I’ve detected a worrying pattern among many new activists: they care almost only about Democratic primaries and very little about general elections. The activists and operatives my age and older make this error a fair bit, but the younger generation seems to have the problem in droves.
Much of this fixation is rational: in New York state, especially New York City, the Democratic primary is always a much more important election than the November general. In Brooklyn this year, there is Congressman Max Rose’s re-election against Nicole Malliotakis, State Senator Andrew Gounardes’s re-election against Vito Bruno, and a vigorous campaign in Bay Ridge and Staten Island for the open Assembly seat that Nicole has vacated. Upstate, we have several other competitive congressional elections and a few state legislative races. And that’s it.
Next year, the winners of the June Democratic primary will almost certainly sit six months later in the chairs of the mayor, the comptroller, the public advocate, four of the five borough presidents, and about 48 of the 51 City Councilmembers. The November election will be basically a formality. The year after that, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senator Chuck Schumer are up for re-election, but their toughest campaigns will both be in the primary, although who any of their opponents will be is right now totally unclear.
In most of NYC — outside of south Staten Island, parts of outer Queens, and maybe four neighborhoods in southern Brooklyn that my conservative co-columnist seems to always be writing about — and therefore the state, there is not a two-party system but maybe a one-and-a-quarter party system. That’s clearly bad for democracy, though a lot of the blame for that falls with Republicans for being so inadequate.
But the fact is that November general elections in the rest of the country still matter enormously to New Yorkers. We live in a very historic year, but future historians will surely be most interested in what happens between late October this year and January 20th of next year. Expect that election to last a while and be messy and inadequate. We are three and a half weeks after the New York primary, and many, many elections have yet to be decided.
It makes sense that with so many recounts, seven more weeks of primaries still in other states, and the important general elections being mostly quite far away, activists are still in primary mode. But I think a lot of this aversion to general elections comes from elitist lefty distaste for swing district neighborhoods, their Democratic candidates, and the compromises with reality that campaigning there requires.
Compromise is distasteful to so many people, but it’s important to campaign this November for several reasons. First, the opinions of people outside of major cities are numerically vital to our shared politics. Second, discovering and respecting the strange beliefs of others is a crucial life skill for humans. Third, the eyes of the rest of the world and of history are upon us right now. They need us really badly.
Nick Rizzo is a Democratic District Leader representing the 50th Assembly District and a political consultant who lives in Greenpoint. Follow him on Twitter @NickRizzo.