New York's political brawl

Posted: Oct 31, 2001 12:00 AM
As New Yorkers huddle together in solidarity following the recent devastating attacks, New York politicians continue to bloody one another with pre-September 11 vigor. Most recently, the race for the Democratic nomination in the city's mayoral primary devolved into a racial brawl. On one side was Mark Ferrer, a candidate of Puerto Rican descent who aligned himself with civil rights activist Al Sharpton, consciously courted a Latino-black coalition and embraced the tactic of racial polarization with his "two cities" ads. On the other side was Mark Green, who attacked Ferrer for his association with Reverend Al Sharpton. In what seems a shameless attempt to court the white vote, some upper-class neighborhoods received cartoons depicting Ferrer smooching Sharpton's bloated rear end. The day of the runoff, Green henchmen cruised through predominantly white neighborhoods shouting through their Radio Shack megaphones, "Do you want Sharpton running City Hall?" The not-so-subtle message: if you elect Ferrer, he will treat white people the way white people have traditionally treated people of color. This was enough to send more than a few well-to-do suburbanites running to polls in fear. Perhaps the most shameless bit of bating occurred when Green supporters distributed fliers equating Sharpton to Ferrer, then linking them both to the terrorists that recently smashed two planes into the World Trade Center. This last bit of propaganda seems exploitative, even to the standards of vicious New York politicians. For his part, Green pleaded ignorance on the racially divisive ads. However, it seems hugely implausible that Green would be unaware of a million-dollar campaign directed on his behalf during the weaning hours of his election. Far more likely than the "accidental campaign" story is that Green engaged in race baiting and is now too much the coward to admit that his deplorable tactics actually worked. Of course, the occurrence of politicians shouting names and bloodying one another is nothing new. Democracies are based on soliciting a knee-jerk reaction from at least 50 percent of the voting populace. More often than not, this means playing to the mob's baser instincts in order to gather momentum. Sadly, as long as racism remains central to our society, politicians will continue to employ racially divisive rhetoric. The truly illuminating factor is not the sheer hatred of Green's ads, but the fact that they worked. In the interest of party unity, the Democratic leadership has decided simply not to deal with Green's race baiting. Given that such tactics only exacerbate racial fears, you'd think more liberals would be denouncing Green. Sadly, the liberals are sticking their heads in the ground on this one. The real fear now is that Green will go on to win the mayoral election and New York will get the politician it deserves - a mayor who succeeded largely by polarizing the polyglot city he is supposed to represent.