Part 1: Max Rose (D) (NY-11) Wins NYC Congressional Seat
Not long ago, I wrote in Counterpunch that the “Forgotten Borough” Staten Island, New York is not like the rest of the city, noted Professor of Political Science Richard Flanagan at College of Staten Island CUNY. On November 6, 2018 however, the night that Max Rose (D) defeated Dan Donovan (R) to represent New York’s 11th congressional district in the US House of Representatives, a member of Staten Island Women Who March (SIWWM) cried tears of joy, prompting the owner of Errigo’s to ask, “congratulations, is he your son?” She replied, “No” but the conversation that followed involved voting, civic duty, the limitations of electoral politics, and the difficulty of turning a red district blue, with all of the emotions that might entail.
Meanwhile Democracy Now! featured political activist and organizer Linda Sarsour, journalist Jeremy Scahill, and commentator Ryan Grim. Although Staten Island remains a Republican stronghold, and Rose was only the second Democrat to win the seat since 1981, Barack Obama received 48% of Staten Island’s vote in 2008 and won the island outright in 2012. As it turned out, Rose won in stunning fashion, and outperformed the incumbent in both Brooklyn and Staten Island respectively.
Since New York’s 11th is Sarsour’s district, Scahill asked her to tell the audience about Dan Donovan, the incumbent that Max Rose had just defeated. She responded with, “Dan Donovan was the district attorney at one point, who could not indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, who choked Eric Garner on video for the whole country to watch, for the whole world to watch. And he actually immediately after that won a seat in Congress. He beat a Democrat (Vincent Gentile in a special election) to get into Congress. He was almost rewarded for the non-indictment of officer Pantaleo.”
Sarsour continued with, “And today he was beat. He was beat by a very young man, a young Democrat, Max Rose, and in a district that has changing demographics. It’s longtime been like the “Mississippi of the North.” But new immigrants, new Americans, young progressives, people of color, black people on the North Shore, [and] a large Latino community has come together and Dan Donovan is out of a job. And we were the only district in New York City that gave a Republican to Congress. And now New York City has become fully, a Democratic delegation.”
Ryan Grim added that although Max Rose “refused corporate cash, he’s not a super progressive” and Sarsour took issue and objected by saying, “No (to mean he is super progressive), that’s true (to mean he did refuse corporate cash).” Grim replied with, “But he did say, ‘I’m not taking any corporate money,’” to which Sarsour agreed, “yes.” Grim remarked that Rose looked “to be one of those people who said he’s going to stick by [that promise.]” Many critics all along have believed that Rose’s rhetoric concerning “ripping up corporate checks” was simply code for refusing corporate cash, while funneling money through the DCCC, which does in fact take corporate cash. But according to Open Secrets, Rose has not only taken from the DCCC, who takes from corporate donors, but from corporations outright.
In retrospect, it’s not surprising that Liberal Democrat Michael DeVito was a distant second place to Max Rose in the Democratic Primary, given that Rose’s name surfaced at Alameda, San Francisco, and Oakland dinner parties with regularity in the summer of 2018. Leading up to the November midterm, Rose’s name was mentioned in the same sentence as the son of Robert Goodlatte, and various other angel investors.
The Democracy Now! exchange was interesting but needs to be unpacked a bit more. For starters, Sarsour’s commentary regarding the criticism of Donovan over the mishandling of the police killing of Eric Garner while Donovan was District Attorney is true, except the national media’s coverage of this is disproportionate to the political activity in the North Shore of Staten Island related to the murder. Furthermore, Rose won “Trump country” by “addressing non-partisan issues.” Outside of a few radical activists and local progressives, much of the Staten Island North Shore’s political culture is parochial, provincial, and soft “left,” and largely comprised of entrenched elected officials and liberals that more or less aided in Garner’s death, while promoting broken windows, over-policing, land speculation, and over-development. Often they disassociate machine electoral politics and short term winning from long term, on the ground activism.
Many of the residents of Staten Island’s North Shore that are engaged with the Garner tragedy however, act as some of the unwitting liberal collaborators do, except they are informed at all intersecting levels of the locale and do not engage or vote for the most part. When they do, they support insurgent candidates or progressive third parties. Rent burdened and working class people in the North Shore also do not vote nearly as regularly as the middle class white, black, and latinx residents that Sarsour mentioned the night Rose won.
Additionally, the “changing demographic” has been steadily taking place in the North Shore since the 1960s, so it has not been “longtime the Mississippi of the North.” The historic and current city councilwoman has impressively earned three consecutive terms, debunking this notion in part.
