It’s times like these that NY needs a vibrant GOP


Rob Astorino (center) wants to replace Andrew Cuomo as New York’s governor. But a lot of New York voters aren’t even giving him, or his Republican Party, a serious look. Photo: Astorino campaign

The last couple of years, the Democratic Party in New York has been hammered with ethics and corruption scandals. It’s not a new phenomenon, but the drum beat of allegations, prosecutions and convictions is so steady that Governor Andrew Cuomo found himself joking about it in an interview with public radio’s Susan Arbetter.

“Seems like every week there’s another open seat, given the travails of our friends in the legislature,” Cuomo laughed. The joke boomeranged this summer when the New York Times’ three-month investigation found that Cuomo’s own staff had intervened directly in the anti-corruption Moreland Commission, with the newspaper concluding that Cuomo’s office “deeply compromised the panel’s work.”

Federal investigations are now underway, but one curious phenomenon is becoming more and more clear: Despite the Democratic Party’s shoddy track record for self-policing and purging its own miscreants — including those politicians accused of severe sexual harassment — Republicans have failed to make gains in the polls.

After weeks of brutal press and his own clumsy responses to the scandal, Governor Cuomo is still beating Republican challenger Rob Astorino by nearly 30 points. “Is the governor’s race all over? Did it ever start?” Quinnipiac pollster Mickey Carroll said in a statement.

The bottom line is that the GOP has become almost completely marginalized in statewide politics. The party doesn’t hold a single statewide office and seems incapable of mounting a serious challenge for those positions.

Aggressive gerrymandering and some skillful political maneuvering in Albany has allowed Republicans to cling to a fragile quasi-majority in the state Senate, staving off complete irrelevance, but even in those races voters statewide prefer Democratic politicians by wide margins. (When you add up all the votes cast in state Senate races, Democrats garner significantly more support.)

This is deeply problematic, and Republicans have no one to blame but themselves. There is no reason that the party of Teddy Roosevelt, Nelson Rockefeller, Alphonse D’Amato and George Pataki shouldn’t be able to provide a credible, coherent alternative for voters, particularly when Democrats are busily shaming themselves in Albany.

Unfortunately, the GOP has steadily eroded its own popularity with average New Yorkers while falling into a deadly cycle of feuds and embraces with the Conservative Party and the Tea Party. Rather than producing a sound, detailed plan that would attract a wider base of support, Republicans continue to be wooed by national red-button issues that just don’t play well in the Empire state, from gun rights to opposition to gay marriage to hostility to Obamacare.

Republicans have also failed to embrace the reality of a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic New York. Instead of recruiting candidates of color, bringing blacks, Hispanics and Asians into leadership posts, and developing issues and ideas that address the problems of minority voters, too many GOP leaders have continued to rely on old narratives about “Upstate vs. Downstate” and “New York state versus New York City.” Everyone understands what those code-phrases mean. We get how the battle lines are drawn.

But the demographic imperative for abandoning that fight is clear. Only 70% of New Yorkers are white. That’s ten percent fewer than in the nation as a whole and the numbers of whites are certain to dwindle rapidly census by census. If Republicans hope to compete, and provide a viable choice to voters, they need to end their reliance on one demographic group as a base of support.

The alternative is what we’re seeing now. Even when significant questions are being raised about the Democratic leadership, their ideas, their ethics, a majority of New York voters simply don’t see the GOP as an option. It may be that scandals and outrages will grow serious enough by November to change that in 2014, but I’m skeptical.

Rob Astorino has proved himself to be an able campaigner. He’s a veteran politician with some interesting ideas. Voters should be giving him a serious look. But right now, the burden of his party’s brand is just too heavy. Forced to choose between a candidate like Cuomo, now viewed by many as flawed, and a Republican Party viewed by many New Yorkers as flatly unacceptable, a lot of voters don’t see any choice at all.

One candidate can’t change that dynamic. But the GOP’s leadership needs to go to the mountaintop and think hard about its values, its message, its demographic appeal. It’s not enough to wait around and hope that the Democrats will continue blowing themselves up. Republicans need to once again become a credible, familiar, viable choice for all New Yorkers, from the Bronx and Brooklyn to Buffalo and Plattsburgh.


