The Republican Party’s ability to keep control of the New York City Mayor’s office from 1994 to 2014 is especially impressive as there are over six registered Democrats for every one Republican in the five boroughs. In each of the five elections over the twenty year period, the Republican Party has managed to put forth a strong, moderate leader with cross-party appeal who has won despite the Democrat’s heavy registration advantage. At first glance it may seem too miraculous to be true, but further investigation reveals a formula: Over the past twenty years, the Republican Party has taken a moderate Democrat and convinced them to run on the Republican ticket.
After five positive outcomes, featuring Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg as mayoral nominees, the Republican Party is considering recruiting former State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith to run on their line in the 2013 mayoral election. The party is hoping that history will repeat itself, and that Senator Smith will be able to capture enough democratic and independent votes to keep city hall under Republican rule. Additionally, Republicans hope that Smith, an African-American, will appeal to the African-American community at large, especially if the Democratic nominee is not Bill Thompson.
If Malcolm Smith does become the nominee, it will be an incredible mistake on the part of the Republican Party and will represent an overly simplistic view of the formula that has brought the Republicans success for the past twenty years.
The successes of Giuliani and Bloomberg were contingent on context that does not currently hold for Malcolm Smith. In 1993, the city’s soaring crime rates made Giuliani, a United States Attorney with a successful record of prosecuting criminals, an appealing choice. Bloomberg’s record as an executive in business, an endorsement from the incredibly popular post-9/11 Giuliani, and a significant campaign war chest carried the billionaire Bloomberg to victory in 2001. Malcolm Smith has no equivalent circumstances to boost his campaign.
Senator Smith also lacks a critical quality needed for any mayoral candidate: A strong record of competence. His brief stint as Majority Leader was so ineffective that two members of his party defected to join a Republican coalition, causing Smith to lose his leadership position, allowing Republicans to gain control of the State Senate.
Moreover, Smith is currently involved in two separate scandals: One involving the bid-rigging for the casino at Aqueduct in Queens, and the other concerning diverting donations meant for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. The combination of the absence of a strong record to run on and even a hint of a scandalous past will ground the Smith campaign before it is even given the chance to take off.
The Republican Party’s tradition of recruiting political outsiders to run on their ticket is the correct play for the 2013 cycle. However, it cannot be accomplished with any Democrat willing to run as a Republican. The notion that African-American voters would abandon the Democratic nominee simply because Malcolm Smith is black is an oversimplified analysis of the community. African-American New Yorkers are just as likely to see through the Republican scheme and not vote for Smith because of his dearth of credentials.
However, there are two candidates who would fit the Republican mayor formula quite well. These two men are not career Republican politicians, and they have significantly stronger records to run on. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has spent his career protecting New Yorkers, but has reportedly been approached by the Republican Party and has refused their offer to run. John Catsimatidis is a businessman who has made over $2 billion as the owner and CEO of Red Apple Group and Gristedes Foods, and has expressed interest in the Republican nomination.
Instead of making false assumptions about the supposed ignorance of voters, the Republican Party should focus on convincing qualified people to run for office. The Republicans have held the mayor’s office for the last twenty years and they don’t have to let go yet. However, the Republican’s winning streak will come to an end if they superficially nominate the scandal ridden, politically inept Malcolm Smith.
The Republican Party’s formula may in fact be a strong one, and its success may be continued, however it will not be if the Party overlooks factors as big as prior leadership failure and political scandal and nominates Malcolm Smith.