Secondly, it is believed by many, that an inadvertent Sanders like economics-first canvassing strategy motivated “conservative” voters to turn significant portions of Mid-Island, Staten Island, less red. It’s not only that Rose won because he defamed de Blasio, pharmaceutical companies, touted his military career, and promoted appeals to patriotism and first responders with his literature. Nor did he win simply by showing he had the chops to manage their capital better than a stale incumbent.
Sarsour might disagree with this analysis of the Rose victory but few happened to notice a robust Eric Garner discussion leading up to the election. Let’s say that Democratic politicians did discuss Garner at length, would it necessarily alienate moderate to conservative mid-islanders in Staten Island? It’s doubtful. Discussing “divisive” issues such as racial injustice isn’t a bad strategy per se, but perhaps it’s just that voters want to hear about a fair economy directly, that might make racial injustice, or any form of injustice, less common.
Rose might have won even more votes for that matter in the South Shore, Staten Island if he used a strict class-based message instead of assuming the way forward there, was to promote law and order, military credentials, nationalism, and “drain the swamp” language. Nevertheless, Rose disrupted the South Shore and received over 12,000 votes.
When Scahill asked Sarsour to comment on the Rose victory she could have simply stated that Rose won because he spent a great deal of money, had an excellent ground game, capitalized on the Andrew Gounardes race in Brooklyn, a high turnout, and a blue wave (or “splash” according to pollster Steve Greenberg), throughout the United States. The money and ground game was able to calibrate and target certain apolitical Kennedy liberals that now identify as “conservatives,” on the mid-island, that may or may not, live off of their credits cards, are trapped in debt, and have sick loved ones, as real wages decline.
Part 2: Unchallenged Staten Island Democrats: Max Rose and Michael McMahon
One of several primary candidates that Max Rose faced was the current SIPAN director (Staten Island Progressive Action Network and branch of NYPAN) Paul Sperling, a millennial and perhaps the lone Progressive in the race, who ran to gain experience in setting up a progressive campaign and getting ballot access. To many Progressives, it will come to no surprise that Max Rose faces the potential to be primaried if for no other reason, to continue to build the left wing of the Democratic Party that started in NYC in 2008.
Max Rose did receive a considerable amount of progressive-left votes in his general election bid that he did not receive in the primary. Over one-third of Staten Island and South Brooklynite Democrats and Progressives did not select Rose in his primary, but a large portion that saw the need to defeat Republicans, voted for him, adding to the “surge,” and many progressives are following him closely now.
Since his swearing in however, he has been a vocal opponent of Medicare-For-All, the Green New Deal, and has supported a “motion to commit” which allows the GOP to spend as much as it would like on a border wall. While campaigning on “leftist” turf, Rose also pledged to join the Progressive Caucus but instead, he has joined the Blue Dog Coalition. Rose also voiced support for the Iran nuclear deal framework before Peace Action Staten Island, when that doesn’t seem to be the case now. Rose also, with seemingly little to gain, spoke out against Ilhan Omar, by far one the most competent, brave, and progressive politicians currently serving in the United States.
In light of all of this, Sperling indicated that “history might be repeating itself in Staten Island.” He was referring to Michael McMahon, the current Democratic Staten Island District Attorney and then congressman “who also rode in on a blue wave in a blue year, and thought he could build up conservative support without alienating the progressive base.” Sperling argues that when McMahon was in Congress and voted against the Affordable Care Act, he misread how many people regardless of political party valued it, even with its mild reforms.
Meanwhile, as Congressman Rose governs from the center, the Centrist Michael McMahon is in the driver’s seat to secure his District Attorney post. McMahon is currently running unopposed in the upcoming primary and has no GOP challenger. Cakewalking into any office, without so much any challenge in New York City from the progressive wing, given the rise of DSA, the recent IDC defeats, and federal and state level victors such as the promising Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Julia Salazar, is truly stunning indeed.
Tiffany Cabán is presently setting the model for what is possible with progressives and DA office holding in New York City, but no such groundswell exists in the North Shore, Staten Island (a place that claims to be progressive) and neither did the groundswell exist for Max Rose in the North Shore, at least, as Sarsour might think. As former Staten Island borough presidential candidate Tom Shcherbenko lamented at a forum this past September, much to the chagrin of Debi Rose’s astute political consultant David Jones, “why it can’t happen here in the North Shore, [getting progressives elected] I don’t know!” Shcherbenko however, is not alone in asking this question or voicing the sentiment.