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24 Comments on “It’s times like these that NY needs a vibrant GOP”

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  1. Observer says:

    What we need is an opposition party that doesn’t think women and people of color are second class citizens, doesn’t seek constant foreign conflicts that cost Americans lives, that doesn’t give unending handouts to corporations and the rich, and that doesn’t see poverty as a problem created by the “lazy.”

    So, yeah, the idea that the GOP could be that party is hilarious – how about a call for real media criticism of the politicians that doesn’t set-up a false horse race between two lousy runners?

    Or better yet, a media that isn’t so in bed with politicians that they actual expose graft and corruption and the impact of bought and sold elections?

  2. Brian Mann says:

    Observer –

    In this instance, the media DID expose the problems you’re complaining about. We’re talking about this ONLY because of a three month investigation by the New York Times.

    Cuomo and Silver have been grilled on this stuff by the press for weeks.

    The fact is that journalists care about and report upon corruption and the influence of money in politics far more than the general public seems to care about those issues, according to surveys.

    Finally, it may be a horse race between two ‘lousy runners,’ but it’s not a ‘false’ horse race. For the moment, at least, there are two viable political parties in the US.

    We have a number of third-party Green candidates on the ballot this year in New York (and here in the North Country) and the Conservative Party also occasionally puts forth a candidate.

    But it would be factually inaccurate to suggest that they have a real shot at winning.

    We plan to spend a fair amount of time this fall reporting on why that dynamic exists. But it does exist.

    So at the very least we need our two major parties to provide some alternatives. Right now, most New York voters just don’t see the GOP that way.

    –Brian, NCPR

  3. Jim Bullard says:

    Well Brian, From what I’ve seen/read Astorino is no prize either so I suspect it’s a case of “the devil you know”. I heard a quote from Mario Cuomo once saying that Andrew is smarter than he was. Shrewder maybe but I’m not convinced that Andrew has anywhere near the intellect of his father. Where is a contemporary Theodore Roosevelt when you need one?

    On sidetrack I was puzzled by your stats that “only 70% of New Yorkers are white”, 10% fewer than the national average. We are continually being told that whites are on the verge of becoming a minority. If whites number 80% of the US population that’s a long way from “becoming a minority”.

  4. Brian Mann says:

    I’m not suggesting that Astorino is preferable and no politician in my experience is ever a white knight. My main point really is that he’s not even being given a look by most voters because of his party’s brand.

    Jim – Your question about my numbers is a good one. I used some outdated numbers and some clumsy math.

    Updated figures go like this: The US is 72.4% white as of the 2010 Census. In NY the percentage was roughly 65%. The Census has estimated that by 2043 (about thirty years from now) birth rates and immigration will render whites a plurality but no longer a majority.

    Already, as if last year, “America’s racial and ethnic minorities now make up about half of the under-5 age group,” according to the US government’s surveys.

    So the trend isn’t immediate, but it’s present enough now to make it important for any serious political party to pay attention and modulate their approach.

    Sorry for the foggy math in the OP.

    –Brian, NCPR

  5. CouchDog says:

    Have to remember not a majority, doesn’t = minority

    There was a bit on the Daily Show (Larry Wilmore) that pointed this out.. I don’t know the stats.. but the implication was in 2043, the country might be 45% white, but the other 55% would be a combination of other ethnic groups. so people voted along color lines….there will still be more whites…

    Let’s hope long before that we no longer think of issues (including the GOP for that matter) as color driven… For example, doesn’t matter if you are white or black or green… 1% of the country controls 90% of the wealth… and now that money is a person and has unlimited conversations with politicians many of or laws (as in tax loopholes) do not favor the bottom 60-90%, regardless of complexion

  6. The Original Larry says:

    Gun rights don’t play well in the Empire State? North of Westchester County they do. “Upstate vs. Downstate” might be an old narrative, but it’s still true.

  7. When will you mainstream media folks realize there are more than two options on the ballot? Democrats and Republicans have shared control of this state forever (only 3 years out of the last 70 has one party had control of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the legislature… the mess is bipartisan).

