With W. coming and feuds over, it’s time to unite

By Ed Gold

Our commander in chief will come swaggering into our territory next year and, after kissing ground zero, will tell us at his star-spangled convention that we should support his reelection as a patriotic duty.

The flag of patriotism may reverberate in other sections of the state, so Democrats in the 66th Assembly District Part A should examine how they can effectively organize so that a huge vote here can register for a new commander in chief.

The newly elected district leader, Keen Berger, seems to have recognized the threat and focused on the big issue in her victory statement: “The challenge is to make the Village all it can be,” she said, “and beat Bush. I’m not endorsing anyone for president, but we obviously have to beat Bush.”

The other district leader, Arthur Schwartz, strikes a note of harmony, suggesting that Berger’s victory gives him an opportunity for the first time in several years “to work with a fellow district leader to improve our community and strengthen the Democratic Party here.”

How best can the Democrats maximize their strength in the district as we face the showdown a year from now?

All Democrats who profess to be reformist and progressive can unite under one party tent just as they had for more than 20 years prior to the early ’80s.

That would mean the merger of Village Reform Democratic Club and Lower Manhattan Alliance for Progressive Political Action into a unified Village Independent Democrats.

The contention here is that the schisms that took place in the early ’80s and in the past few years no longer serve their original purpose.

Let’s look at the record: In the early ’80s, V.I.D. was sharply divided between the forces supporting then-Mayor Ed Koch and those who felt he had betrayed both progressive and reformist principles, that he had in fact become a conservative who conspicuously sought old-line party support. The animosity in V.I.D. was heightened by the fact that Koch had been a founder of the club and had raised the reform banner by beating the most important Tammany leader of the time, Carmine DeSapio.

The anti-Koch forces prevailed in V.I.D., first in taking the club presidency and then adding insult to injury by endorsing Mario Cuomo over Koch for governor.

The ardent Koch supporters picked up their marbles and left, forming V.R.D.C., which became known as the “Koch club.” But the love affair between Koch and V.R.D.C. members ended abruptly in 1989 when the club refused to endorse Koch for a fourth term as he ran against David Dinkins in the Democratic primary. Koch pulled his prestige, funding and political agents out of the club, and V.R.D.C., despite some outstanding, articulate and community-minded members, has been wandering in the political desert ever since.

LaMappa’s birth was much simpler. Both district leaders at the time, Schwartz and Aubrey Lees, came out of V.I.D. They had bad chemistry, to say the least. Schwartz tried running a candidate for female district leader against Lees in V.I.D. and his effort was rejected. He then ran in the club unopposed for male district leader, but when a substantial minority abstained from voting for him, his feelings were hurt and he walked out the door.

He had excellent relations with the elected officials, state Senator Tom Duane and City Councilmember Chris Quinn. Quinn may have had some residual animosity towards V.I.D., which had backed Lees against her in a primary race for City Council. Schwartz, Quinn and Duane joined in a political operation known, for short, as LaMappa.

If V.R.D.C. was formed to help Koch, and LaMappa was formed because Lees got on several people’s nerves, these issues no longer exist. Koch long ago quit the local political scene and Lees has retired as district leader. Neither V.R.D.C. nor LaMappa has shown strong political legs recently.

To help sustain itself, V.R.D.C. has made an awkward merger with an East Village group, resulting in the club backing two candidates for mayor in the last race: Mark Green, who attracted most of the Village membership, and Freddie Ferrer, who was supported by the East Villagers.

LaMappa’s history has been a mixed bag. Early on, Schwartz won a decisive victory for reelection as district leader against a V.R.D.C. candidate whom hardly anyone had heard of. LaMappa did well in selecting judicial delegates, but lost badly in a Civil Court primary, and Cynthia Smith, its attractive candidate for district leader this year, was trumped by V.I.D.’s Berger. V.R.D.C. also presented a respectable candidate in the district leadership race, Lois Rakoff, but her vote was conspicuously weak.

It should be noted that Duane and Quinn have well-staffed offices and substantial personal followings and really don’t need LaMappa as a political vehicle. They could play the same role in a big-tent V.I.D. that Assemblymember Deborah Glick now plays.

Berger and V.I.D. president Chad Marlow should take the lead in approaching V.R.D.C. and LaMappa leaders, olive branch in hand, with the view towards creating one strong club in the Village.

Historically, V.I.D. has had many major internal splits in the club, but not until the Koch exodus has the club been torn apart. It survived conspicuous differences over John Kennedy and Adlai Stevenson for president, over Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy for president, over whether to remain neutral between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey for president (the club finally backed Humphrey) and the hottest fight of all, between Koch and Bella Abzug for mayor.

A unified Democratic organization in this district would have several virtues: Party candidates seeking support would only have to appeal to the members of one club, saving money, energy and valuable time. County leaders would know which club to deal with, and wouldn’t have to worry about noses being out of joint. And a presidential campaign against Bush could be organized under one roof; funding and campaign workers could be assigned from one headquarters. Berger and Schwartz would be on the same page, and in the same corner.

As we edge towards 2004 we’ll find out how serious Democrats here are in doing their best to insure that New York votes for a new commander in chief.