Can Hillary really win?

Posted April 21, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

So there I was on WAMC Public Radio’s Roundtable panel where I am every weekday morning at 9 a.m. It was the day after Hillary Clinton had declared her intention to run for president and people had a lot to say.

Hillary is a bit of a centrist — that is why she has a good, but not absolute, chance of winning the presidency. The whole idea is to capture the middle class. I love Senator Elizabeth Warren but she knows and I know that she is too far to the left to win a national election, at least now. Let’s try to remember that unlike the great New Yorker cartoon, there is a lot of country between Manhattan and San Francisco.

To understand what’s at play here, one has to understand voting patterns in the country. There are more Democrats and independents leaning Democratic in the United States than there are Republicans. If everyone of the Democratic persuasion were to vote, you’d have a Democratic president and Congress.

The problem is that not all natural Democrats vote. Listeners write in about whatever subject we are discussing on the Roundtable, so that morning we were, of course, talking about Hillary entering the race. The notes from the left started coming in. “I could never vote for her. She’s a tool of the corporate world” and on and on.

In each case, we asked the writer whether they would feel better with a Republican victory, allowing the Republican president to appoint more people to the Supreme Court. The bottom line is, if you are sitting in a house in the Berkshires or Hudson Valley pontificating about punishing a centrist candidate, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is the fact that those who have the most to gain at the bottom rungs of society do not vote in the numbers that they have to in order to assure a Democratic victory. With that said, Barack Obama won twice despite the continuing and unremitting racist invective that has been heaped upon him. For Hillary’s part, she knows that if she is to win she will need the voting coalition that swept Obama into office. Rule number one for Hillary is to be supportive of Obama.

I knew a Democratic assemblyman in New York who had bad things to say about Bill Clinton in the post-Monica Lewinsky days. He said he wouldn’t vote for Clinton and he was swept from office. Democrats really resented his perfidy. Hillary cannot risk that, no matter how many people try to drive a wedge between her and Obama. Now it is Obama who is playing it safe, having his underling come out and say that the President is not endorsing at this time on the basis that there may be other people in the race.

That’s a bit of an enigma for me. It may be that Hillary doesn’t want his endorsement right now because his polls are low. That would be a huge mistake on her part. Perhaps he is still smarting about their original primary race and he thinks that Joe Biden or former Governor O’Malley may be coming in. In any case, I think this has been mishandled especially since a lot of Democrats still love the president.

It is clearly Hillary’s to lose. The Republicans are making fools of themselves, stepping all over one another. Hillary is the centrist candidate and in order to get through the primaries where members of the extreme right show up, the contenders are moving to the right as fast as they can. They will predictably move back to the center in the general election. Assuming that Bill Clinton keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t embarrass her, Hillary should prevail. She must have powerful memories, however, of Barack Obama, an obscure one-term senator, eating her lunch in her last great presidential primary. Like I said, it’s hers to lose.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/20/15

Posted April 20, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

So there I was on WAMC Public Radio’s Roundtable panel where I am every weekday morning at 9 a.m. It was the day after Hillary Clinton had declared her intention to run for president and people had a lot to say.

Hillary is a bit of a centrist — that is why she has a good, but not absolute, chance of winning the presidency. The whole idea is to capture the middle class. I love Sen. Elizabeth Warren but she knows and I know that she is too far to the left to win a national election, at least now. Let’s try to remember that unlike the great New Yorker cartoon, there is a lot of country between Manhattan and San Francisco.

To understand what’s at play here, one has to understand voting patterns in the country. There are more Democrats and independents leaning Democratic in the United States than there are Republicans. If everyone of the Democratic persuasion were to vote, you’d have a Democratic president and Congress.

The problem is that not all natural Democrats vote. Listeners write in about whatever subject we are discussing on the Roundtable, so that morning we were, of course, talking about Hillary entering the race. The notes from the left started coming in. “I could never vote for her. She’s a tool of the corporate world” and on and on.

