Thursday, September 15, 2005

Will Weiner's class act be nullified by bureaucracy?

Magnanimity and self-sacrifice aren't words usually associated with New York City politics, on either the Democratic or GOP side. So it comes as a pleasant surprise to see Representative Anthony Weiner conceding the Democratic mayoral primary to Fernando Ferrer, despite Ferrer's falling just short, before absentee ballots have been counted, of the required forty per cent of the vote needed to avoid a run-off. Weiner cited the need for party unity in the face of a re-election campaign by a fabulously wealthy incumbent. A cynic might argue that, since Weiner retains his seat in Congress, his "gracious" concession enhances his prospects for re-election (though I suspect that the odds of his being unseated, like those of most Congressional incumbents, are slim in any event), that it may help his chances of some day attaining higher office, and that it is therefore a worthwhile trade-off for an uncertain one-on-one shot at Ferrer. Nevertheless, one must recall that in the last mayoral election, Ferrer lost a Democratic primary run-off to Mark Green (who then went on to lose to Bloomberg in an election overshadowed by the attack on the World Trade Center).

Another nice thing about Wiener's concession is that it stands to eliminate the need for any city-wide run-off, as the only other candidate for city-wide office, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, cleared the forty per cent margin (as did Manhattan Borough President candidate Scott Stringer and the incumbent Manhattan and Brooklyn District Attorneys, the only borough-wide candidates facing primary challenges). This would, I heared on WQXR this morning, probably save the City something on the order of $10 million. Not a huge amount, as compared to the overall City budget, but not exactly chump change, either. But wait! According to New York 1,

Election officials say after all the absentee ballots are calculated, which could take until next week, there may still be a runoff by law if Ferrer does not get that 40 percent.

In other words, we must continue counting those absentee ballots and, should Ferrer not reach the magic number, blow a big wad of cash to learn the answer to the question, "What if they had an election and nobody came?" (The prospect of die-hard Weiner loyalists trooping to the polls despite his wishes seems slim, especially as the unions supporting him in the primary have endorsed his withdrawal and thrown their support to Ferrer).

I'm all for the rule of law, but, sometimes, adherence to rules becomes nonsensical. What dread precedent would be established by ignoring the forty per cent rule when the second place candidate willingly concedes?

9/21 addendum: The ballots have all been counted, and Ferrer has his 40%. Joel Kotkin has a piece on today's NYT op-ed page arguing that this is a Bad Thing, because it lets the Democrats escape a needed fight between what he sees as Ferrer's old school tax-and-spend, identity politics liberalism, and Weiner's more centrist approch that seeks to "cut taxes and streamline bureaucracy". Of course, if this is an accurate description of Weiner's policies, it's hard to see how he's much different from Bloomberg.