Neil Schuldiner of the Staten Island NAACP and a member of SiaraPB (Staten Island Against Racism and Police Brutality) in a careful study of the New York Law Journal including previous congressional records, documented McMahon’s opposition to independent special prosecutors in cases that involved police shootings, opposition to the legalization of marijuana, and opposition to affirmative action in hiring. Schuldiner urged Reverend Dr. Carolina to consider McMahon’s civil rights record in a fall 2018 SI NAACP branch meeting. It was further noted how McMahon opposed clearing low level warrants, the taxing of Wall Street bonuses, the capping of executive pay at companies receiving bailout money from taxpayers, in addition to the vote against Obamacare.
Progressive candidate for Public Advocate Nomiki Konst has cited the most recent anti-progressive measures associated within the DA office, drawing outrage from the more machine and establishment groups of Staten Island Democrats. In a recent op-ed by the District Attorney, he offered a well written and heart-felt analysis, but it could also be seen as a cynical attempt to address a constituency that breaks down crime in simply a good vs. evil dichotomy, or perceives to anyway.
Despite some of the promise of newcomers like Max Rose and the popularity of incumbents that have worked hard over the years in forging emotional connections with Centrists and party loyalists like McMahon has, names have surfaced as eventual primary insurgents including Linda Sarsour, Richard-Olivier Marius, Patricia Okoumou, as well as others with blue-collar and progressive roots but no elected office experience.
Shcherbenko apparently contacted Linda Sarsour directly to primary Rose, who’s not far apart from him ideologically. Sarsour is a Rose supporter in fact, but Shcherbenko is smart enough to know that she’s identitarian enough for Staten Island liberal women and progressives overall, who could break away from Rose for various reasons. Clearly progressives in the North Shore, if there are any in electoral politics, were not organized in preparing for a DA primary showdown, but Congress could be another matter entirely.
Moreover, there is little doubt, or the hope would be at least, that if Erica Garner, the late daughter of Eric Garner, and a Bernie Sanders supporter from 2016, were alive today, a very powerful electoral campaign would be fully underway, connecting race to class in some capacity, with the aims of her achieving office with the full funding and backing of DSA and NYPAN.
Part 3: Staten Island’s Democratic Landscape
More questions linger than answers on the Max Rose front. Did he win because he sounded more populist, like Sanders, than the austere-like Clinton? Looking back more closely at the 2016 Democratic Primary in New York City, Clinton received 63% to Sanders 36%. In the privileged liberal sector of the Upper East Side Carnegie Hill, Clinton tallied a whopping 80% while also getting 76% in Chelsea, 71% on the Upper West Side, and 71% in the hub of forward thought, the West Village.
And when you look at the North Shore, Staten Island, where Hillary Clinton easily defeated Bernie Sanders in Mariner’s Harbor, she received 69% of the primary vote, and in Grymes Hill, 75%. Clinton basically won the “progressive” North Shore outright in the primary with the exception of New Brighton. Other than the 3 million disenfranchised independent voters in New York, barred from registering as Democrats prior to the primary, how could the much more progressive Sanders lose to Clinton so easily in the North Shore? Clinton won by 32 points in Manhattan, but only by 7 in Staten Island overall.
It’s possible that Bernie Sanders had success in New York City when the people in the area were faced with unique challenges or concerned with more progressive economic issues. In the 2016 primary, Sanders defeated Clinton in Green Point Brooklyn getting 64% of the vote. Sanders, a Democratic Socialist, won “rightwing” Tottenville, Staten Island with 59%, Eltingville with 63%, Oakwood with 60%, New Dorp with 70%, and South Beach with 75%. Sanders also won 49 of the 62 counties in the state overall.
Of course the number of Democrats that voted in the primary was less than Republican turnout in these areas, but it still illustrated something about the Sanders phenomena nationally, outside of the more bourgeois US power centers and privileged sectors. In short, Sanders probably would have beaten Trump in a 2016 matchup, just as Rose defeated Donovan. Rose should take note of this when he thinks about who he will endorse for President in 2020. People that voted for Sanders in the GOP neighborhoods are not entirely dismissive of Manhattanite left and right issues, but they are more concerned perhaps with up and down issues.
Ironically though, liberals and non-progressives in the North Shore, are so concentrated and powerful that even Sanders delegates can’t support Sanders type candidates when they run in Staten Island. Before being knocked off of the ballot, the Progressive Philippe-Edner Apostol-Marius was poised to take on the Liberal Debi Rose for City Council, potentially best illustrating how identitarian political party members needed to reevaluate their relationship with their own classist political party. Retail politicians run on single issues in Staten Island and not wholesale inequality, demonstrating a liking for, yet a distance from, Sanders, and a loyalty to the liberal establishment and New York’s political center and governor.
