Politics 2003Week of November 10


Many of the political news stories last week dealt with the Republican takeover of Democratic-held governorships in Kentucky and Mississippi. But there were other items of political interest as voters throughout the country chose local officials. . .


With San Francisco Democratic Mayor Willie Brown a lame duck after two terms, the two top vote-getters in the race to succeed him ere City Supervisors Gavin Newsom and Matt Gonzales. Newsom, a Democrat endorsed by Brown, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and much of the local Democratic hierarchy, ran first in the nine-candidate field with 41% of the vote. Gonzales, who is president of the City Board of Supervisors and one of the highest elected Green Party members in California, was runner-up with 20%. Since neither candidate got a majority, Newsom and Gonzales will now meet in a December run-off to determine the next mayor.

Despite all his support from Democrat satraps, Newsom was controversial for his calls for measures to sweep homeless panhandlers off the streets. (If Newsom’s name sounds familiar to readers outside San Francisco, it may be because he is the husband of Kimberly Guilfoyle-Newsom, legal consultant for ABC’s “Good Morning America,” who was once described by San Francisco Magazine as having “the big hair, the lips, the look of an Italian film star, circa 1960.”


For all the liberal punditry about people in general supposedly not wanting tax cuts, the tax revolt proved alive and well last week in heavily Democratic, blue-collar New Britain, Conn.. In the most dramatic upset in the Nutmeg State, four-term Democratic Mayor Lucien Pawlak was unseated by businessman and first-time office-seeker Timothy Stewart, a conservative Republican. Stewart pounded hard one issue-that four-termer Pawlak had dramatically raised property taxes in the Hardware City.


With the dramatic election of Rep. Ernie Fletcher as Kentucky’s first Republican governor since 1967, the immediate question on Republican minds was who would run to succeed him as congressman from the 6th District (Lexington)? Fletcher (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 84%) will take office as governor in the first week of December and a special election to fill his House seat must be called for no sooner than 35 days later.

Already, there are strong signs of a major split in Republican ranks over who should succeed Fletcher. The most-oft-mentioned candidate is State Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, who reportedly has the backing of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) and his formidable organization. Kerr, sister of two-time Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Forgy, is widely known throughout the district and in party circles. However, Fletcher himself is said to favor his longtime top aide and campaign manager, Daniel Groves, for the congressional nod. Both are considered strong conservatives in the mold of Fletcher. In all likelihood, a districtwide convention rather than a primary will be held to determine the nominee in the special election, thus focusing attention on the comparative political muscle of McConnell and Fletcher to turn out allies.

Democrats, who held the 6th District for 14 years before Fletcher’s initial election in 1996, are clearly not going to roll over and play dead in a by-election. Among the heavyweight contenders mentioned for Congress on the Democratic side are just-re-elected State Treasurer Jonathan Miller, State Sen. R.J. Palmer, son of a wealthy highway engineer, and outgoing State Auditor Ed Hatchett, who lost a primary bid for attorney general this year.


It was poignant that Haley Barbour, who got involved in the Mississippi Republican Party when it was still in its infancy, was the party’s hero last week-not only for becoming the GOP’s second Magnolia State governor since Reconstruction, but, in so doing, for leading a ticket on which Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, a former Democrat, swept to a landslide re-election. In winning her first term as a Republican, Tuck demolished Democratic State Sen. Barbara Blackmon with 62% of the vote-the first time the two major party nominees for any statewide office in Mississippi have been female. In addition, the Barbour-led Republicans made gains in the state house of representatives and the new governor is almost certain to have a working majority to work with next year.


Gov. James McGreevey and fellow New Jersey Democrats got a major boost last week, as they racked up the net gain of one seat they needed to win control of the 40-member state senate. The GOP’s casualty was its biggest “fish:” Senate President John Bennett, a moderate who, having survived a conservative primary challenge, was unseated last week by liberal Democrat Ellen Karcher, the Marlboro Township Council President. Bennett, who lost by 52% to 48%, was damaged by published reports he was the target of federal and state probes into double-billing in Marlboro Township while he served as its attorney. Bennett’s pro-abortion stand and support for higher taxes in the 1990s also hurt him in his own party; as former primary opponent Richard Pezzullo told the Trenton Times, “[There] are some numbers of my supporters who for deeply personal reasons, will never vote for Bennett.”


In one of the most bizarre elections anywhere this year, Philadelphia’s Democratic Mayor John Street turned a nip-and-tuck race for a second term into a fairly comfortable re-election victory after published reports that the FBI had a bug in his mayoral office. Prior to the sensational revelation, the mayor had been running neck-and-neck in most surveys with businessman and Republican opponent Sam Katz, with the liberal Philadelphia Inquirer endorsing Katz and denouncing what it dubbed “habits the incumbent accepts with a worldwise shrug. . .high taxes; politicized services; pay-to-play deal making; weak city planning; insular attitudes.” But headlines about the bug suddenly swelled Street’s poll numbers-particularly among fellow blacks-and he won with 59% of the vote.

The icing on Street’s campaign cake came on October 31st, when Bill Clinton. Who lied to a federal judge, told a wildly cheering rally in Philly that he knew “quite a bit about Republicans investigating Democrats” and likened the FBI probe of Street to his own impeachment.

Republicans, Clinton thundered in a bizarre formulation, “ought to be investigating [Street’s] public record because it’s a lot better than theirs.”

Republicans held onto their two-at-large City Council seats, with incumbent Councilman Frank Rizzo Jr., namesake-son of the late mayor (1972-80), a landslide winner.


With Democratic Mayor Lee Brown termed out, Houston voters will now choose between Bill White, a former Clinton Administration official, and conservative Republican Orlando Sanchez as his successor in a December run-off. In last week’s initial balloting, White topped the nine-candidate field with 37% of the vote, followed closely by former City Councilman Sanchez-who lost a squeaker to Brown two years ago-with 33%. White, who is also a former Democratic state chairman, spent a citywide record $6 million on his campaign.


Days before the election, a front-page story in The Washington Post heralded the “Davis Machine” in Virginia, reporting how Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), chairman of the House Government Affairs Committee and past chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, “channeled more than $5 million into Virginia state and local races over the last six years.” So how did the “machine” do?

In the congressman’s own Fairfax County, conservative School Board Member Mychele Brickner failed in her bid to become the first Republican county board chairman since Davis himself left the post to go to Congress nine years ago. Brickner, who beat a more moderate GOPer in the primary and campaigned on a promise to place a cap on property taxes, lost to Democratic Board of Supervisors member Gerald Connolly by 52% to 41%. Davis raised more than $66,000 for her campaign.

Interestingly, while Davis (lifetime ACU rating: 66%) is identified with the “moderate” or “establishment” wing of his party, he nonetheless provided a major assist to Brickner and other conservatives. Some notables on the right benefiting from major donations or appearances were lawyer Mark Obenshain, brother of State Republican Chairman Kate Obenshain Griffin, who won an open state senate seat in Harrisonburg; former Reagan Administration official John Stirrup, who won a heated battle for a spot on the Prince Charles County Board of Supervisors. Also, a conservative team routed liberal opposition and won a Republican majority on the Loudon County Board of Supervisors-among them, veteran conservative activist Eugene DelGuadio, Eagle Forum lobbyist Lori Waters, and businessman Mick Staton Jr., namesake-son of a former Republican House member from West Virginia. Another conservative whom Davis strongly backed, former National Association of Manufacturers official Chris Braunlich, lost a close race in Northern Virginia to Democratic State Sen. Toddy Puller.

“I have a whole group of prot??©g??©s,” Davis said, “We protect our people.”