MoDo has turned her basilisk eye on the New York mayoral race. In “Bill’s Turn at Bat” she says the unconventional conventional de Blasios find out how it feels to get out of the shadows. In “Close to the Edge” The Moustache of Wisdom has a question. He says Egyptians have two bad options to choose from right now. He then asks: Will anyone offer a third? Here’s MoDo:
So it turns out that Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio, who’s campaigning for mayor on a promise to de-Bloomberg Gotham, do have something in common.
Both men, who grew up in the Boston area, threw caution to the wind and admitted while running for mayor of New York that they were Red Sox fans.
Once elected, Bloomberg quickly switched his allegiance, buying eight season tickets to the Yankees and four to the Mets, but de Blasio is a Fenway Park acolyte — something his rivals are mocking him for.
Any little thing will help now because, in the wildest and most whiplash-prone Democratic mayoral primary ever, the spotlight has finally swung to de Blasio, who has knocked off Christine Quinn as the clear front-runner, a perch she briefly scrambled back onto after Anthony Weiner had knocked her off.
The 52-year-old public advocate has spent the last few days surrounded by the liberal glitterati of New York: Cynthia Nixon and her wife; “Boardwalk Empire” king Steve Buscemi; and ping-pong queen Susan Sarandon, who said she decided not to support Quinn because “you can’t just vote your vagina.”
At the Good Times coffee shop in Greenwich Village on Monday, de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, sat down to talk, pleased that they were no longer “laboring in the vineyard,” as the candidate dryly put it.
Asked why Quinn was not rallying women, McCray, a mother of two, replied. “She’s not accessible. She’s not the kind of person I feel I can go up to and talk to about issues like taking care of children at a young age and paid sick leave.”
Last spring, McCray did an interview with Essence magazine about her feelings about being a black lesbian who fell in love with a white heterosexual, back in 1991, when she worked for the New York Commission on Human Rights and wore African clothing and a nose ring and he was an aide to then-Mayor David Dinkins. With her husband, she was also interviewed by the press in December and was asked if she was no longer a lesbian, and she answered ambiguously: “I am married. I have two children. Sexuality is a fluid thing, and it’s personal. I don’t even understand the question, quite frankly.”
But a lot has happened since then in this campaign season of interesting sexual proclivities and possible firsts. Besides the woman who wants to be the first first lady who used to be a lesbian, there is also Kim Catullo, the wife of Quinn, who would be the first first lady who is a married lesbian.
Then there is the perverse Carlos Danger who wants to be the first mayor who plastered pictures of his privates online.
The summer has been so drenched with the unthinkable and the unorthodox that the de Blasios, married for 19 years, seem quite conventional by comparison.
Over coffee, they talked about a road trip they took to Niagara Falls last year which was, de Blasio said, “a total blast,” about bowling and basketball and how McCray did not like “Django Unchained” because it was too violent and about the positive reaction to ads featuring their 15-year-old son Dante, showing off the ’fro he has sported since third grade. His father warns in one ad that “someday” Dante will be stopped and frisked.
“Dante is a very cool customer,” his father told me.
Quinn is unable to get traction, even with women, despite talking more freely about the historical nature of her bid to become the first woman and lesbian to be mayor, and the showcasing of her shy wife, a corporate lawyer who would prefer to live on a Vermont goat farm. Kim gave interviews revealing that Chris had received death threats for being gay and arguing that her image as a bully is not fair, noting that Chris never wins arguments at home.
Quinn’s message has been anodyne and poll-tested; the speaker of the City Council has somehow managed to reap the downside of her partnership with Bloomberg but not capitalize on the upside; she has left many people confused about where she stands and irritated with her role as lackey to Bloomberg’s nanny.
“What she did giving Bloomberg a third term in a back-room deal was morally and politically unacceptable,” de Blasio said.
It doesn’t help that Bloomberg himself yearns for stronger candidates. As Ken Auletta reports in The New Yorker, the mayor in June “was sympathetic to an effort by some of his supporters to draw Ray Kelly into the race” and secretly paid for a survey by his own pollster to help convince the police chief he could win.
De Blasio, in contrast to Quinn, has a consistent and strong, if hard left, message: If you didn’t like the last 12 years of New York as a luxury product, elect me.
Bloomberg proponents warn it will lead back to the days of stabbings, muggings, and “No radio in car” signs.