In each case, we asked the writer whether they would feel better with a Republican victory, allowing the Republican president to appoint more people to the Supreme Court. The bottom line is, if you are sitting in a house in the Berkshires or Hudson Valley pontificating about punishing a centrist candidate, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is the fact that those who have the most to gain at the bottom rungs of society do not vote in the numbers that they have to in order to assure a Democratic victory.

With that said, Barack Obama won twice despite the continuing and unremitting racist invective that has been heaped upon him. For Hillary’s part, she knows that if she is to win she will need the voting coalition that swept Obama into office. Rule No. 1 for Hillary is to be supportive of Obama.

I knew a Democratic assemblyman in New York who had bad things to say about Bill Clinton in the post-Monica Lewinsky days. He said he wouldn’t vote for Clinton and he was swept from office. Democrats really resented his perfidy.

Hillary cannot risk that, no matter how many people try to drive a wedge between her and Obama. Now it is Obama who is playing it safe, having his underling come out and say that the president is not endorsing at this time on the basis that there may be other people in the race.

That’s a bit of an enigma for me. It may be that Hillary doesn’t want his endorsement right now because his polls are low. That would be a huge mistake on her part. Perhaps he is still smarting about their original primary race and he thinks that Joe Biden or former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley may be coming in. In any case, I think this has been mishandled, especially since a lot of Democrats still love the president.

It is clearly Hillary’s to lose. The Republicans are making fools of themselves, stepping all over one another. Hillary is the centrist candidate and in order to get through the primaries where members of the extreme right show up, the contenders are moving to the right as fast as they can. They will predictably move back to the center in the general election.

Assuming that Bill Clinton keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t embarrass her, Hillary should prevail. She must have powerful memories, however, of Barack Obama, an obscure one-term senator, eating her lunch in her last great presidential primary. Like I said, it’s hers to lose.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 4/18/15

Wanna read a good book?

Posted April 14, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Michael Shnayerson has written a superb and frankly frightening book, “The Contender: Andrew Cuomo, a Biography.” This book is balanced, showing Andrew at his best and at his absolute darkest. His darkest, according to the book, is just plain scary. Indeed, it might cause you nightmares. It’s clear that the Cuomo people hate the book.

Shnayerson has spoken to hundreds of people who know Andrew either well or too well. He takes you from Andrew’s childhood in Queens to the present day, with stops along the way at various political postings including his time in the Clinton cabinet where Andrew seemed universally distrusted and, in fact, hated.

The book portrays Andrew as someone who takes no prisoners and has a memory for perceived wrongs that never quits. Shnayerson documents the fact that even his so-called friends are never safe. People who were once friends no longer are due to some imagined slight in Andrew’s memory. The governor bullies those around him and he thinks strategically. Alliances change as need be and nothing is as it seems. In fact, it’s all about politics. The book is called “The Contender” because Shnayerson seems to think that most of Andrew’s decisions are constructed so that he can achieve the one major goal denied to his father, becoming President of the United States. Like Lyndon Johnson, Cuomo knows how to manipulate the levers of power and a good deal of that involves instilling abject fear in his trading partners. In fact, he seems to despise them. Shnayerson shows us how Cuomo picks on Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, perhaps because Schneiderman was once married to Jennifer Cunningham who helped run Cuomo’s campaigns. His obvious distaste for and bullying of the very competent State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, follow the same path. Everyone is a rival.

Because I spoke on the radio with Andrew’s father, Mario, every week for years, I was fascinated to read about the father-son relationship. Sometimes it seems like Andrew adored Mario. Other times, it appears that Andrew competed with his father, not only because he wants to better him but also so that he can finally get the love that was denied him because Mario was seemingly always out of the house.

If I have any quarrel with the book, it is Shnayerson’s tough approach to Mario, the father. I’m here to tell you that Mario Cuomo was one of the deepest and funniest men I ever met. Week after week, he would both outfox and out-debate me. He believed in press conferences and transparency and there was no reporter with whom he’d refuse to debate. He did not pass that love of transparency on to his son.

