Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

Weiner’s Got Balls

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I was going to title this “In Defense of Weiner,” but the New York Post-style headline was all too tempting.

It’s been a year since I’ve written about Anthony Weiner, but then it’s been a year since Weiner’s been in the news. But he’s back with aplomb, and more than a little public consternation.

Anthony Weiner announced his candidacy for mayor of New York, to which the New York Times made one of those concerned faces and started interviewing people on the streets and online about what they thought about such a move. The results more more than a little negative, with most comments calling him in some form or another an arrogant narcissist who makes poor decisions and lies when caught because he is starved for personal attention.

Why, they almost make him sound like a politician.

I honestly fail to see the issue: His personal life is his personal life – as Michael Bloomberg has famously attested – tumultuous as it may be, and of all people who should have been incensed at his internet dalliances, his own wife is heading his campaign. Of course, this is returned with cries that they’re a cynical political couple like the Clintons and that this is all a sham in the face of media attention. Oh, there are worse things in the world than to be compared to the Clintons. But what I see as the problem here is twofold:

First, we have a double standard among politicians, and it is ultimately hurting New York Democrats. As I’ve grown up in New York City, I’ve watched old guards laugh at all possible attempts to unseat them despite all manner of scandals, and I’ve watched the best and the brightest of the new guard get right up until they catch the eye of major opponents, then die from by the book political machinations.

My congressman, Charles Rangel, who was a congressman of my neighborhood for longer than I’ve been alive, was caught with major ethics violations – of the sort that actually matter, being that they affected actual people’s lives – while heading the house ethics committee and managed to win re-election in 2010 handily. My senator, Chuck Schumer, has been in DC since before I was born and has effectively resisted Democratic and popular demands to raise taxes on the rich with impunity as he’s more or less turned his job into an iron ricebowl.

I don’t think I even need to mention the sorts of shit Republicans have gotten away with.

Meanwhile, the top three up-and-comers in homegrown New York politics – Andrew Cuomo, Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer – were all destroyed the moment by minor scandals more established politicians (or simply Republican politicians) balk at. Cuomo had to go soul-searching for eight years, Spitzer’s still writing opinion pieces for, and Weiner just came back last week.

This matters because I’m not looking for an honest politician, and anybody who is had better start explaining where they’ve been since taking civics class in middle school. I’m looking for an effective politician, and Cuomo, Weiner and Spitzer have proven themselves to be the attack dogs the Democratic party needs and has always been starving for. We need tigers, not paper tigers, and that they fold to the first mainstream political attack says a lot about the unrealistic expectation of our more liberal Democratic constituents.

Simply put, clean politicians are untested politicians. They’re clean until a sniffer from the opposing party finds something. It’s not as if independent inquiries that deposed these men. As such, my stance is equally simple: You’re not marrying these guys, but you are going to have to live under a system where people who they’re opposed to get to dictate public policy when they can’t win elections.

This brings me to the second point: There really isn’t anybody else. A common lament, one I’ve said myself, is how we manage to get these charlatans to choose from in the first place. “There should be so many decent leaders out there and we always seem to get the bozos.” Well, thing is, no, there really aren’t. Let’s get to the current picks for the Democratic candidate for mayor. We have:

  1. Christine Quinn, who seems to think that Manhattan Borough President and Mayor of New York are the same job just with different pay scale.
  2. Bill de Blasio, who fails to understand that while you can win an election while ignoring every borough but Manhattan, you can’t win an election while ignoring Manhattan.
  3. John Liu, who is currently discovering that if you’re going to buy an election, it’s best to be independently wealthy like Michael Bloomberg.

de Blasio recently got an major union endorsement, as he’s one of those solid liberal civil servants who’s never been tested on the big stage and therefore has no major scandals under his belt, but we’ve seen those kinds of guys before: They were the ones who ran against heavy hitters like Giuliani and Bloomberg and lost with narry a whimper because they’re not assholes. We need an asshole, except apparently some Democrats are allergic to assholes. Well, fuck them: I want my liberal agenda actually fought for, and I want somebody to play dirty when that’s what’s needed to get things done.

