Cuomo wonít be facing voters again in the immediate future. But Koch considers the brash aspirant for the Democratic gubernatorial nominiation the most damaged pol of 2002. "No one will believe him in the future if he says anything, simply because he dropped out of the race."
Adds Messinger: "His withdrawal was neither gracious nor entirely believable, and seemed only to protect him for the next race."
Cuomo’s dropout also caused a substantial setback to Liberal Party boss Ray Harding, who saw the party lose its ballot position because Cuomo failed to win 50,000 votes as its nominee. "The people of the state have retired Ray Harding [from politics] and I hope he will respect their decision," quips Messinger.
The ’97 Democratic mayoral nominee, now director of the American Jewish World Service, also branded the state Democratic Party a loser for failing to put its organizational muscle behind candidates, build ties with unions or take up issues voters care most about.
"A party that doesnít seem to stand for anything is going to be in sorry shape against powerful incumbents," she said.
Kasirer picked City Council firebrand Charles Barron of Bed-Stuy as a loser of the year. "He started out with a lot of hype, but went nowhere," she said.
Bloomberg was also mentioned on the down side because he perpetually operates in the shadow of his popular predecessor, Rudy Giuliani. "Even when it comes to snow removal, people say ‘It was never like this under Giuliani,’" says Geller. "Nostalgia always looks better."
Siegel said the mayor’s property tax hike would ultimately be seen as larger than necessary.
Former Brooklyn Councilman Noach Dear last year lost a state Senate match, on the heels of two failed bids for Congress. And his endorsement of Golisano for governor amounted to little more than a raucous press conference in Flatbush. "He would’ve done better by supporting either the incumbent governor or his party’s nominee," said Yeger.
Sheinkopf sees the Jewish community in New York as a loser because it "continues to lose power and influence because of the demographics of destiny." But Friedlander said the national Jewish community is a winner because Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s religion has not yet stood in the way of his expected presidential bid. "It goes a long way toward showing that Jews are here to stay in the United States," said Friedlander.