The further you get into the book, the scarier it gets. It isn’t that Shnayerson doesn’t give Cuomo his due. He faithfully reports how Cuomo was able to pass marriage equality and the SAFE (gun) Act. As Attorney General, Cuomo went after some greedy bad guys and got settlements from them. On the other hand, Shnayerson paints a picture of a guy who compulsively shines his shoes to a polished sheen every morning and who causes the kind of caution among staff that Joe Stalin must have had among his.

When I spoke with him, Shnayerson told me how Team Cuomo tried to get him not to write this book but instead, to write one with Andrew about the general topic of governance. Thank heavens Shnayerson didn’t fall for it. Just his passages about how the governor has lacked kindness toward his ex-wife Kerry Kennedy Cuomo boggle the mind. I listened to the book on audio as I drove back and forth to work every day, but inevitably, I found myself sitting in the car wanting to hear more. If you want to know how it really works, get the book.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/14/15

Book paints dark portrait of NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Posted April 13, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Michael Shnayerson has written a superb and frankly frightening book, “The Contender: Andrew Cuomo, a Biography.” This book is balanced, showing Andrew at his best and at his absolute darkest.

His darkest, according to the book, is just plain scary. Indeed, it might cause you nightmares. It’s clear that the Cuomo people hate the book.

Shnayerson has spoken to hundreds of people who know Andrew either well or too well. He takes you from Andrew’s childhood in Queens to the present day, with stops along the way at various political postings including his time in the Clinton cabinet where Andrew seemed universally distrusted and, in fact, hated.

The book portrays Andrew as someone who takes no prisoners and has a memory for perceived wrongs that never quits. Shnayerson documents the fact that even his so-called friends are never safe. People who were once friends no longer are due to some imagined slight in Andrew’s memory.

The governor bullies those around him and he thinks strategically. Alliances change as need be and nothing is as it seems. In fact, it’s all about politics. The book is called “The Contender” because Shnayerson seems to think that most of Andrew’s decisions are constructed so that he can achieve the one major goal denied to his father, becoming President of the United States.

Like Lyndon Johnson, Cuomo knows how to manipulate the levers of power and a good deal of that involves instilling abject fear in his trading partners. In fact, he seems to despise them. Shnayerson shows us how Cuomo picks on Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, perhaps because Schneiderman was once married to Jennifer Cunningham who helped run Cuomo’s campaigns.

His obvious distaste for and bullying of the very competent state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, follow the same path. Everyone is a rival.

Because I spoke on the radio with Andrew’s father, Mario, every week for years, I was fascinated to read about the father-son relationship. Sometimes it seems like Andrew adored Mario. Other times, it appears that Andrew competed with his father, not only because he wants to better him but also so that he can finally get the love that was denied him because Mario was seemingly always out of the house.

If I have any quarrel with the book, it is Shnayerson’s tough approach to Mario, the father. I’m here to tell you that Mario Cuomo was one of the deepest and funniest men I ever met. Week after week, he would both outfox and out-debate me. He believed in press conferences and transparency and there was no reporter with whom he’d refuse to debate. He did not pass that love of transparency on to his son.

The further you get into the book, the scarier it gets. It isn’t that Shnayerson doesn’t give Cuomo his due. He faithfully reports how Cuomo was able to pass marriage equality and the SAFE (gun) Act. As Attorney General, Cuomo went after some greedy bad guys and got settlements from them.

On the other hand, Shnayerson paints a picture of a guy who compulsively shines his shoes to a polished sheen every morning and who causes the kind of caution among staff that Joe Stalin must have had among his.

When I spoke with him, Shnayerson told me how Team Cuomo tried to get him not to write this book but instead, to write one with Andrew about the general topic of governance. Thank heavens Shnayerson didn’t fall for it.

Just his passages about how the governor has lacked kindness toward his ex-wife Kerry Kennedy Cuomo boggle the mind. I listened to the book on audio as I drove back and forth to work every day but inevitably, I found myself sitting in the car wanting to hear more. If you want to know how it really works, get the book.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 4/11/15

The budget is a bunch of junk

Posted April 8, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

The New York state budget is passed. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has been vigorously attacking corruption and potential corruption in New York state. He says that a big part of the problem is the long-standing tradition of three men in a room — the governor, the speaker and the president of the Senate. So no matter how often we are told that there are 211 members of the Assembly and Senate, it really turns out that there are only three essential players, and that’s where the mischief begins.

