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Commentary: The Cuomo-McCall race

Monday, December 17, 2001

The andrew cuomo-carl mcall race for the democratic nomination for governor next year is off to a racially-charged start. that’s bad news for a party still recovering from the divisive ending of the Mark Green - Fernando Ferrer mayoral campaign. WNYC’s Brian Lehrer says maybe the problem is the rules.



Brian: The number one rule of racial politicking seems to be: do it every day, but don’t ever admit it.

For example:

Ferrer’s slogan ‘the other new york’ was chosen to sound like he was just class conscious to whites, while winking at blacks at latinos that they knew who “the other new york” really was.

But Ferrer’s white opponents did the same thing. by denouncing “the other new york” as racially divisive, they were claiming to be for color blind politics while criticizing ferrer precisely to inspire white rage and white turnout.

Same thing with mark green and the sharpton cartoon controversy. if published reports are accurate, green publicly PRAISED sharpton while his campaign quietly helped pass out anti-sharpton literature in white neighborhoods to gin up the fear for political gain.

Ferrer played a similar game, according to published reports about HIM, withdrawing his longtanding support last year from bronx congressman eliot engel, who’s jewish, to help a black challenger. He did this, reportedly, in exchange for the promise of sharpton’s endorsement in the mayoral race.

In fairness, Both green and ferrer deny those reports about them. But they are the kind of double agent silliness that seems to define racial politics these days.

Which brings us to 2002.

We didn’t even know the winner of the mayoral race yet on election night when andrew cuomo got caught on tape saying mccall would be the second installment in a racial contract. In other words, that mccall helped deliver black votes for ferrer, so now latino leaders will help HIM.
And cuomo said that can’t be allowed to happen. Publicly, cuomo claimed he was quoted out of context. But it was another example of the disconnect between the realities of racial politics and what’s publicly acceptable. Cuomo never would have used the words “racial contract” if knew he was being taped even though it’s exactly what he meant.

Of course, racial contracts have been the norm in new york politics for decades if not centuries. Don’t kid yourself. Laguardia got elected because he was a yiddish-speaking italian.

So let’s change the rules.

New Rule number one: you may discuss racial interests in a campaign. Ferrer could have said there’s an other new york of haves and have nots - unfortunately they are mostly blacks and latinos. And I’m for including them.

New Rule number two: you may criticize leaders of other groups without being branded a racist. : It would have been okay for green to say sharpton raises many important issues but he’s a little divisive in his rhetoric sometimes, dontcha think?

New Rule number three: you may treat ethnic politics like any other politics. Carl Mcall could say yes I had a deal with ferrer. But it’s no dirtier to trade votes among ethnic group leaders than it is to trade them among leaders of unions or different boros or any other political group.

And andrew cuomo could say sure it’s okay. But it doesn’t help me so I’m going to knock it.


No one’s going play by those rules any time soon. But if we give up the mythical ideal of non-racial politics, new york democrats and everyone else might be better off. Avoiding racism is not the same as avoiding race.


Anchor: WNYC's Brian Lehrer. You can hear his call-in show weekdays at 10am on am820 and 93.9fm.

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