    The systemic problems have been caused by Democrats AND Republicans and they’re not going to be fixed by sending ONLY Democrats and Republicans. You need to send a third (or fourth or more) force to shake things up. Call it physics (inertia/momentum), call it chemistry (a catalyst)… how about just calling it good old fashioned common sense.

  8. Brian Mann says:

    Actually, Larry – No. Gun rights don’t play well in the Empire state. Two thirds of New Yorkers support the SAFE Act. Two thirds. When you get to the point where you’re trying to build your political brand around an idea that only a third of registered voters support, you’re in trouble as a party. That’s just a reality.

    Brian (MOFYC) – You’re right. A paragraph in this story should have heaped equal criticism on third parties for not getting off their hindquarters and offering voters another realistic and viable alternative.

    While scolding Republicans for embracing policies that disqualify them in the minds of many voters statewide, I should have also scolded Greens and Conservatives and Working Family activists and other movements for not doing the hard work of organizing, fundraising, grassroots activism, etc., that would actually get some members elected to the state Assembly or Senate or dog-catcher or what-have you.

    So here’s my equal-opportunity chide: A democracy needs serious alternatives. In New York that means serious alternatives to the Democratic Party. Everybody else needs to get off their butts and get to work so we can have valid choices when we go to the ballot box.

    –Brian, NCPR

  9. You can discount Conservative and Working Families “parties” because they’re not real parties. They’re just factions of the two corporate parties. They only ever endorse corporate party candidates. They don’t offer a real choice. The main alternatives are Libertarians and Greens.

    And I suggest you get off your hind quarters and report on those candidates when they do arise. You shouldn’t be expect to do their job, but you should be expected to yours.

    Rather than perpetuating the vicious circle (a candidate can’t raise money until he’s seen as viable, he’s not seen as viable until he gets media attention but he won’t get media attention until the media decrees him viable)…. try reporting on ALL the candidates and let US decide who’s “viable” and who isn’t.

    NCPR’s actually doing an okay job in this Congressional race. The sainted (in Albany insider circles) Karen Dewitt’s getting an F in the gubernatorial race (and an F- in all the other statewide races, which she’s virtually ignored).

  10. PS-Part of “grassroots activism” nowadays is ordinary people like me pushing mainstream journalists to do their jobs properly. You’re one of the better ones (especially in non-campaign stories). Unfortunately the bar’s not very high. Smaller parties don’t receive huge corporate bribes… I mean “donations”… so mainstream media’s more important to getting their message out. And social media. And word of mouth. And visiting the district. Funiciello’s campaign is doing all of these things and he’s having an impact on the race… but only because some media are actually doing their job and covering him similarly to the other two.

  11. Brian Mann says:

    Brian (MOFYC)

    You and I just disagree on this point. Bluntly, I think the weakness of your argument is actually revealed in this conversation. You want us in the “mainstream” media to get out there and be the arbiters of who matters enough to get a lot of coverage, even if they’re not moving the needle at all in the political process.

    But then you opine that for various reasons you think two of our most prominent ‘third’ parties don’t actually deserve serious coverage. That’s pretty arbitrary and subjective. If you want journalists to play gate-keeper and king-maker, I think you have to come up with more rigorous standards than that.

    But my main quibble with your argument has always been that I think serious politicians and parties who seriously want to change the dialogue find ways to be serious contenders. When they do that, they’ll get tons of coverage. In this particular race, I think the jury is still out on Matt Funiciello’s campaign. He’s a strong local candidate with a coherent message and a great bio as a small businessman. Can he actually organize and mobilize a competitive campaign?

    The answer to that question isn’t all down to corporate dollars — that’s a cop-out. If he’s clever and organized, and can mobilize Green Party small-ball donors nationwide, he could raise significant cash and put together an exciting group of activists in the North Country. So far I haven’t seen that happen. And he absolutely cannot live or die in this race on the attention of news reporters. Nor should he.