As it happens, Andrew Cuomo used his substantial powers to load the budget with things he said he wanted. We’ll never know when he dropped some of the things he said he wanted, like a higher minimum wage, a disgraceful education tax credit that would have helped pay for parochial schools, the DREAM Act which would have provided college financial aid to undocumented immigrants and ethics reform insisting that legislators fully disclose all their outside income.

Did he really want those things or did he just want people, especially his left flank, to THINK that he wanted them. Was he going for results or was he going for the perception on the part of voters that he wanted those things? If you read The Contender, a new unauthorized biography of Andrew Cuomo by Michael Shnayerson, you learn in no uncertain terms that Andrew can be ruthless in pursuit of his political goals when he wants to be. So when he doesn’t get things he says he wants, we have to at least suspect that he never really cared about them in the first place.

The question, of course, is whether or not he underestimates how smart people are. For example, he holds up his fist Rocky style with Assembly Speaker Heastie and announces that he got what he wanted in an ethics package. As it turns out, there are holes in the new ethics provisions big enough to drive a cement truck through, including a provision that if a legislator doesn’t want to tell how much money he is getting from a client, he doesn’t have to but he can file an appeal that will surely be approved. Think about that one — Shelly Silver, the indicted former Speaker, stands accused of not telling who all of his clients were.

Then there is a provision in a so-called pension reform bill that will have to be voted on stipulating that even if a crooked legislator is stripped of his pension, his or her spouse is entitled to some of it! Unbelievable. Presumably, that same spouse was living off the crooked legislator’s ill-begotten gains.

Of course, Andrew went out and claimed victory in things like his ethics reforms way in advance of the release of the budget. Naturally, we have to wait to get the details. In fact, the legislators had to wait until a few hours before the voting began for the printed copies to be put on their desks. You see, under the New York State Constitution, each bill has to be aged, much like a strip sirloin steak. In this case, the aging process took three days. However, there is a provision in the Constitution that says that if there is an emergency (presumably on the magnitude of a tidal wave) the governor can use what is called a message of necessity, without the aging. Unfortunately, New York governors have been known to use the message of necessity to pass non-emergency bills. In that way, legislators are treated like a bunch of sheep and don’t even have an opportunity to examine and maybe even object to the legislation.

The reason we hold our public officials in such low regard is that they often act in a self-serving way just because they can. As Pete Seeger sang, “When will they ever learn?” Apparently, never.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/6/15

Rapist deserves what he got… and other musings

Posted April 6, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Emmanuel T. Bile Jr. found guilty on two counts of rape. Look, there are a lot of bad people in the world. Some of them are troubled from birth, some seem to gather more rage as the years pass.

These are people who are so filled with anger that it spills out of them. You’ll find them in your neighborhood. We all have a common experience with them. They don’t get mixed reviews — it is pretty much unanimous.

Because we allow maximum freedom in our society, you just learn to keep away from them. You know that the fuse is lit and you sure don’t want to be around when the explosion comes. Sometimes they get a free pass, other times they end up in court for injuring or provoking others.

Ask yourself this: “Who in the world would gang rape a college student? Who were the perpetrators’ parents? Who taught values to these kids? I’m not talking about anything but the difference between right and wrong. The guy was found guilty but the victim will still be scarred for life. The accused will be spending a large part of his life in prison. Good. She could have been your daughter. He could have been someone you know.

Carry yourselves more like Kennedy. Barack Obama would not be president if it weren’t for Ted Kennedy. At a crucial time in the campaign — and I will never forget it — Teddy Kennedy and his niece, Carolyn Kennedy Schlossberg, came out on stage with Obama and gave him a ringing endorsement. I have no doubt that carried the tide.

It took real guts to do it and the liberal lion of the Senate in one of his last major acts before he died pushed Obama over the top. Now the president has returned the favor. He showed up at the opening of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute and eulogized the late senator who has always been one of my favorite people on earth. There are so few politicians around with that man’s integrity. More and more, we read about the foibles of Robert and John Kennedy and let there be no mistake that Teddy made some mistakes, too. But give me my choice of the three and I’ll take Teddy any day.

