An Old Fashion Dog Fight in the Big Apple:
The 1998 U.S. Senate race in New York is one of the most heated and competitive political battles in the country. New York has traditionally been a place where only the strong willed, and tough at heart could compete; a place where crafty tactics, extensive connections, and stocks of cash are essential aspects of political competition. This year’s combat field of a campaign has been no exception. The two primary candidates, 60 year old, incumbent, republican, Alfonse D’Amato, and 47 year old, democratic challenger, Charles E. Schumer, have been pitted against each other, head to head, for much of the campaign. Both candidates have strong backgrounds and powerful messages while also pursuing rather abrasive, aggressive, and, in some instances, vindictive strategies. Most current polls have the two contestants neck and neck, with Schumer gaining a slight advantage in recent days. The fact of the matter is that D’Amato is a strong politician that knows how to get things done; however, he also flaunts a capricious, and impulsive style. With Al D’Amato, “what you see is what you get, and what you get is often vital, sometimes useful and always unpredictable.”1 Schumer, on the other hand, offers the qualities of a serious lawmaker with more rooted values, sounder policy positions and a deeper commitment to the common good; in addition, a deeper compassion for the average citizen, and a professional tact and probity that each and every politician should exhibit. It seems that it is time for a change; New York needs to be able to supply the Senate and our nation with strong and balanced leadership. Leadership that best benefits, reflects, and represents the quite diverse and heterogeneous population of New York. It seems that the people of New York, might have just had enough with D’Amato and his consistent embarrassing remarks and behavior on the floor of one of the most prominent and distinguished institutions of our land. Though the outcome should surely prove to be excitingly close, I feel comfortable predicting Charles Schumer the victor of the grueling contest.
New York as a political state has a variety of significant characteristics. It is one of the largest and most diverse states in the union, with a population of approximately 18.2 million people, housing a broad range of ethnicities, races, and income brackets. The population is made up primarily of Caucasians (76.4% of voter pop.), African American’s (14.7% of voter pop.), Hispanics (11.2% of voter pop.), and Asians(3.8% of pop.).2 When most people think of New York, they think of New York City; however, it is important to note, that about 16% of the state is rural.3 Further, the population is also relatively young, with a median age of about 35 and only 13% of the of the population over the age of 65.4 In terms of an educated electorate, almost 45% of the population has a college education.5 New York is typically the most Democratic of the larger states. The Democratic influence used to come from middle-income Jews and Catholics in the outer boroughs of New York City who still account for a large portion of the population.6 However, today, the Democratic vote comes from African Americans, Puerto Ricans and liberal Manhattan whites.7 New York holds great influence in presidential elections as well, with 33 electoral votes, the second-highest number behind California’s 54. While in presidential politics the Empire State tends to vote Democratic, in state politics voters have trended Republican.8 New Yorkers elected Republican Rudy Giuliani as New York City mayor in 1993 and again in 1997 and chose Republican George Pataki as governor in 1994. More specifically, the state has about 47% registered Democrats and 30% registered Republicans.9 Moreover, New Yorkers tend to vote in relatively the same proportion as the rest of the nation; in 1996, approximately 48% of the voter population actually voted.10
The incumbent candidate, Alfonse D’Amato is a 60 year old, Italian, Roman Catholic, three-term republican senator.11 He was first elected to the senate in 1980, and won reelection in 1986 in a landslide victory. His reelection in 1992 was much closer, where he procured 47% of the vote, and his opponent 41%.12 Prior to being elected to the senate, D’Amato participated extensively in local politics, securing a number of local elected positions; as well as practicing law.13 He presently serves on the Appropriations and Select Intelligence committees; and chairs the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.14 When examining D’Amato, one has to admire the energy and “bulldog” drive that he has displayed in his 18 years in Washington; there is no doubt that he is a fighter, and he gets things done. Whether it’s to get a bigger and fairer share of the pie for his region’s transportation needs, to force the Swiss government to face up to its responsibilities to Holocaust victims, to stand up for gay rights, to fight for breast cancer research funds, or to make sure that every pothole in the state is filled, D’Amato pursues his goals with single-minded determination and a seeming love of battle. Though, their is the darker side of D’Amato. He has consistently, throughout his tenure as senator, exhibited an impulsive style where he often says and does things without thinking. He has been known to insult just about every ethnic, religious, and constituency group their is. Further, D’Amato has been known to cater more to the large donators and big political interests, than to his own constituents. On a number of issues, he has also been seen to be too far to the right for most New Yorkers; such issues include his support of the shutting down of the government as well as his opposition to gun control. Yes, he does bring home a good portion of bacon, but he seems more devoted to special interest than to the people. D’Amato, enjoys a modest advantage in the suburban areas (46%) and residential areas (48%) as well as among whites (47%).