Furthermore, the North Shore voters have spent so much time fixated on defeating Republicans, that they can’t properly or honestly calibrate what a progressive economic, foreign, environmental, immigration, over development, and over policing policy, look like, within their own Democratic Party at each level. And to make matters worse, Staten Island relies on activists who probably don’t always vote, to voice these truths.
It is problematic that the average North Shore liberal that admired and talked a big progressive game for insurgent candidates like Zephyr Teachout from afar, tend to lose objectivity and actively support Tish James machine type candidates when close to home.
When North Shore sectarian political motivations are divorced from class issues elsewhere on the island, these North Shore competing interest groups basically serve as vehicles for middle class voter viability and preservations of power and stakeholding.
Max Rose hit the right notes when he addressed working to middle class people that have been betrayed by the neoliberal establishment and see no “American Dream” taking shape. They only see more concerns about their own wages, health care, and transportation, as they live off of their credit cards. The terms Marxism, socialism, resistance, and revolution, mean little to them, if understood at all.
Indeed, there were not enough Mid-island and especially South Shore voters in support of Sanders to offset Trump in a hypothetical election in those areas, but again, the trend does provide evidence nationally, that the menace of Trump could have been defeated if Sanders, even with all of his flaws, had been the nominee. To be clear, it was the North Shore, and not the South Shore or Mid-Island subsets, that failed to observe this progressive movement within the Democratic Party.
But maybe Staten Island is just simply too polarized and sectarian. Maybe right wing fanaticism is so ramped, that fending off the GOP must be done with safe and careful Centrism. But it seems establishment and Centrist Democrats refuse to even try or test the theory, including “Democrats” from the right that tried to unseat Councilwoman Debi Rose, a liberal pragmatist, with both a Reform and a Republican Party candidate. Additionally, the South Shore canvassing strategy for Max Rose might be emblematic of the liberal strategy in reaction to Trump overall. That is, instead of messaging and campaigning progressively to the left economically of establishment and corporate Democrats, we should replace the current GOP with center-right Democrats, focused on law and order, pride in the uniform, and faith in institutions.
Max Rose is a toughminded realist and probably thinks that there are “smart wars” and “stupid wars.” This basically means we are only to start wars that America can win. This “presupposes that America should use power without restraint” but only as long as its short term and long term gains are realized overseas, and translate into benefits for the middle class and up at home. This is far from a progressive foreign policy.
This type of thinking didn’t hurt Rose however, it inadvertently helped, because he like Sanders, “talked about nationalism, similarly to Trump, but he removed the white part of it,” remarked CSI (CUNY) anthropologist Philippe-Richard Marius. Foreign policy, like race discussion, is outside of the mind of the average struggling Staten Islander, and it distracts from policies regarding improved wages and Medicare-For-All, both policies that Max Rose should be embracing.
Politicians and their strategists are less sophisticated than we think. Voters are more sophisticated than we think. For all of the talk about how conservative Staten Island is compared to liberal Brooklyn and liberal Manhattan, a closer investigation is needed. Yes, Staten Island is a Republican borough in general, but it is far less conservative and more egalitarian, than the rest of New York City is liberal and elite. This is not simply because of the liberal North Shore. Professor Flanagan is correct, it’s not like the rest of the city.
Part 4: ‘Why Can’t It Happen Here?’ Max Rose Exposes Staten Island’s Sectarian “Left”
Just how sectarian is the “Democratic Left” in the North Shore, Staten Island? It’s somewhat difficult to explain, largely because it’s such a varied population ideologically within a concentrated area. In effect, it mostly comprises of center-left interdependent Liberal enclaves, which all serve as one de facto organization, and it keeps Progressives and Radicals out. The North Shore is jam-packed with political activity but not productivity, namely, since there are so many groups: Libertarians, Republicans, Conservative Democrats, Centrist Democrats, Liberal Democrats, Progressive Democrats, and Radicals.
Nationally, the Democratic Party, with some caveats, is considered to have three main parts: the progressives, the “beer-track” flyover-state moderates, and the “wine-track” coastal elite liberals. There is an inherent flaw in these categories however, that extends more broadly to North Shore, Staten Island Democrats, who also share this basic right, center, and left, featured within the populace. That flaw is the belief that coastal liberals are more progressive than flyover moderates. Perhaps on some issues they are, but this is not necessarily the case, and in part, helps to explain the reasons for Sanders’s success from the beginning — his ability to combine rust belt vulnerabilities with younger social democrats in cities and suburbs.
