There’s a lot to get to this week, and it’s all about the State Senate race between freshman Democrat Andrew Gounardes (who also belongs to the Working Families Party) and Republican challenger Vito Bruno (also of the Conservative Party).
As my colleague in this opinion section but across the ideology aisle Bob Capano put it last week, “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.”
Bruno is doing his best to make this entire election about crime, a move that is predictable, hypocritical, and a little crazy, which is really the distinct and brazen blend of the modern Trump-era Republican Party.
Predictable because the Republican playbook has been to attack Democrats on crime for over 50 years now, though the appeal gets a little more aggressive and nakedly racialized each year. Bruno joined Republican Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis and Gounardes’ Republican predecessor Marty Golden at a pro-police rally this summer in Dyker Heights, where rally-goers chanting “Blue Lives Matter” spat on protestors, called Black lives “garbage,” and told one woman to “get raped.” It was an ugly scene.
It’s a little crazy because policing is a municipal issue that Gounardes as an individual state senator has very little control over. Year after year, as crime rates continued to drop, Republicans continued to warn that our cities were headed into a criminal hellscape. President Donald Trump makes the same claim about the suburbs, though those claims are interpreted by many as desperation moves.
Yet crime does appear to be up this year, for the first time in almost three decades. There are almost certainly lots of causes, and surely our sky-high unemployment is one of them. Bruno is trying to claim that the sole cause of the uptick is the bail reform Gounardes voted for, or possibly the bail reform and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who Gounardes is somehow connected to in a way never quite specified.
Most of all, it’s hypocritical because Gounardes is a literal Eagle Scout and as straight an arrow as I’ve ever met in politics. I don’t drink anymore, but back when I did, I spent a lot of time in nightclubs and after-hours bars, and while Andrew is my friend and someone I admire, he’s pretty much the last person I would bring to one.
I bring up nightclubs and after-hours bars because those are the “independent businesses” where Bruno has made his life’s work! Trust me, there’s a whole lot of petty crime of the sort Vito is now decrying going on in nightclubs and especially after-hours bars, which are by-definition illegal.
In the past, Bruno has admitted to reporters that he scored drugs for celebrities and that he bribed cops. In 1987, while managing Club Inferno, he told SPIN magazine, “If we’d go through a night and no one got shot, that was a success.” The next year, his club 1018 in Chelsea had 20 shootings in one year.You know what his tagline in his mailers is? “Vito Bruno is a leader who will make our safety his priority.”