I’m sick and tired of a limp middle-of-the-roader whose only claim to fame is that he’s squeaky clean. I don’t want a family man. I don’t care if it “embarrasses New York.” (Haven’t you guys ever heard of a man named Donald Trump?) I want a cynical hardball pol who dances with the devil because somebody has to. I want a mean summabitch with the right politics. In fact: Somebody go clone Rahm Emanuel!

Regular Ole’ Hood Shit

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Haven’t blogged in half of forever, so let me get back into the habit by starting small.

I’ve been caught up in a debate on what part of identity politics are nature and nurture (my answer: Aside from acknowledging difference itself, all reaction is nurture) and with that in mind I was considering how I’d describe an event I witnessed while biking home after dark today. Now, I still live in the hood in uptown Manhattan – ostensibly still a drug neighborhood, gentrified in parts so long as you keep west of Broadway, et cetera – and some parts are still flooded with cops as per the CompStat system. Indeed, normally while biking up Broadway I tend to see four or five squad cars breaking up groups hanging out on the corner or stopping motorists who appear to be cruising for drug purchases.

In the gap between two such stops was a fight that was raging up and down a block on Broadway between a barrel-chested Black man with long dreadlocks and a pot-bellied Sikh man with topknot. I don’t know how it started, but when I happened upon the scene, the Sikh man was bleeding from the hairline and was swinging at the Black man with a three foot iron bar.

I pulled over and asked a bartender from a cafe at the end of the block who was watching the proceedings what had happened and if anybody called the cops. “Oh, it’s been going on for some five minutes. It started because of someone disrespecting him or his girl or some shit. There’s cops everywhere except when you need ’em. Look at that girl over there just taping the whole thing.” And sure enough, there was a girl with her smartphone just taping the whole thing.

Aside from the combatants, there were about five or six guys guarding the storefronts, two guys attempting to pull the combatants off each other, four women who were standing well behind, on their phones, and the Black guy’s girlfriend, hurling epithets at the Sikh man. The fight was broken up when the two guys managed to drag the Sikh man into a bodega, close the entrance behind him, and push the Black man away from the door.

The Black man started to walk away until his girlfriend yelled at him, at which point he turned around and started shouting at the bodega entrance until the Sikh man emerged once more and the process started over. It was only when the other women pulled the girlfriend aside did the fight end for good.

It reminded me of a fight between two drug dealers in my neighborhood, one Black man and one Dominican man, where for three days their argument raged up and down the block in front of an audience of some dozen locals. I’d sit in my apartment and hear two male voices yelling at each other for about ten minutes, then die down, then two female voices start up, then the male voices resume their tirades. This would go on for hours. On the fourth day, the Dominican man shot the Black man dead and fled to the Dominican Republic, where he was extradited two days later.

On the face of it, it’s some honor bullshit: Some perceived slight spirals into a whole event. But it wouldn’t have dragged out as long or as bad as it did were it not for the audience, and within the audience the girlfriends specifically, egging them on. Would cops have changed things? Possibly. In the case of the drug dealers, the cops showed up twice in those first three days, which is how the fights actually ended, but no follow-up had been done. What interests me more is how that whole honor thing got to be so important as to matter more than anything else, and the answer to me is fairly simple: There is nothing else.

One of the results of the CompStat system was that violent crime in New York City – assaults, et cetera – dropped to historic lows, but they of course did so at a time of economic buoyancy – the late ’90s – where the unemployment rate was also at historic lows and the employment rate (ie: the percentage of adults employed) was around 65%.

Right now we’re of course in the throes of a jobless recovery following a major recession that itself followed ten years of stagnation, where the city’s unemployment rate is double what it was then and the employment rate is around 55%. And lo and behold, violent crime – over nothing, no less – is sprouting up, for lack of anything better to do.

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