The New York City Council elections are usually unfriendly to Republicans. The party holds only three of 51 seats on the council, and is non-competitive in many districts. This year, however, one enterprising candidate is showing New York Republicans how to compete against the Democrats’ inner-city machine and its web of special interest support groups. And in so doing, he may be providing the national party with a blueprint for the 2010 Congressional elections.
Angelo Maragos is running in city council district 26 against Democrat James Van Bramer, who is backed by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, and the Working Families Party, ACORN’s affiliate third party in New York. Van Bramer won in the Democratic primary despite receiving no help or endorsements from the local Democratic committee.
No one remembers the last time a Republican ran in the district, according to campaign manager Paula Hostetter, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 6 to 1. But Hostetter says the Maragos campaign is energized and believes it has a real shot at winning in November, thanks in no small measure to their opponent’s strong ties to ACORN, which the campaign is using to its advantage.
“I was amazed by the number of small interest groups that came to me with agendas, demands, and proposed legislation,” Maragos said. “They made clear that the person who promised them the most would get the endorsement. The individual’s voice is being crowded out.”
“Politicians accumulate endorsements and the obligations that go with them. They forget that this is about service to the constituents and lose touch with the people,” Maragos continues. “The only endorsement I want is that of the people on November 3.”
That populist message is resonating throughout the district, according to the campaign. “We’ve been really quite surprised to find, in this heavily Democratic district, that our double messages of fighting ACORN corruption and getting spending back under control are resonating with all voters,” Hostetter said.
As evidence of that fact, the campaign cites a hastily arranged fundraiser for Van Bramer, which was attended by several high-profile New York Democrats.
On Tuesday night, Reps. Joe Crowley (NY-7), Carolyn Maloney (NY-14), Nydia Velasquez (NY-12), and Anthony Weiner (NY-9) joined Sen. Chuck Schumer in attending the event, which will also featured state legislators and local heavyweights such as New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
The national attention is not scaring the Maragos campaign away. On the contrary, Hostetter says that the event plays right into Republican hands at the local and national levels.
“The point we’re making with this campaign is that the Democrats have made an unholy alliance with ACORN, and are trying to install a city council candidate who will do their bidding…The fact that national politicians are reaching into local politics is a stunning indication of the degree to which they want to exert control over everyone, even in small communities.”
That approach was formed in the wake of ACORN affiliates being filmed offering advice and council to journalists posing as human traffickers seeking to import underage El Salvadorian girls for prostitution. The scandal, along with long-simmering allegations of vote fraud lodged against ACORN in more than a dozen states, led to votes in both houses of Congress to strip the group of all federal funding.
But neither the scandals nor the votes have stopped Weiner, Maloney, and Schumer from endorsing the ACORN-backed Van Bramer in district 26. All three voted to cut off funding to the group, a fact that has not been lost on the Maragos campaign.
“What we want to know from Anthony Weiner, Carolyn Maloney, and Chuck Schumer is this: why, if you all voted to defund ACORN, are you endorsing an ACORN-funded candidate for City Council?” Hostetter said. “Do you plan to urge Van Bramer to disavow his endorsement and return his campaign contributions from ACORN and affiliated entities?”
That is a question that could be repeated in Congressional race after Congressional race next year, as Republicans seek to tie their opponents to the controversial group. Hostetter says that Republicans at the national level can similarly pressure their Democratic opponents if they combine the twin issues of spending restraint and ACORN corruption.
“Our opponent promises a government program to anyone who will listen, reinforcing the image of out of control spending that is now doing so much damage to Democrats at the national level. It’s our firm belief that these issues will be very, very powerful in next year’s midterm elections.”
The Maragos campaign is showing that national Democrats could be made to answer for their local connections, even in some of the party’s most solidly held territory.
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