The challenger, democrat, Charles E. Schumer, is a 47 year old, Jewish, nine term Congressmen representing the Ninth Congressional District in Brooklyn and Queens.15 Schumer serves as a senior member of the Committee on Banking and Financial Services and on the Judiciary Committee, where he is the highest ranking Democrat on the Crime Subcommittee.16 Prior to running for a position in the House, Schumer was elected to the New York State Assembly at the age of 23, the youngest since Theodore Roosevelt.17 It has been written that “in Schumer, D’Amato faces his most able, most talented opponent.”18 Schumer has been a uniquely effective legislator whose intelligence, analytical ability and unusual willingness to forge bipartisan coalitions has resulted in substantial legislation. Most notably perhaps, Schumer is best-known for having championed the Brady bill’s five-day waiting period for handgun purchases and the assault weapons ban that was enacted as part of the 1994 crime bill.19 In addition, like D’Amato, Schumer is a quintessential New Yorker; he’s aggressive, intense, and by no means shy to take credit for his accomplishments. Important to note, is that in more than 25 years in public life and 18 in the House of Representatives, he has managed to carve out a solid and moderate record. He has been the House Democrats’ leader on crime-fighting, crusading for more money for police and prisons, tougher sentencing laws, tighter gun control and capital punishment. His legislative record is impressive; he has been effective chiefly because he seems to understand that it is essential to combine traditional liberal concerns on issues such as gun control with equal demonstrations of concern about issues such as neighborhood crime. Schumer does have his weaknesses. Primarily, this lies in his relative disillusion to upstate interests. Schumer has been a representative of urban interests for as long as he’s been in politics. He tends to have a weak stance on rural interests, and this could prove to substantially effect him at the polls. Indeed, Schumer enjoys a rather large advantage in New York City (61%), and with Hispanics (67%) and Blacks (68%).
Unfortunately, particular strategies and tactics pursued by the respective candidates during the election has clouded much of their positive attributes. Both candidates certainly contributed their fair share of negative 30 second Ad bits. D’Amato, however, is the king of the negative ad. His attack on Schumer, one of the hardest-working and most conscientious members of Congress, for missing votes is outrageous and grossly distorted. This is how D’Amato has always run his campaigns though, by knocking down the other guy; and, indeed, this is where the reality of modern American politics seems to be heading, for good or for worse. The record certainly shows that D’Amato is one of the most enthusiastic practitioners of this “black art” and that anyone running against him would have no choice but to attempt to “respond in kind or be buried in an avalanche of mud.”20 So, indeed, Schumer has replied, airing his own attacks; questioning D’Amato’s truthfulness and his ethics. Both candidates also have attempted to capitalize on each and everyone of their opponents misspoken words, gravely distorting the importance and the underlying reasons of the statements. It has simply become an absurd circus of “look what he said about this and about that.” This negative sentiment was not solely pursued through television ad’s mind you, the two candidates would take every opportunity to bash their opponent: at press conferences, interviews, and the like. The unfortunate result, is that these candidates spent far more money attacking each other, than promoting there own positive images. This strategy has made the campaign one of the most expensive and distasteful campaigns in American history.
On another strategy front, D’Amato has consistently been able to win a large chunk of the Jewish vote in the past; and indeed this has been crucial to his victories. During this election cycle, he has focused a great deal of time and effort on maintaining this advantage. He even went as far as saying “he will beat Schumer in his own backyard.”21 Possibly the strongest argument for D’Amato’s candidacy however, is that in a Republican-controlled Senate he will be an inside force fighting for the interests of New York and the region. It is an argument that cannot be easily dismissed; and it’s an argument D’Amato has been pounding home recently.
Yet another strategy implemented by both candidates, and by most candidates across the nation for that matter, is publicly getting support for their election from other prominent politicians. In the last weeks of the campaign, both Schumer and D’Amato have made a blitz of public appearances with variety of politicians. Schumer could have been seen with President Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Vice President Gore, Senator Moynehan, as well as an assortment of local political leaders. D’Amato got the support of Governor Pataki, Orthodox Jewish leaders, Mayor Giuliani, and a variety of local leaders. This particular strategy has, in the past, proven to be quite effective if the proper mix of supporters is chosen.
The bottom line is that Schumer and D’Amato are both unusually tenacious and dedicated public servants. No matter who wins Nov. 3, New York is going to have a tough-minded, street-smart proponent of its interests in the U.S. Senate. Unfortunately, the campaign was wrought with negativism throughout, with each candidate almost personally pitted against the other. Notably absent from the campaign was discussion on the policy differences between them unfortunately. It is important, also, not to loose sight that the spoils of this election are by no means diminutive. The victor will be provided with nothing less than opportunity to represent, arguably, the strongest constituency in America.
Though, after in depth analysis, it become clear that New York is likely in store for its first new Senator in D’Amato’s spot in 18 years. D’Amato does have an impressive record of not only getting things done, but getting things done for New York. However, he does also have staunch conservative views on a variety of issues which seem to clearly place him out of synch with his constituents. Furthermore, his historic, instinctive, and improper out bursts have embarrassed New Yorkers enough. Chuck Schumer is the more youthful, more tactful, more moderate choice. His record, though not perfect, falls more in line with the sentiment of the New York population. Additionally, New York needs a change; enough is enough. 18 years with the same representative is way too long of a time for such a dynamic urban epicenter like New York. Schumer simply fits the bill at the right time. The overwhelming negative tactics and strategies pursued throughout the campaign are flat out deplorable. Each candidate deserves a portion of the blame. The real issues, the differences in platforms, the policy differences, the differences that mattered were barely brushed over. The campaign came down to who said what, when, and how. It came down to a bickering match between two seemingly engaging candidates with much to bicker about. The electorate is left with a formidable task after the smoke of the battle clears, if it ever does. Who is best for us? The choice is not cut and dry, black and white. In reality, the two candidates aren’t much different, their both hardcore New Yorkers, they both want the best for there home state, and they both have proven themselves to be outstanding at the intriguing, and misunderstood game of politicking. What are the differences? Unfortunately most voters will never know. They were blinded by the overt negativism that plagued the campaign trails. In order to truly uncover the differences, an in depth examination must be partaken. But this is too much to ask for the electorate. When it all comes down to it, Schumer’s advantages should outweigh D’Amato’s shortcomings.