Tuesday, November 08, 2005

More on the new breed of "outsider" candidates


Since I referred to Clyde Haberman's column on the new political realities, I thought I might as well pass it on as well.

The New York Times, November 8, 2005
New Leaders? Outsiders Are In


ANYTHING can happen, but unless every pollster is deranged or on a crack high, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg will be re-elected today and Fernando Ferrer will head toward wherever it is that three-time losers go.

By now, it has been amply noted that this will be the fourth straight Republican triumph in a city that is overwhelmingly Democratic. But arguably more important, it will be the fourth victory in a row for someone not constrained by the usual straitjackets of New York politics.

Rudolph W. Giuliani was first. Mr. Bloomberg is even more of an outsider, having spent most of his life doing something other than run for office or collect a government paycheck. Clearly, unconventional résumés are in. New Yorkers are not frightened by either a large bankroll or a party label. Polls say that Mr. Ferrer has struck out trying to sell Mr. Bloomberg as nothing but a clueless tycoon joined at the hip with President Bush.

So here are some questions as we look beyond Election 2005:

Can still more talented outsiders be encouraged to seek high office? And can it be done without their having to be mega-rich? We asked a bunch of political scientists and other experts (whose thoughtful responses, regrettably, must be squeezed, along with their titles, to fit this space).

A consensus felt that, yes, "we need to increase the gene pool of our elected officials beyond the professional pols," to quote Douglas Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College. It will not be easy, he said. Unfortunately, any outsider probably has to be "a gazillionaire." Modern campaigns are just too expensive.

Money, however, "can't totally hide a bad record or a poor message," said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union. The last two mayors, he said, have shown that candidates "who can appeal to a broader common interest over a compilation of special interests will dominate future elections."

Some see the Republican Party, a perennial outsider in New York politics, as a good vehicle for newcomers. "Historically, out-parties often turn to nontraditional candidacies," said Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Steven Malanga, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, said the Democrats' problem was that they have "largely put forward a series of candidates who spent years waiting their turns." The local party has failed, he said, to tap the energies of Wall Street types who are active in national Democratic politics.

Jonathan Bowles, research director for the more liberal Center for an Urban Future, tends to agree. Local Democrats, he said, would be "wise to either look beyond their usual farm system or choose a pol who's not afraid to buck the party line on some issues."

Not that New York Republicans want for problems of their own.

THEY could "make the system more competitive from the bottom up" by fielding candidates at all levels, said John H. Mollenkopf, a political scientist at the City University of New York Graduate Center. Instead, the Republicans often throw in the towel. This year, they did not even bother to compete for two of the three citywide offices: comptroller and public advocate.

William B. Eimicke, a professor of public administration at Columbia University, suggests that colleges, civic groups, newspapers and television stations could do more to give "potential new leaders a forum to show what they know and what they can do."

For Fred Siegel, a history professor at Cooper Union, the key is to "enlarge the electorate by appealing to those who see city government as a kind of private business," one such group being "the disaffected middle class."

As for that eternal gremlin, money, its importance may become less crucial in time, said Mitchell L. Moss, a professor of public policy at New York University and an unpaid adviser to Mr. Bloomberg. The Internet "will eventually emerge as the principal way in which candidates communicate with voters," he predicted, and that "should lower the cost of running for office."

But until that day, candidates and voters will remain prisoners of expensive television advertising. Mr. Bloomberg has suggested that television stations level the playing field on their own by charging a good deal less for political commercials.

An interesting thought. For now, though, it is probably best filed under the heading of Fat Chance.

E-mail: Haberman@nytimes.com



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