Max Rose captured this essence with his victory, and showed that while his “coastal elite” type support served as a base, it was inevitably the “flyover middle class” as well, that helped place him over the patrician Donovan. It’s the progressives’ hope that both Max Rose and Bernie Sanders, quite frankly, realize that they have enough cushion and clout to pursue the most progressive economic and social policies possible, including wages, healthcare, education, foreign policy, race, housing, opioids and immigration. This is true in the case of Max Rose especially, where he has the capital and a loyal allegiance from the Liberals in Staten Island. He need not placate Centrists on political or social issues to fend off Nicole Malliotokis, he only needs to further secure the working to middle class’s access to life’s blessings that mostly upper middle class and upper class Republicans and Democrats enjoy.
Simply put, it’s not that Rose should be “liberal” in South Brooklyn or the North Shore, “moderate” in the Mid-Island, and “conservative” in the South Shore, it’s that he should focus on issues that impact struggling and suffering people across the board. If it’s his concern, he’s already convinced the privileged sector Liberals that he’s “progressive” enough, and the privileged sector Centrists that he’s “moderate” enough. Speaking out against Ilhan Omar to undermine a challenge from right wing fundamentalists and the liberal orthodoxy that denies The Fateful Triangle, is overblown and unnecessary. He stands to lose more progressives, than he does to gain moderate to conservatives that care much less about the culture wars than we think.
It is already irksome to many Progressive Democrats that voted for Max Rose, that he has voiced opposition to certain progressive policies. It is further annoying that he seems to feel compelled to constantly reinforce the importance of the “patriotic orthodoxy” in Staten Island, when creeping nationalism is a precise characteristic that the progressive-left wants rooted out of candidates and agendas. America is not the exceptional nation, no matter what Trump and the Liberals say. Furthermore, Rose also strikes Progressive voters as the type of Centrist-Liberal who supports left social issues, as long as they are mainstreamed enough, and can be steered away from militancy, and appropriated to concentrations of capital. Interestingly enough, the same is true of the Libertarians, although they are more “extreme,” and support the likes of Gary Johnson as well as Tulsi Gabbard, both troublesome possibilities.
Max Rose apparently utilizes photo ops in the place of progressive policy formulation to present himself as “tough on hate.” And yes, Progressives and Radicals do want Rose to speak out against visible “hate” in this incredibly frightening time of heightened antisemitism, islamophobia, racism and sexism, and they applaud him for standing up for marginalized groups. This is not in question. Although “hate” should not be used to describe what is actually, as Chip Berlet cites, “ethnoviolence.” For when we tend to think that only certain people can “hate,” we fail in confronting of own complicity in existing classist systems of oppression. This is something that both Philippe-Edner Apostol-Marius and Richard-Olivier Marius have both tried to consistently point out, (especially in the case of Eric Garner and relative inequality both at home and abroad), and it only elicits doublespeak and harsh Centrist and Liberal backlash.
Progressives want a government that addresses foreign policy, economics and class politics and all forms of “invisible” hate, like mass incarceration, poor housing, or poor healthcare outcomes. Centrist and Centrist-Liberal Democrats use terms like “hate” and “extremism” while denouncing “violent radicalization.” When Max Rose governs this way he helps to undermine the Progressive commitment in criticizing our own surveillance and political repression overseas. He rightly supports families and first responders impacted by 9/11, but he makes it clear that 9/11 wasn’t a violent reaction and retaliation on our country’s adventurism, just a random action against our freedom to be utilized and policed for ongoing political purposes. Even when not under the leadership of the “most dangerous organization in human history,” the US is a neoliberal security state. We, the US, supports and sponsors Israeli and Saudi Arabian extremism routinely, so when Rose casually uses the word “extremism,” he delegitimizes any idea outside of the political center.
Since Rose maybe thinks that “conservatives” voted for him, he is very careful of how he shapes even the most superficial platitudes of mainstream liberalism. This is to give the appearance that he is at most, a Liberal, but not a Progressive, and certainly not a “Socialist.” As Rose scurries to acquire cultural capital from Centrists, he demonstrates an ongoing preoccupation in seeking a figment of the moderate to conservative imagination, as apart from progressive policy making. His campaign email sent on May 30, 2019 at 8:12 pm entitled, “did you get my wife’s email?” was incredibly gratuitous, all-of-the-sudden, out of nowhere, and appeared to be an obvious unspoken comparison to the single, unwed, and likely GOP “reactionary” challenger, Nicole Malliotokis. Of course, there is plausible deniability here for the Rose team, but it’s likely a dog whistle to indicate that she does not fit the “traditional family” profile of a trusted elected official in Staten Island.
