The Unlikely Rise of Schumer and NYC to the Center of the Political Universe
Among the many strange twists and turns that have taken place over the past two weeks, it is easy to overlook the ascendency of New York City as the center of the political universe, but that is exactly what has taken place.
Consider this: in the aftermath of a landslide Republican victory, New York City, which to many social conservatives deserves a place alongside Sodom and Gomorrah, and to many Trumpicans personifies elitist disregard for the little guy, is now home base of the most powerful politicians in America. Think of it, Donald Trump from Queens is going to be the President, Chuck Schumer from Brooklyn is now the defacto leader of the opposition as the leader of the Senate democrats, former NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is rumored to be Trump’s choice as our Nation’s Secretary of State, and transplanted Brooklynite Bernie Sanders is the nation’s leading Socialist turned Democrat. How’s that for New York values, Ted Cruz?
You all know about Donald Trump’s rise to power, but the rise of Senator Schumer, while much more traditional, has some very intriguing twists and turns of its own that offer important clues as to how he will lead as Senate Minority Leader.
He started his political career in 1974 as a 23 year-old Assemblyman from Brooklyn with a knack for getting media attention and driving policy. As Newsday pointed out in this 2015 profile, there aren’t many freshmen who can get Assemblymen to agree on anything, but as a freshman he was able to get 39 of them to attend a press conference protesting education cuts. He successfully ran for a congressional seat in 1980. In Congress, he became known not only for his intelligence and attention to district concerns, but for his eagerness for the spotlight. Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole once said that the most dangerous place in Washington is the space between Chuck Schumer and a TV camera. In 1998, Schumer knocked off Al D’Amato, no easy task considering that D’Amato himself was a master political operative and also a long serving senator who always put state interests first.
The story gets especially interesting when, in 2000, Hillary Clinton successfully ran for NY’s open US Senate seat. There were more and more press reports speculating that Schumer was frustrated that even thought that he was the senior Senator from New York, next to Clinton his role was diminished.
This speculation came to a head when Schumer pulled off one of the great political power plays in NY history. Fresh off an easy re-election, he openly flirted with the idea of running for Governor. As reported by the New York Times “Top Democrats vigorously campaigned to keep him in Washington, promising him a spot on the powerful Finance Committee and persuading him to lead the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee through the midterm elections of 2006.”
This was the key moment in the Rise of Chuck. Nothing gets you friends quicker in politics than helping get someone elected. Plus, he had a close working relationship with Senator Reid who endorsed him as his chosen successor when he announced he was stepping down.
Through it all, the Senator has never lost his enthusiasm for constituent work or his love of the spotlight. His Sunday press conferences are a staple of local news and when my uncle, who had met the Senator while working on neighborhood crime fighting initiatives, retired from the NYPD, the Senator posted a tribute in the Congressional Record. Touches like this still matter. It’s why one former Republican I used to work with called him the best politician in New York.
Why does all this matter? For one thing if I had to come up with a political Moniker for the Senator it would be: “It’s the middle class stupid!” which makes him a natural ally of credit unions as evidenced by his support for MBL reform.
Secondly, no thanks to political or demographic trends, New York City will now be hosting its greatest fight since the Thriller in Manilla. Trump knows how to communicate and doesn’t back down from a fight, neither does Schumer, this should be a darn good show.
Now you know the rest of the story.