Tales from a New York Republican activist

By Carol Devine-Molin
web posted May 29, 2000

At this present time in history, Westchester County, New York, has become a focal point of the political and cultural battle that is raging in this country. It is the "belly of the beast" if you will, one of the crucial swing areas in the state's upcoming Senate election, in addition to being the home base of Hillary and Bill Clinton. And it is no accident that the Clintons chose to reside in arguably the most liberal county, in the most liberal state in the union. As a grassroots Republican activist here in Westchester, and an employee of this Democrat-run county, I have been privileged to have a bird's eye view of the larger political dimensions of this senate race.

Up until about fifteen years ago, the New York City northern suburb of Westchester County was considered a Republican stronghold, with socioeconomic classes ranging from the middle to wealthy sectors. However, demographic changes occurred primarily due to the many people moving up from New York City in recent years, bringing in growing numbers of lower and working class groups who have been traditionally part of the Democrat coalition. In 1998, the Democrat Andrew Spano and his administration took over the reigns of county government. Suffice here to say that they are liberal group of Clintonites, notable as public relations practitioners and spinmeisters, who masquerade as tax cutting moderates. Hillary and Bill Clinton should very much relish their politically sympathetic environs, and the very elite hamlet of Chappaqua, that is just a five-minute drive from the local airport to accommodate their jet setting ways. Despite the fact that Westchester is the Clintons' epicenter in New York state, and that Westchester has fifty thousand more registered Democrats than Republicans, I still would not concede this county to the Democrats in the Senate election.

Although Long Island Congressman Rick Lazio has just entered the race and has been a relative unknown, his polling numbers immediately skyrocketed in an almost unbelievable turn of events. In the highly touted Zogby poll just ten days ago, Lazio trailed Mrs. Clinton by eighteen points much to the concern of New York Republicans who view Lazio as our Obi-won Kenobi, our only hope to save New York and the nation from the perpetuation of what author Peggy Noonan refers to as the "continuation of Clintonism". In a miraculous turnabout, Rick Lazio appears to be at a statistical dead heat with Hillary according to the latest Zogby poll that has them at 43.5 per cent and 45 per cent respectively. You cannot even imagine the elation of Republicans, and I would venture to say that sentiment is nationwide. And remember, New York has been a traditionally Democrat state.

What has caused this almost immediate shift in polling numbers? Frankly, I was very surprised given the inclination of even New York Republican voters to consider themselves moderate to liberal on social issues a la Rudolph Giuliani. It's for that reason myself and others feared that Hillary would pick up segments of some Republicans and Independents who had been previously for Giuliani. However, it appears that at least initial attempts by the Hillary forces to smear Lazio as a social conservative have failed. In truth, Lazio is moderate almost across the board on a host of political and social issues as exemplified by his pro-choice stance on abortion and advocacy for greater monies to be spent on the elderly. He is not a proponent of the highly demonized Newt Gingrich.

Rather, Lazio is a home grown, self-made New Yorker who is very representative of the New York political and social scene. He is an attractive family man of Italian heritage, married to a very pretty woman of Irish heritage with two great children who attend public school. And to fully grasp New York politics, it must be understood how ethnicity and its importance come into play. The vast majority of New Yorkers are of Italian, Irish, Jewish, Black or Hispanic heritage, or some combination thereof (except for Pataki whom we believe to be Irish, Italian and part Transylvanian, or was that Hungarian or Romanian?). Anyway, we New Yorkers are limited in our knowledge of other ethnicities, but we all know the culture/slang/patwa of the Italian, Irish, Jewish, Black and Hispanic groups. This is why it's not unusual to hear a nice New York Irish girl utilize a Jewish word such as "schlemiel" to demonstrate her displeasure at some dopey guy. In some ways, we have all blended into this one grand New York culture, eating knishes and listening to the ubiquitous Latin music. I don't believe Hillary, as a carpetbagger, can generate the terrific comfort level that New Yorkers have with each other. Do not underestimate Lazio's edge as a native New Yorker.

But beyond that, I also believe that the general arguments made by Peggy Noonan in her polemic, "The case against Hillary Clinton" are resonating among New Yorkers. Do we really want the Clinton era of slimy behavior, lack of character, habitual lying, unadulterated narcissism and focused power seeking to continue? Isn't this nation ready for a change for the better, choosing principled leaders who do not make self-aggrandizement their primary goal? With this in mind, I believe many New Yorkers are coming to the conclusion that they should not give Hillary a step stone to the White House.

This is Carol Devine-Molin's first contribution to Enter Stage Right.

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