And who can blame Max Rose, when the core of Centrist-Liberals, are entrenched in the politics of respectability. They often suggest that Black Lives Matters is divorced from class politics, that the armed forces “protects us and others” (not energy at its source), that only men should “occupy the block” (while women want to as well, yet are not permitted), that critiques of Israel are anti-Semitic (it’s Zionism that is critiqued), and that the citing of white feminism amounts to antifeminism. These are all tactics that the center-left uses to dismantle what is universally progressive in an effort to subdue organized leftism, as well as insurgent politicians that want to generate a viable welfare-state and implement a fair economy to promote income equality, while drastically reducing the precariat.
At the moment however, it seems that Rose is not convinced of any of this. His initial pledges were to stem “gun violence, end the opioid crisis, fix health care, and rebuild infrastructure.” The rationale for voting for Rose was that he was genuinely interested in policy and looked to be a prospective responsible government steward. He represented a solid return to normalcy with routine issues that centered on middle class interests, but it’s clear to some progressives, that he’s fully dedicated to being “wonkish” at the expense of addressing inequality wholesale. It is for this reason that Progressive Democrat Richard-Olivier Marius has contemplated a primary challenge. Marius writes that:
“When the landlord knocks on the door, do they ask about your party affiliation? When you are looking at your credit card statement, does it want to know if you’re a Trump supporter or a ‘progressive?’ The landlord and the bank share just one thing in common: your paycheck. So, what laws do we need to pass that will allow us to afford the rent, mortgage, and the other costs of living? Can the conservative, the liberal, and the progressive families, side-step distraction, and unite to support the policies that will help us all pay our bills? Regardless of political affiliation, we should all be able to pay our bills, with enough personal funds left over to pursue our ‘American Dream.’ Let’s come together in Staten Island and Brooklyn to review the key issues and the potential solutions to our day-to-day frustrations. It is all possible.”
But when Marius shared his interest in running for office, it generated no noticeable excitement. This brings us back to Tom Shcherbenko’s initial question, “why can’t it happen, here?” The North Shore is not progressive, because progressive policies would mean that competing interest groups would all have to give up their Liberal stockholding at the expense of Progressive stakeholding, even when progressive policies are favored and now considered more mainstream.
Socialism is trending in the United States in remarkable fashion. Refusal to acknowledge this is guided by self-interest, and not in the interest of the community. Even if Marius raised one million dollars from the masses in short time, like Sanders did, admittedly an important first step, it seems that Liberals wouldn’t budge an inch. Only the “constituents” matter to Liberals, not the unconstituents, and Marius gets resented somehow for imagining policies that speak to the latter.
Figuratively speaking, all of these realities result in an intense form of sectarianism in close quarters, and as a result, the North Shore has these Libertarians, Republicans, Conservative Democrats, Centrist Democrats, Liberal Democrats, Progressive Democrats, and Radicals, along with overlaps and subsets within each group, representing roughly what amounts to only 15 areas out of the entire 60-plus communities in Staten Island.
At first glance, the Republicans in Staten Island’s North Shore are hard to differentiate from the Conservative and Centrist Democrats (or even Liberal Democrats for that matter) because their respective policy proposals sound closely aligned, with the only exception being, which upper middle class interest group will be served. The Republicans have the gall to try to advance local populist issues, while divorcing themselves of rational bottom-up planning, often unsuccessfully from the privatization sentiments and social issue sentiments of the National Party. Their preferred candidate is Donald Trump.
Conservative Democrats in the North Shore are conservative voters that belong to the Democratic Party but largely to remain relevant for potential office seeking, or to embrace select right of center or Republican issues outright. Their preferred candidate is also Trump. They often overlap with the interests of Centrist Democrats that support gay marriage, the legalization of marijuana, and a woman’s right to choose. These issues, albeit important, allow for fiscal conservatism, austerity, and non-progressive economic policies to take shape without the burden and the baggage of the far-right’s archaic positions on most social issues. As a result, Centrists have many Liberal allies. Their preferred candidates are most likely Kamala Harris, Peter Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, and Joe Biden.
Ideological gatekeeping is intense in the Centrist camp. So much that white fragility comes in full force. Just recently, Haitian-American Richard-Olivier Marius, mentioned as a likely Max Rose challenger, and who poses larger than partisan questions on Facebook, was called a “phony” by Elaine Friedland, while Jeff Stonehill labeled Marius a “dumbf***” and referred to him as “scum.” Both Friedland and Stonehill are revered members of the liberal SIDA online community and call for civility, but its more progressive members are concerned that civility is just obvious code for the censorship of progressive expression and potential primary insurgency.
