If there were a “mercy” rule in politics, now would be the time to invoke it.
This week, state Democrats completed their takeover of virtually every major political office in the state; on election night, the Big Apple voted in Bill de Blasio as New York’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years and its first progressive executive in far longer. Former MTA chairman and Republican nominee Joe Lhota didn’t stand a chance — de Blasio scored 73 percent of the vote.
The situation statewide for the GOP is hardly any rosier. The mayors of New York’s next 13 largest cities are Democrats. Albany’s next Democratic mayor, Kathy Sheehan, won 80 percent of the vote. New York City’s comptroller is a Democrat. New York state’s comptroller is a Democrat. The state attorney general is a Democrat. The state Assembly is overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats, who control more than seven in 10 seats. The state Senate would be in the hands of Democrats but for a last-minute switcheroo — courtesy of the four-person “Independent Democratic Conference,” who late last year ceded control of the body to the GOP caucus, against the wishes of their constituents. (It’s up in the air whether the quartet will be able to repeat the stunt after Election Day 2014.)
And then there’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat elected by an almost two-to-one margin in 2010, a banner year for conservative Republicans across the country. Barring some unforeseen catastrophe, Cuomo is almost certain to win re-election next fall. The challenge for him? Beating Eliot Spitzer’s electoral record of 69.0 percent of ballots — the highest percentage any candidate for governor has netted in state history. In fact, you have to go back more than 10 years to find a time where Republicans were even competitive (or competent!) in the governor’s race. Even then, it was incumbent George Pataki (in the wake of 9/11) who only got 49 percent of the vote in a three-person field.
Yes, these are dark days for the New York state GOP, and for the foreseeable future, they’re likely to get darker. Perhaps most deflating: Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one statewide, according to election registration statistics.
The paltry handful of “powerful” offices Republicans control can’t obscure the fact that in this state, the Republican Party is engaged in a fairly pointless exercise. Regardless, in the shadow of Tuesday’s results, state Republican Chairman Edward F. Cox tried to paint this as a sunny day for the GOP. After all, Republicans took over the Erie County Legislature! Oh, and the Republicans held onto the Westchester County executive seat!
If all you’ve got is a handful of victories in super-wealthy counties in low-turnout, off-year elections, you’ve got a serious, serious problem. Even more serious: Cox is courting the advice of previous GOP nominee Carl Paladino, who forwarded (ahem) questionable content to colleagues and infamously informed veteran newsman Fred Dicker that he was going to “take him out.” And he suggested setting up welfare camps to teach recipients about hygiene. And he also lost against Cuomo, 63 to 33 percent, in the general election.
Democrats should be concerned as well. Truth be told, the sorry state of the GOP is not even a good thing for the Democratic Party. In fact, New York state in general is not well-served by this state of affairs. A de facto one-party system can only lead to administrative complacency, intra-party favoritism and ethical laziness. It’ll also keep Democrats from being honest and well-versed in the merits of their own arguments. Why bother selling yourself or trying hard to do a good job if every big election is essentially a foregone conclusion?
In order for the GOP to be competitive again, it needs to completely change the game. By dominating the moderate middle, the Democrats have effectively boxed out any Republican renaissance. The GOP should re-contest it and begin here the revival of traditional northeastern “good government” Republicanism. (Read: A break from the national party.) The state GOP should take unconventional stands on issues that would be well-suited to a new conservative interpretation (e.g. drug laws, environmental conservationism, small business laws, women’s reproductive freedom, redistricting, corruption). The list goes on.
If party leadership keeps the rose-colored glasses on or, God forbid, takes the usual crew for another ride on the merry-go-around, the slide will continue. On the other hand, if the Republicans are serious about their future, they’ll have to ask themselves honestly this question: Given that Republicans are so outnumbered statewide, could it be that they’re doing something wrong?
Steve Keller lives in Averill Park and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.