New York is tough for the GOP.
And the New York Republicans have often made it harder than it should be.
But the ugly scandal that's blossoming in New York State is an opportunity for the Republican Party and its elected officials to be “born again hard” and to turn the bipartisan culture of corruption into a Republican Party with not only a reason to expand, but a message that helps it do so. It's a chance to be the party of Roosevelt and LaGuardia and Giuliani again, not the party of people like Daniel Halloran.
It's been a long time since we've seen a moment like this in New York. Rudy Giuliani's elections as Mayor weren't about the national GOP brand: they were a rejection of New York's broken political culture. It wasn't just squeegee men and dirty streets: it was the constant and deep corruption of New York in the Koch and Dinkins years. Democratic Party and special-interest politics skimmed a little here, a little there until it drove the city into bankruptcy and despair.
It left millions trapped in welfare dependency and in third-world public housing, trash in the streets, and sex shops in Times Square. It led to a culture that thought filth and decay were “character.” (See Ruth Messinger)
But Rudy helped millions of New Yorkers who don't live on the Upper East or West Side finally realize they didn't need to settle. Growing up on Long Island, kids like me saw New York as scary, dangerous and decaying...until Rudy came along.
After Rudy, New York's shrug-it-off attitude about public corruption was pushed back. He was the tough prosecutor who took on the Mob. The world-weary New Yorker fuggedaboutit attitude gave way to hope that New York could be better. He wasn't perfect, but he sure was better.
Since then, Republicans have failed in their mission to reform either New York, or themselves. The one's willing to dine off the scraps thrown to them by the Democrats have long been guided by a handful of GOP consultants and advisers who never seemed to care much about breaking the Democratic stranglehold.
Working races in NYC and elsewhere, they seemed strangely passive when it came to rolling up new seats, or even waging hard races. The candidates and their consultants took the slow drop in the GOP's power and representation in stride. The Senate took care of the Senate. Pataki's crew served Pataki's interests. Shelly Silver ran the house, and Republicans there were worse than third-class citizens.
They never really seemed to have the fight to get back in the game. Even when he was a Republican, Bloomberg was a nod-and-a-wink Republican at best, and he seemed to be fine with whatever party would let him have his way.
But this scandal presents an opportunity for New York's nearly-dead GOP. They've seen the cancer in their own caucus, and the ones now willing to bust some heads and name some names can do two things:
First, Republicans need to clean up their own act. They need to purge the bad guys in their own caucus, so that at every level can mount a comeback plan based on the simplest message: we're going to clean it up.
We're going to hold ourselves to the highest standard of ethics. We're going to relentlessly focus on the economy and job creation in a state that desperately needs both. We're going to stop playing the game of special interests. I know, you're thinking “But this is New York”...but without this first step, we don't have a leg to stand on. It's a populist approach that isn't about one guy fixing another guy's parking tickets in Albany.
It'll be ugly, but it'll work.
Next, Republicans need to paint the Democratic brand in New York as one associated with constant, widespread public corruption. After a certain point, even the most ideological voters get fed up with a system run by outright criminals. The NY GOP needs to stay on message, because the stories we've seen so far are the tip of the corruption iceberg. Governor Cuomo is racing to get ahead of a story that's going to touch everyone in the system, blowing up one of his campaign promises...and his 2016 hopes.
The spreading scandal proves that the Empire State, under all its pretense and big talk needs a housecleaning, and needs a better class of leaders. My home state deserves better...and it deserves a Republican Party that steps up and delivers.