Most Centrists have incredible amounts of disdain for Progressives, in part because Progressives will notice inconsistencies and some Democrat’s willingness and tendency to cross endorse, or to just be right of center. For example, Progressives can’t help but think that the Republican Nicole Malliotakis’s apparent run against the Centrist-Liberal Max Rose for Congress has tacit support, if not orchestration, from Conservative Democratic supporters of Brandon Patterson for State Assembly.
Liberal Democrats are by far the most formidable group of North Shore “progressive” voters and have the most representative sample in each and every Staten Island political club or group. They are so powerful that they can take on what amount to esoteric projects, dilute the effectiveness of the leaders of the progressive movements and issues in general, and all the while, serve in protecting up close incumbency at all costs. Sometimes, Liberals will admire progressive issues and candidates from afar, unless gerrymandering for the benefit of the distant GOP can keep their own districts solid blue.
Liberals are often, too often in fact, better on identity issues than white social democratic progressives, but it is not out of a principled connection to race, class, or gender, because in large part, neither are the genteel portions and byproducts of the Classical Civil Rights Movement. The same challenges exist for the Human Rights Campaign as they’ve consistently drifted rightwards and away from queer politics. For instance, some of the Liberal support for Elizabeth Warren in North Shore, Staten Island overvalues her womanhood and undervalues her policies, but its disingenuousness is tempered by some Progressives that too easily discount her womanhood. Some Liberals are also choosing Warren over Bernie Sanders to use identity politics as a means to frequently advance capitalistic ends, which only serve, as Asad Haider explains, as an “unstable foundation” or “call out culture,” with no regard for identity and its “radical roots.”
Unbridled capitalism for Centrists and Liberals is on a default setting to the point that that their own love of identity politics can’t even compel them to defend the identity of Progressives like Marius, an “amateur dilettante” who’s black, from an onslaught of its educated connoisseurs. Class additionally, is often so absent in fact from the Liberal discourse, that even proponents of the thesis found in “Apartheid New York,” a history of race relations in Staten Island, by a presumed Andrew Bacevich sort of Libertarian, drew little connection to the Long Civil Rights Movement with POC in a discussion at College of Staten Island about Staten Island’s “dirty secret:” racism. But bourgeois Liberals aren’t interested in progressive policy as much as they engage in technologies of the self while Dreaming in French to either ignore class politics, or to create a buffer from progressivism. Their preferred candidate is likely Elizabeth Warren.
Progressive Democrats differ from Liberal Democrats in the North Shore in one critical way in the context of New York overall. That is, that while both groups are to the left of take say, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and both groups most likely voted for him in a lesser-evil situation, only progressives will resist every single step of selling influence to Albany or NYC. Progressives would likely support other Progressives all the way down to recruiting a DSA member for the local schoolboard, while Liberals will always aid Centrist-Liberals in the sale of influence for short term parochial gains at all levels.
Some of the Progressive supporters of Bernie Sanders in the North Shore belong to the Progressive Democratic contingent in the North Shore, Staten Island, but since there are so few of them, their reputation takes on the exception, instead of the rule. Sanders supporters from the left that support a “working-class movement before electoral politics, with interracial unity” are most commonly in Brooklyn. The opposite type of Sanders supporters, essentially FDR-era-like Gomperists, and proponents of the incredibly zany Modern Monetary Theory, reside in Staten Island’s North Shore. That is, if they have not defected already to Elizabeth Warren. All of this false “workerism” unfortunately gives intellectual cover for Liberal Democrats and Centrist Democrats when they deserve or earn less. Progressives need to listen to liberals, not because of their identity or views on policy matters, but to reclaim, at all costs, any and all identity territory that progressives and radicals once owned, as outlined by Asad Haider and Wendy Brown. Their preferred candidate is likely Bernie Sanders.
Radical Left Democrats are non-conformists with other viewpoints and consist of students, activists, progressive third party members, and even some Democrats. The best part of the Radical Left is their deep commitments to principled activism, labor rights, housing rights, and unwavering support of the poor and the marginalized, as well as their consistency in denouncing the duopoly. Furthermore, central to Radical thinking with Progressive overlap is the centralization of three defining issues: supporting Palestine, the rights of sex workers within the feminist movement, and Black Lives Matter or the Long Civil Rights Movement. These issues also help to separate Progressives from Liberals but demonstrate an underdeveloped Left that needs a bridge to electoral politics. As a result, at times, the worst part of the Radical Left promotes either ivory tower revolutionary thinking, or a zero sum game with electoral politics, in an effort to perform moral witnessing.