    –Brian, NCPR

  12. The Original Larry says:

    I said gun rights play well north of Westchester County. Besides, where do you get the 60% figure? I don’t recall having an opportunity to vote on the Safe Act. Even Coumo said he didn’t want to ban all guns so does he support “gun rights” or is that more phoney rhetoric?

  13. Mr. Kent says:

    The SAFE act, ” gun rights” poll by Quinnipiac from April2013. Every time a new poll is taken the approval rating for the ACT rises.

    12. Do you support or oppose the stricter new gun control laws in New York State?

    Support ( Approve)Total 63% …Republicans 43% (4% of those surveyed had no opinion) …Democrats 83% Independents 54% …Men 54% ….Women…71% …By ethnicity, White 60% ….Black 74% …Hispanic 74%…

    Approval of the SAFE Act by region: Upstate 48% approve 50% oppose. NYC 79% approve…Suburbs 66% approve….Urban 73%

    It is reasonable and accurate to say that the SAFE Act has the support of nearly two thirds of all NY State residents. It is wildly popular in NYC and Urban areas. As far as ” North of Westchester?”…It is evenly split as the 2% difference is within the margin of error for any survey.

    It should be noted also that many of those who oppose the SAFE Act and stricter gun laws do NOT WANT IT REPEALED, the want it “tweaked.”

    And that is that. It is not going away , it has the peoples approval. Like it or not.

    Link to the survey and other surveys regarding NY State can be found here.

  14. TomL says:

    While I am sympathetic to Brian Mann’s concern, I really object to the title and focus of his post. “It’s times like these that NY needs a vibrant GOP” is advocacy – advocacy for a party that, based on the expressed will of the voters, has an ideology that is repugnant to the majority of voters over most of the state.

    Why not “It’s times like these that NY needs a vibrant second party”? Two (or more) real parties (we all ignore paper-parties like the Working Family and Conservative) would be beneficial – we all are too familiar with how bad single party government can be. But why the Republicans? Why not the Whigs? They haven’t been very competitive for a while either, but had some good ideas in their time.

    Seriously, it is ‘times like these’ that call for the emergence of new parties. Maybe the Greens, probably something else. I agree very little with TeaPartiers, but I do agree that there is a need for some fresh political energy. Brian Mann, why not think out of the Washington/Albany box, and consider the need for a new party (or parties) that better fit the aspirations of the US electorate, and the aspirations of those who chose not to be politically active because the current options are too unappealing?

  15. Mr Boccagaloo says:

    Take a look at the Democratic leadership and legislators in St Lawrence Co with their costly promotion of the rooftop highway, their cozy relationship with the Wladis law/lobbying firm, their conflicts of interest, their thinking about the use of gaming money and on and on. The Republican legislative candidates should be taking them to the cleaners on these but they are not—at least not yet.

  16. Greg F says:

    The SAFE act, ” gun rights” poll by Quinnipiac from April2013. Every time a new poll is taken the approval rating for the ACT rises.

    I suppose in this case ignorance of the law is an excuse. John Adams observed:

    And that the desires of the majority of the people are often for injustice and inhumanity against the minority, is demonstrated by every page of history…

    There is a reason the founders chose a republic over a democracy.

  17. wj says:

    Al D’Amato doesn’t belong in the same list as Teddy, Rockefeller and even Pataki. Those three could win elections by presenting their ideas and supporting them with (mostly) honest arguments.

    D’Amato was too willing to engage in Atwater-esque (and then Rove-ian) tactics of outright lies to attack opponents or even former allies who became insufficiently fundamentalist or radicalized.

    And that’s the problem with the GOP. The party still has some good ideas, though almost all of them are simple, spend-less policies. On the national level, Republicans have abdicated leadership. They do only what their corporate sponsors tell them to do, which is screw the vast majority of Americans by concentrating money and political power in the hands of the obscenely rich and even more obscenely greedy.

    FWIW, I think most Democrats do only what their big donors want them to do, too. It’s just that people who donate to Democrats actually want the middle class to have some money and buying power and therefore some political heft.

