Gwen Verdon, Méphistophélès and the Democratic Mayoral Primary: Will UFT Troops, or a Contract With Beelzebub Decide the Election?

Every few hours on my TV screen I see New Yorkers rag on Christine Quinn, an example of negative campaigning – welcome to the world of big time politics.

All the Democratic candidates are participating in the NYC Campaign Finance which provides matching funds for the primary and the general election. Outside organizations, “third parties,” can spend unlimited funds supporting or opposing candidates. The current nasty ads erode Quinn’s lead – such is the world of politics in the 21st century.

On September 10th voters who are registered in the Democratic Party, at least some of them, will go to the polls to cast their ballots for a mayoral candidate, a comptroller and public advocate, all of which require 40% to avoid a runoff, two, or maybe three weeks later. In addition most voters will choose a borough president and a city council candidate; there is no 40% rule requirement in non-citywide races.

The experts, the political consulting firms charge big dollars to run campaigns – and they’re very good at it

Check out Red Horse Strategies, Brown, Miller Groupand Bill Lynch Associates, among many others.

The Brown, Miller Group promises,

IT’S ABOUT THE DATA. Every direct contact plan needs to be built on a foundation of detailed analysis. Turnout trends, polling, tested messages, the things unique to every client, every campaign, and every neighborhood – these nuances and individualities are the basis of a successful mail program.

Data is available in an endless array, by geography, by race and ethnicity, by gender, by age, by frequency of voting, by type of dwelling, Prime NY will sell you the data disaggregated any way you choose.

For candidates a core question: who are the voters and who are your voters?

In November 2012 I stood in line for over two hours to vote – the line was overwhelmingly Obama voters, and, as I chatted with voters on the line many had not voted since 2008. Most experts expect a relatively light turnout in spite of six Democratic contenders (Quinn, Thompson, Liu, De Blasio, Weiner and Albanese). None of the candidates are magnetic, yes, Asian voters, if they are registered Democrats are Liu voters, the furthest left are De Blasio voters, Afro-American voters are probably Thompson voters, LGT voters are Quinn voters, none of the candidate constituencies have the passion of Obama voters.

The experts are predicting between 600 and 700,000 voters – in a city of 8 million plus residents. New York City has among the lowest level of voter turnout in the nation, and, the percentages are declining. New York is at the bottom of the nation in citizen participation in elections,

New York ranks among the lowest states with voter turnouts. In 2010, only 35 percent voted according to a George Mason University study.

“New York City had lower voter turnout in the presidential elections in 2008 than any other major city in the country,” said Amy Loprest, executive director of the Campaign Finance Board said. “While I don’t think any jurisdiction would say that they have great voter turnout, I think that New York has a particular problem.”

In 2001 785,000 Democrats voted in the mayoral primary and 790,000 in the runoff. In the 2005 and 2009 general elections the Democratic turnouts were meager, (Ferrer – 503,000 and Thompson – 534,000), and, yes, Democratic voters did “cross-over” and vote for Bloomberg.

The early media buys are examples of negative campaigning, effective in diminishing the votes of opponents, and generally turns off voters and decreases turnouts.

Candidates “mine” data: the key voters are “prime” (voted in three of the last four elections) and “double prime” voters (voted in four of the last four elections). Websites provide keys to collecting voter information.

See an excellent site here.

I am told by a knowledgeable consultant that the average age of a voter in the Democratic primary is sixty years of age, and more likely than a younger voter to have a land line. Polling organizations randomly call registered Democrats with land lines; the many potential voters with only cell phones are not polled.

Christine Quinn has been leading all the polls for months; however her early lead, which was approaching the 40% mark, has eroded significantly. Nate Silver in his NY Times Five Thirty Eight column does an analysis of Democratic primaries since 1989 and predicts Quinn will be the winner.

The latest poll, a Marist May 28th poll predicts a very close vote on September 10th,
• 24% Christine Quinn
• 19% Anthony Weiner
• 12% Bill de Blasio
• 11% Bill Thompson
• 8% John Liu
• 1% Sal Albanese
• 23% Undecided

The next polls, due in a few weeks will reflect whether Weiner has “staying power,” the impact of the negative ads aimed at Quinn and the impact of the recent union endorsements.

Paul Egan, the UFT Political Action Coordinator avers that 60,000 UFT members are registered Democrats residing in New York City and if you count UFT households about 100,000 voters – a significant chunk of the expected turnout.

No wonder the candidates are acolytes of Gwen Verdon in “Damn Yankees.” (Watch U-Tube of “Whatever Lola Wants”). The favorite play and opera among the candidates is Faust, and, a political consulting firm named Mephistopheles Strategies would probably be overwhelmed with clients.

Michael Mulgrew half-jokingly lamented, “I’m going to go from six really close ‘friends’ to one ‘friend.'” The UFT will be endorsing a candidate at the Delegate Meeting scheduled for the afternoon of June 19th.

The candidates will spend the summer attending every event they can find, from bar-b-ques to street fairs, from baseball games to cricket matches, trying to scrape together a vote here and a vote there – a percentage point may very well determine who makes the runoff.

This is a particularly difficult year – the Thursday and Friday before the September 10th primary is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and one of the holiest days of the year; a key time in which campaigning will be limited.

The acronym which will decide the winner(s) is GOTV.

GOTY = Get Out the Vote. You’ve spent months identifying your voters, getting out your message, now; you must take that last step and make sure they get to the polling place. TV and radio and social media allow you to frame your message – GOTV determines winners.

Both in 2008 and 2012 Obama had an army, millions of foot soldiers knocking on the right doors. Endorsements are helpful, phone banks important, the “decider” is the push in the last four days, the GOTV efforts. Can you knock on the tens of thousands of doors of voters who have indicated they are your voters – not random doors? Get Out The Vote means get out your vote.

Can the UFT get their 60,000 registered Democrat voters go door to door on the weekend of September 7-8 and ask, “Can I depend on you to go the poll on Tuesday and vote for _______?”

The vast percentage of potential voters are far more concerned with ups and downs of their favorite sports teams, the woes of the Yankees and the Mets and the upcoming football season – the Giants and the Jets. My neighbor is more interested in the latest episode of the Game of Thrones than the election, in fact, the citizenry is only vaguely aware that Bloomberg can’t run again. Voters will only focus on the election in mid-August, if at all.

Can a teacher who favors candidate “A” be convinced to switch his/her vote to the candidate that the UFT endorses? The election may hinge on this crucial question.

If Michael Mulgrew can get his troops into the field – he can make a mayor – if not, the specter of 2001 – the UFT endorsed three losers and an unknown who had never been involved in politics seized the office – once again, can a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic city be elected, or, can a Democrat hostile to unions grab the scepter and the orb?

Perhaps Winston Churchill said it best,

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter” and “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

See NY Times article re power of labor unions in NYC mayoral election.


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