Radicals are the best people to take on the liberals when the Progressives get fatigued because they will consistently and aggressively speak truth to power. The problem is however, as Noam Chomsky once pointed out, “that power already knows the truth” and knows that the Radical Left lacks resources and organizing capacities. The Radical Left in the North Shore often say and do the most courageous of things but it’s the Progressives that harness the most amount of leftism possible while still remaining somewhat relevant and engaged in policy matters and electoral politics. They don’t have a candidate but if they did, it would be Sanders or a progressive third party member, and not a “Russian.”
Part 5: Conclusion: What It All Means
What does this all mean about the additional parts of Staten Island? It could be argued that the light blue and light red portions of Staten Island in the Mid Island that supported Max Rose and voted for him, are in incredibly less tumultuous areas politically. Their objectivity is not compromised as a result of tribalism. The problem with this tribal scenario is that it invites Liberals to make few long term investments in streamlining progressive causes, and as a result, centrifugal forces galvanize the Liberal networks on the periphery, apart from the Progressive core.
Staten Island Centrists and Liberals often don’t want to vote for Democrats and then have to primary them, since it’s the very person they supported. This is a problem of creativity, because rarely is the line to progress linear. Luckily there are more and more progressive oriented candidates interested in elected office from outside the machine elements. Names like Philippe-Edner Apostol-Marius, Adam Baumel, Jasi Robinson and Olusoji Oluwole, as well as a host of others, could serve as future prospective candidates that compel generational, and younger Democrats, to reevaluate “their patronage and status” thus continuing to demonstrate that the DNC “bonds are [not] more important than progressive results,” as Kamau Franklin states.
Generally, people agree that Max Rose is navigating a difficult job with intelligence and pragmatism, but he can still maintain this aura with more progressive politics. The hope is that he, at the very least, remains in the Centrist lane, perhaps unlike District Attorney Michael McMahon. McMahon recently stated that “uninformed legislators in Albany appear to be tripping over each other in a mad dash to push through so-called progressive criminal justice reform.” Here, aside from voicing the worst feature of many Staten Island Democrats, that “naïve, and young” are interchangeable and inextricably linked qualities to Progressives, he’s further invoking a form of penal populism to discredit reputable elected officials. It reads like the GOP playbook from the George H. W. Bush days, or as Jake May of the Staten Island Criminal Defense Lawyers Association stated, a return of “fear mongering and misdirection.”
What does it say when the mainstream Centrist-Liberal orthodoxy, not exactly radical think-tanks, are willing to “slug it out” with Conservative Democrats over policies when there’s not even a single Progressive challenger in the DA primary? It says that even though self-proclaimed North Shore “progressives” had since 2008 (to build support networks in accord with greater NYC’s trend in running actual progressives), McMahon still feels the need to speak out, because it’s on its way to Staten Island. It must also mean that the cumulative impact of progressive primarying is yielding some progressive results here, at least as a manner of governance and rhetoric.
Progressive Democrats and Radical community activists Neil Schuldiner, Danielle Nilla, Peter McParland, Sister Shirley, and Jay Arena, point out that Liberal anti-racism amounts to nothing, if it’s not accompanied by anti-carceralism, especially when it comes without any primary reflection. They also support decriminalizing poverty, sex work, and the protection of public space from wealth usurpation. When Tom Shcherbenko travels to Queens to support Tiffany Cabán, he gets both praised and questioned by Progressive Richard-Olivier Marius. But Liberals and Centrists only praise him, why? Because when Shcherbenko is off of Staten Island, this is fine for Liberals, just as long as he does not lend his weight in challenging incumbency here. Staten Island’s current Senator, Congressman, City Councilwoman, and District Attorney, are all candidates the he would actively oppose in other boroughs, but can’t because of intense sectarianism.
Assemblymember Charles Fall is a co-sponsor of the New York Health Act, and Progressives hope that Senator Diane Savino will eventually sign on as well. They are two, of what seem to be, conventional SI Democrats with potential in creating positive perceptions and bridging gaps, while shifting their attention to a more Progressive base of constituents in Staten Island. Progressives need to join organizations to compete with the Liberals. They need to write to the Advance and all elected officials and remind them of their own voting power in redoubling their primary efforts in a post-IDC era of legislation and co-sponsorships. Meanwhile, we can only hope that Staten Island as a whole continues the fight in claiming more actual crowns for future “Chief Social Reform Agent.”