De Blasio rebuts that Bloomberg should not have “doubled down on stop-and-frisk and become a fearmonger.”
“I remember,” he said, smiling as he sipped his iced cappuccino, “when this same mayor was a breath of fresh air after Giuliani.”
FYI — MoDo’s “hard left” means that the candidate has some moderately liberal views instead of being a squishy right-leaning centrist. Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
Of all the troubling images from Cairo these days, none could be worse than the pictures of the many civilian casualties. But nearly as disturbing was footage from last week showing an Egyptian police vehicle toppling off the 6th of October Bridge, which spans the Nile in central Cairo. News accounts differed over whether the vehicle was pushed over by protesters or, in a panic, the driver burst through the bridge railing and plunged into the river. Either way, the bridge was badly damaged, the car was lost, the fate of its passengers unknown.
That picture is a miniature of a country that is already decaying, already facing enormous environmental and population challenges, already desperately in need of development and repair, destroying itself further. Who will pay to heal the human and material wounds Egypt is now inflicting on itself? Even billions of dollars from Gulf nations can’t indefinitely prop up a country of 85 million people, where roughly half the women can’t read. What Egyptians are doing to their nation is sheer madness.
What’s especially depressing is that the leadership and options needed to reverse these trends don’t seem to be on offer. Egyptians today are being given a choice between a military that seems to want to take Egypt back to 1952, when the army first seized power — and kept those Muslim Brothers in their place — and the Muslim Brothers, who want to go back to 622, to the birth of Islam and to a narrow, anti-pluralistic, anti-women, Shariah-dominated society — as if that is the answer to Egypt’s ills.
“Egypt’s striking lesson today is that its two most powerful, organized and trusted groups — the Muslim Brotherhood and the armed forces — both proved to be incompetent in the business of governance,” the political scientist Rami Khouri wrote in The Beirut Daily Star last week. “This is not because they do not have capable individuals and smart and rational supporters; they have plenty of those. It is rather because the ways of soldiers and spirituality are designed for worlds other than governance and equitably providing services and opportunities for millions of people from different religions, ideologies and ethnicities. … The lack of other organized and credible indigenous groups of citizens that can engage in the political process and shape new constitutional systems is largely a consequence of how military officers, members of tribes, and religious zealots have dominated Arab public life for decades.”
How true. The Eastern Europeans had had experience with parliamentary democracy in the interwar period. So when communism was lifted in 1989, with the help of the European Union, they made relatively easy transitions to democratic capitalism. The East Asians had decades of dictators, but, unlike those in the Arab world, most of them were modernizers, who focused on building infrastructure, education, entrepreneurship and export-led economies that eventually produced middle classes so broad and educated that they relatively peacefully wrested their freedom from the generals. The East Asians also had Japan as a model — a country that said: “We’re behind, what’s wrong with us? We need to learn from those who are doing better.”
The Arab world did not have the roots of democracy that could quickly blossom or modernizing autocrats, who built broad, educated middle classes that could gradually take control. And it did not have an E.U. to act as a magnet and model. So when the lid came off with the Arab awakening, there was no broad-based progressive movement to effectively compete with the same old, same old: the military and Muslim Brotherhood.
I understand why so many Egyptians turned against the Brotherhood. It was stealing their revolution for its own stale agenda. But the best way to justify ousting the Brotherhood was for the military to put in place a government that really would get Egypt started on the long march to modernization, entrepreneurship, literacy for women and consensual and inclusive politics — inclusive even of Islamists — not another march in place under generals.
Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi installed a cabinet with some good people; it had the potential to give birth to a third way. But before it could take two steps, the army and police launched a campaign to decapitate the Brotherhood that involved, appallingly, the indiscriminate killing of hundreds of unarmed people. The Brotherhood provoked some of this — happy to have some “martyrs” to delegitimize the army’s takeover and change the subject from its own misrule; Brotherhood sympathizers also burned nearly 40 churches and killed some police for good measure.
So, once again, Egyptians and their friends abroad are being polarized between the same two bad options. The hour is late. General Sisi has got to pull back and empower the cabinet he appointed to produce a third way — an authentically modernizing, inclusive government. That is what the 2011 revolution was about. If he diverts Egypt from that goal, the way the Brotherhood did, if his only ambition is to be another Nasser and not a Mandela, Egypt is headed for a steep plunge, just like that police vehicle tumbling into the Nile.