With many New Yorkers returning from their summer getaways and more closely focusing on the November election, political campaigns traditionally begin making their strongest arguments to voters around Labor Day.
Locally, this is happening in the hot State Senate race in southwest Brooklyn between Democratic incumbent Andrew Gounardes and GOP challenger Vito Bruno. This contest, I predict, will be a bellwether for any hopes of Republican gains in Albany’s upper chamber to reclaim the majority — or to at least make a dent in the Democrats’ big gains from two years ago.
Bruno, an independent businessman, has focused his campaign on restoring order to our streets, while also partly blaming Gounardes for a recent rise in crime. His most recent mailing highlighted Gounardes’ vote for bail reform, which eliminate cash bail and pretrial detention for those committing a range of misdemeanors and non-violent felonies — but which also allowed for many criminals to be rereleased onto the street within hours of being arrested for dangerous crimes.
The Republican challenger also cited Gounardes’ vote against legislation which would have increased penalties for those assaulting police officers and resisting arrest. As we have seen in recent months, many of our cops have been the victims of physical injuries from some not-so-peaceful protesters.
In turn, criminals feel emboldened — as evidenced by the skyrocketing crime rates, including more shootings in broad daylight. Many point to the policies and anti-cop rhetoric from Democrats this year as reasons for the current public safety crisis.
While certain categories of crime have also gone up in this senate district, it seemed that these traditionally safe areas had fended off the worst of the violence. Not anymore.
In addition to the other human carnage around our city Labor Day weekend, there were two murders in Gounardes’ district. A Bay Ridge man, described as the “salt of the earth” by his neighbors, was shot while walking his dog in front of his home. Another man was shot in the face and neck in Bensonhust during an apparent carjacking attempt. Both are dead.
Probably sensing his vulnerability on public safety, Gounardes just sent out an attack mailer saying Bruno “welcomed drug dealers,” “harbored violent criminals,” and “celebrated corruption” because he ran nightclubs in the 1970s.
The mailing shows newspaper clippings with these headlines and leads people to believe Bruno ran the clubs where these alleged crimes occurred. The GOP candidate, however, maintains he was long gone from any role with the establishments cited when these violent crimes took place.
You don’t need a PhD in political science to figure out that Gounardes is trying to weaken Bruno’s law and order platform by focusing on alleged criminal activities from 40 years ago, rather than the crime happening under our noses today.
This district — represented from 2003 to 2018 in the State Senate by Republican Marty Golden — has historically supported law enforcement. Now, it has been directly rocked by violent crime — the upcoming election will be a strong indicator as to whether voters hold Democrats accountable for the increased crime.
How this race goes could be the bellwether for a Republican comeback in New York.
Bob Capano has worked for Brooklyn Republican and Democrat elected officials, and has been an adjunct political science professor for over 15 years. Follow him on twitter @bobcapano.