New York’s unemployment is near record highs. Two of three Democrats elected to statewide office four years ago have resigned in disgrace, the former Republican leader of the Senate was convicted in a corruption case and 8 in 10 New Yorkers are dissatisfied with their state government.
Yet voters have been given a campaign notable for opposition to a mosque near ground zero, a rogues gallery of Democrats not up for election, nasty cartoons, dirty tricks, and name calling by all three sides so far in the race for New York’s governor.
“I think the personal attacks, and the ‘This guy isn’t qualified’ — I don’t like those,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University poll, noting such tactics have become common. “But they tend to work very often.”
Republican designee Rick Lazio ramped up his opposition to the proposed mosque and pumped up his anemic campaign fund along the way, while trying to link Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo to disgraced Democrats, most of whom Cuomo had investigated.
Republican Carl Paladino, the millionaire developer who has steadily gained on Lazio in the polls, called the former congressman and choice of the Conservative Party leaders “Liberal Lazio” in a cartoon. Paladino called Cuomo and Lazio “gutless” for proposing caps on property tax growth, not cuts. The tea party activist hopes to tap into a trend of voters angry at traditional politics and high taxes.
Cuomo has toured the state with his daughters as expensive 30-second TV commercials replay his accomplishments as attorney general and promised reforms. Meanwhile, the state Democratic Committee he directs struck at Lazio and Paladino, saying in a TV ad that the Republicans who never worked in Democrat-controlled Albany could make Albany’s ethical “swamp” even worse.
What you haven’t seen in the governor’s race so far, with the Republican primary on Tuesday, is a debate. Paladino agreed to one but Lazio wouldn’t go, citing scheduling conflicts.
Compare that to the Democratic primary for attorney general where all five candidates have participated in more than a dozen debates and forums on statewide television, public radio and in regional events. They have had to comment directly on countless issues, from how they would patrol Wall Street, to protecting New York consumers, while each challenged the others’ professional backgrounds.
Pollsters call that race a toss-up among former state insurance superintendent and assistant attorney general Eric Dinallo; Assemblyman Richard Brodsky; former federal prosecutor and trial attorney Sean Coffey; Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and state Sen. Eric Schneiderman.
The candidates, each with substantial public service pedigrees, used prosecutorial precision to pick apart opponents’ positions.
“Republicans, both of them, are aiming their fire at Cuomo,” said political science Professor Doug Muzzio of Baruch College. “They have to take Cuomo down, so their campaign has to be negative because they can’t beat Cuomo on their own … and Cuomo has taken all of their potential issues.”
Muzzio refers to Cuomo’s more fiscally conservative platform, after long being known as the left-leaning Democrat son of party hero Mario Cuomo, the former governor. That, Muzzio said, leaves Republicans with broadside attacks and white-hot issues in the news like the mosque proposal for ground zero that Paladino promises to stop.
Cuomo lays out his platform in a self-published book of his platform, which Muzzio notes is a rare detailed agenda for a candidate; while Lazio and Paladino also have extensive policy positions detailed on websites.
“Politics is a full-body, contact sport in America,” said Steven Greenberg of the Siena College poll. “That’s not just today, not just 20 years ago, but in the nearly 250 years of this republic, political campaigns have been hard fought, often dirty. This is nothing new.”
The concern is that a bruising campaign may attract momentary attention, but it can eventually turn off voters, resulting in low turnout like Greenberg expects on Tuesday.
“I’m disappointed in the lack of two-party dialogue, but not surprised,” Muzzio said. He said true debate invigorates the process, while repeated attacks “puts this in the sleep section of your local pharmacy — it’s a snooze.
“Given the multiple crises we face, the fact that we have this somnambulate election is unreal,'” he said.
By MICHAEL GORMLEY,Associated Press Writer
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.