A disturbing case of political déjà vu looms over the national political landscape. Its origins began here in the Big Apple on November 7, 1989, when New Yorkers elected their first African-American mayor, David Dinkins, in a close and hotly contested campaign with GOP candidate Rudolph Giuliani. Dinkins secured the Democratic nomination after a series of scandals plagued three-term Mayor Edward Koch (D).
Mayor Dinkins laid the groundwork that enabled the Big Apple to become a welcoming city for business, tourists and its citizenry. This included the rehabilitation of housing in Harlem, South Bronx, and Brooklyn, the enactment of polices that decreased the homeless population, support of the Times Square clean-up and revitalization, and significant increased in law enforcement hiring.
But a funny thing happened on the way to City Hall four years later. Once again Giuliani ran against Dinkins; this time defeating him by a razor thin margin, an unprecedented result in which the incumbent lost in the midst of an improving economy. The reason? Many of Dinkins’ supporters in 1989, figuring that Dinkins’ successes would carry him easily as an incumbent to a second term, failed to go to the polls. Additionally, despite the steady decrease in crime during the last 36 months of his mayoralty, the perception still persisted that crime was out of control, and that Dinkins’ policies were failing which gave “law & order” Giuliani extra votes.
During Giuliani’s two terms, he utilized and took credit for all of Dinkins’ efforts for NYC’s resurgence. Thus began an 8-year period of quasi-fascist repression, exclusivity, secrecy, favoritism and overall nastiness unheard of for a liberal big city. Giuliani’s draconian policies were reluctantly tolerated only because of NYC’s dramatic economic resurgence and return to 1960s level crime rates.
This history lesson serves as an invaluable education for today’s young generation, a key electoral component, which has fuzzy toddler memories of this guy called Giuliani escorted by security through the fiery cauldron of 9/11.
President Obama, like Dinkins, was elected from the public’s outrage over the egregious deeds on Wall Street and following the three-term Bush administration (one for papa Bush, two for junior Bush). Obama, like Dinkins, inherited an unprecedented economic mess. Obama, like Dinkins, was the first person of color in this political office. Obama, like Dinkins, has aggressively enacted numerous social and economic policies in place to halt the economic hemorrhaging, spur economic growth and reduce crime (killing terrorists). Obama, like Dinkins, presides over an improving albeit far from robust economy and yet the perception persists that these economic policies aren’t working.
Like a typically awful Hollywood remake, this gig has now gone national over 20 years later with Mitt Romney playing the role of Giuliani supported by the extreme right GOP vs. Obama, playing the role of Dinkins, the incumbent, America’s first elected person of color to the presidency.
There are voters who will vote GOP even if the Obama administration puts a Lamborghini in every garage and a Peter Luger steak on every plate. The danger is that the GOP campaign has cleverly placed sufficient doubt in 2008 Obama supporters to steal this upcoming election. A divide and conquer strategy includes portraying several symbolic personas such as “Obama Girl” and some liberal minded celebrities who admitted that they are not as “enthused” about Obama as in 2008. Elections have turned on symbols before.
Regardless what the always unpredictable, volatile and frequently biased polls may indicate today with Obama maintaining a lead over Romney, it will be an extremely close election that will ultimately be decided by the 2008 Obama supporters and the end result of aggressive voter suppression.
The logical and moderate GOP has been silenced and politically hijacked by a GOP faction that dispenses historically unprecedented vitriol towards Obama. And we all know what happens when things get hijacked. The current version of the GOP is champing at the bit to complete the coring out of America – the liquidation of the middle class, to create a de facto fiefdom consisting of the wealthy and a permanent underclass – a first-world banana republic.
Become a 21st century storyteller like your grandparents, and create your own social media blitz to tell your family, friends and contacts throughout the country about the eerie parallels of NYC political history to the upcoming national elections, and the potential consequences. Déjà vu is not inevitable. So remember on Election Day to “vote early, vote often.”
—Albert Goldson is an Architectural & Engineering Contract Manager specializing in transportation megaprojects, energy, and urban planning. He is a long-term Williamsburg resident, an internationalist, and avid jazz aficionado.
you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org