The city of Pittsfield has always been unhappy with its mayors. I get that. This jewel of a city, with its lakes, mountains, and culture, has so much potential but it all just never seems to come together. Mayor Jimmy Ruberto was a sensational mayor but he had to deal with a torrent of criticism from bloggers and other anonymous, angry people. Current Mayor Dan Bianchi positioned himself as an alternative to business as usual. Now he is being opposed by a coalition of progressive activists who say that they can do better.

To the puzzled outsider, it all looks kind of frantic and unhappy. Yet if you look closer, this is what democracy is all about. We need more people who think they can do a better job to run for political office. An incumbent doesn’t particularly like it when a candidate presents him or herself to the people but choice is always a good thing.

What in the world is going on at Shakespeare & Company, one of the most important cultural assets in the Berkshires? It’s one of the places that makes this area a go-to destination They fired their artistic director, Tony Simotes, who literally saved their behinds from financial ruin. Now they are embarrassed as the great Kate Maguire has reached out to hire Simotes as managing director and artistic associate at the Berkshire Theatre Group. There has been some major reshuffling on the board. Hmmm. Maybe big money donors can’t buy everything.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 4/4/15

Bad politicians outnumber the bad teachers

Posted March 31, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has really ticked off teachers in New York state. It isn’t that he needed to do it — he just did it. Not only was it unfair, it was a bad strategic move and he is paying for it. He got a million fewer votes in his second election than the first time out and many of those people were teachers, their families and their friends.

We are talking about good people here. Our teachers are the best of the best in our society. Some mean-spirited politicians have characterized them as lazy, indolent folks who work from nine to three and whose ranks are riddled with incompetent practitioners. These critics ignore the realities of trying to teach kids who all too often live in single parent homes and who are “latch-key” in every sense of the word. The stereotype of uncaring, incompetent teachers is just nonsense. Teachers are not the problem — clearly society is the issue. When kids are left to their own devices and don’t have the help that they need at home, the results are predictable.

I am married to a wonderful woman who put in years as an elementary, middle school and high school teacher. She was at her desk by seven. She taught five or six classes a day. She brought home reams of papers to mark and somehow, she managed to raise two accomplished and wonderful children, create the country’s first Holocaust unit that every high school student had to take and, of course, put up with me. And, oh, by the way, she managed to drive over an hour each way, three nights a week, to earn her doctorate. When she went to teach college she really did have survivor’s guilt about the colleagues she left in the trenches.

So it is bewildering as to why a governor disrespects these folks. Our rank and file teachers are hardly “political” in the Albany sense of the word. They are good people, so when politicians like Cuomo come along and single out the few bad teachers, claiming they are representative of the tens of thousands of good teachers, they just don’t get it. They are hurt. They see the governor as a bully who is unfairly threatening them with a myriad of tests and outside observers. They fear that he is doing an end run around the tenure that has protected them from arbitrary and capricious school board members who all too often would just love to fire at will. His contention that failing schools are the result of failing teachers is nothing short of nonsense and any right thinking American who owes everything to the wonderful people who brought us along knows it. Sure, there are a few bad teachers. There are a whole lot of bad politicians. My bet is that the bad politicians outnumber the bad teachers.

He has a few points but he is off the wall on things like charter schools, clear attempts at union busting, and vouchers that would allow the state to indirectly pay for religious education. These are terrible ideas.

The conservative press, and we know who they are, won’t let up. They keep egging the governor on to do his damage. For generations, New Yorkers have adhered to the principle that if your kid goes to public school the state will pay for it but that if he wants to go to a religious or other private school, that’s on him and his parents. Cuomo has already dropped some of his worst ideas on education from the state’s budget. We are told that he may resurrect them in bills that will be traded with legislators for other things that they may want. Fair enough, but at least for now the governor’s attack on teachers and education has slowed down. Congratulations to Speaker Heastie and his Assembly members for putting a stop to the worst of them.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 3/31/15


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