    I’d love to vote for Republicans again. But until the GOP stops its slash-and-burn politics of division and exclusion, I can’t. I won’t. I know our government and therefore we suffer for my partisanship, but I can’t vote for candidates who proudly proclaim an intent to de-fund infrastructure projects, dismantle the programs that for generations have prevented abject poverty and suffering, deny voting rights to a wide swath of people and subject women to lethal, 19th Century laws that take away their personal liberties and healthcare options. I will not cast a vote for someone who wants to dismantle the country I grew up in — or even those, like Astorino, who associate with them.

    You’re right, Brian, we do need a more vibrant GOP. But first we need the party to abandon its lunatic politics of destruction.

  18. Jim Mcculley says:

    WJ, the Republicans are the party of division?? Wow we have a Governor that said he wanted people that disagree with him to get out of the state. You may disagree with Republicans that’s fine but the Democrats are attempting to silence all opposition by calling anyone disagreeing a racist homophobe and anti women. The real problem in NY is there is no difference between the Republican and Democrat Party. You also have to remember people that want to work move out of New York for jobs. People that want to live off public assistance move to NY. You would have to have a job making $38,004 per year in NY to match public assistance payouts. That’s higher than starting salary for a teacher. Guess which way they’re voting?

  19. Mr. Kent says:

    Greg F: Such hubris you display to assume those who have a different opinion than yours must be ignorant of an issue. Your take on it, a very common one, goes something like this: ” If you only knew what I was saying you would agree with me, but since you do not agree with me, then you are ignorant of the facts.”

    Consider for just a moment that you are not the smartest guy in the room and the only one who can be right. Could it be? Perhaps the people ” do get it” and are just as smart and informed as you?

    You want a John Adams quote? Well here ya go, and it has as much relevance to the survey and it’s meaning as your quote:

    “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” John Adams

  20. dbw says:

    For those of us who grew up in NYS we remember a vibrant MODERATE Republican Party. There was a time when Miller (Goldwater’s running mate) Jacob Javits and John Lindsay were all members of the Republican Party in good standing. It was a party that was socially moderate and tolerant but also fiscally responsible and firm on crime. That approach would still sell well to many NY voters.

  21. Mr. Kent says:

    dbw- What you said is true in my opinion, and sadly, not one of those men could make it through a Republican primary today unless he pandered to far right talking points. Ronald Regan, if people looked at his record objectively, could not make it through a Republican primary today.

    A 2012 CNN exit poll showed the following: “whites have cast at least 90 percent of the votes in every Republican primary except Florida (83 percent) and Arizona (89 percent). ”

    “in the 2008 general election, whites cast only 74 percent of the total vote.”

    Voters over 50 cast between 55% and 71% of those votes.

  22. Mervel says:

    I think there is an opportunity now for New York conservatives and the NYS GOP to form an alternative to the Tea Party. The fact is the NYS GOP does not seem passionate about its platform or ideas.

    I totally agree that the hot button GOP cultural/ red meat ideas don’t play well in NYS at all. I do think an opening exists in NYS and nationally for fired up middle of the road fiscal conservatives. The centerpiece of their platform is NOT going to be pro guns, anti-gay rights, abortion and Obama hating.

    The core would more likely be promoting real business based solutions to re-create NYS as a good place to do business as a leader again in industry, science and technology. This in itself will be controversial enough; but I think it could garner some real support. What would that mean? It would mean you have to take on the entrenched forces that benefit from the current system, it would mean a pretty radical reduction in taxes for the highest taxed state in the Union, and it would mean really being pro-business.

  23. Mervel says:

    From a spending point of view, the question must be asked of this current NYS Democratic Party; we have the highest taxes in the nation, yet where is the education (we don’t rank at the top we rank in the middle to bottom half of states) where is the anti-poverty programs (again we have more poor than many states that tax much less), where is all of the great things which a sound larger government would provide?

    NYS is a very poor example to hold up for those who believe in large scale government.

    I renewed GOP would not be talking about slashing government programs, it would be talking about re-aligning programs that actually work, about radically changing how we spend our money. Infrastructure is not a large part of our state budget for example.

  24. Walker says:

    Mervel, the thing about our tax rate is beside the point. Our wealthy school districts spend lavishly on public education, but our poorer districts do not. It’s all politics.

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