Wednesday, November 10, 1999
Hillary not the first N.Y. `carpetbagger'

Contributing Writer

The off-year elections are now history and the 2000 political season has begun. Of course, politics will not really heat up until next summer, but — as we all know — campaigning for the major offices up for grabs then has already begun.

One of the most interesting races — certainly one that will be watched most closely by everyone to see if there are any trends developing there which might affect the rest of the country — will be the battle in New York between, we all currently presume, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Voters in the Empire State can look forward to a long, hot summer of screeching from Giuliani about that “carpetbagger” Clinton. If, by that, Giuliani means that a national political figure — with good name recognition and the ability to build a strong organization greased with lots of campaign funds wherever they decide to run — has looked around and decided that New York will make a logical and agreeable base for their future political endeavors, then he may have pegged his opponent correctly.

For, New York is rightly seen as a moderate-to-liberal state which leans Democratic and is not averse to electing national political figures (or those who hope to become such) as their top officials.

Indeed, of the last four persons to hold the seat over which Giuliani and Clinton are expected to fight, two had not been previously identified with the state politically and one (the incumbent) had long lived outside its borders moving back only because of the job he took.

Retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was born and raised in Oklahoma, only coming to New York as a college student, but he did first get into politics there as an aide to former New York Governor Averell Harriman and his last government job before running for office was as ambassador to the United Nations — which required him to live in New York City. But, in between, he taught in Massachusetts, worked in Washington and served as U. S. ambassador to India.

The man that Moynihan beat was really a carpetbagger — though he came from just across the border in Connecticut — James Buckley.

However, the most famous carpetbagger in New York politics of all times was former U. S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who ran for the Senate there in 1964.

Admittedly, Kennedy had been raised in New York — and he had lived there as long as he had in Hyannisport, Cambridge, on various New England prep school campuses, the Virginia suburbs, the Court of St. James, or any of his other homes in his somewhat nomadic existence. But, he only established his residence (in a hotel — like President George Bush, whose official Texas voting residence was a luxury suite at a downtown Houston hotel) the day before he announced his candidacy.

And, the frenetic, shaggy-haired campaigner ran against a dignified, liberal Republican (there used to be a few of them around!) who was actually endorsed by a host of prominent liberal Democrats like writer Gore Vidal, actor Paul Newman, and historian Barbara Tuchman.

Still, Kennedy was the heir of the Kennedy legacy, and, if you have forgotten or are too young to remember, consider the outpouring of emotions when John F. Kennedy Jr. died recently and you get some small idea of the feelings that Kennedy evoked.

Of course, even Kennedy needed the boost the ticket got that year from his old nemesis, Lyndon Baines Johnson, to win, for LBJ carried New York by two million votes and Kennedy only won by 703,000!

Now, Clinton is arguably as well-known as her famous predecessor and will likely be able to out-spend and out-glamourize her Republican opponent. But, she had better quickly begin campaigning pretty ferociously because — while the Democrats may win the White House again (and very likely will carry New York even if they do not) — a 1964-style landslide just doesn't seem likely at all.

[Lee N. Howell is an award-winning writer who has been observing politics and society in the Southern Crescent, the state, and nation for more than a quarter of a century.]

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