During the campaign, Stephanie Miner
only spoke of gender when someone else brought up the question. No
feminist code here, no glass ceiling breaker, just a candidate for
mayor who happens to be a woman. The closest she came during the race
was when she would speak of her late grandmother, local Democratic
activist Betty Cooney, and how "thrilled" Betty would be to see her
granddaughter in charge at City Hall.
Yet a woman she is, and the people of
Syracuse elected her. Of the larger cities along the Thruway corridor,
none has put a woman in charge of City Hall, and that includes the Big
Apple, New York City. The breakthrough belongs to Syracuse. Whether you
voted for her or not, that is one more barrier we have removed, and we
should all join Grandma Cooney in feeling a measure of pride.
Having earned that victory doesn’t give
Miner much chance to celebrate. It only gives her the opportunity to
face our looming deficit, our failing schools and our lurching economy.
When she arrived, exhausted and ecstatic, at her victory rally on the
second floor of the University Sheraton election night, she spoke with
energy of her optimism for the revitalization of the city. She looked
as close as the highly disciplined Miner can get to cutting loose.
That’s what celebrations are for. Now the real work begins.
This campaign, involving a female, an
African American and the man who would have been, one astute observer
reported, America’s first Armenian-American mayor, was debated on the
issues. Miner complained that attacks on her personality were indirect
appeals to sexism, and Jennings’ team charged that a Kimatian flyer
courting African-American voters was race-baiting, but on most of the
days they were competing for the same job even the candidates agreed
that their opponents took the high road.
Some observers referred to it as a
lackluster campaign, because there were few fireworks. The differences
were substantive. There were endless forums debating every issue a
mayor can face, and if that is boring, well then thank whoever it is
that you thank for good fortune. We don’t have to look far to see just
how bad it can get.
In the special election to replace Rep.
John McHugh, now Secretary of the Army, in the 23rd District, another
female candidate, Dede Scozzafava, was attacked by members of her party
in a manner without precedent. The treatment of Scozzafava, who won the
Republican nomination only to be abandoned and then vilified by
national Republicans, is a reminder of how nasty a place the campaign
trail can be and how the risks are still especially great for a woman
Scozzafava was the odds-on favorite to
win the district seat that no living Republican has ever lost. Then the
giant windbags of the Taliban sector of the Republican Party got
roaring, and drove her out of the race. If you look at interviews with
her in the days following the vote, she looks more like a candidate for
Vera House than the House of Representatives. The attacks were not just
on her positions on the Obama stimulus plan, which is about the only economy the North County’s 23rd District has right now, but focused heavily on her support of gay marriage.
The Rush Limbaugh-Sarah Palin-Fred
Thompson endorsement of Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman,
which ultimately backfired, was offensive in many ways. First was the
notion that ideologues, whether from Tennessee or Alaska or Fox News,
could tell New Yorkers who would best represent us. (Hoffman doesn’t
live in the district and 95 percent of his campaign funds came from
outside the enormous expanse of the 23rd.)
Secondly, their blatant homophobia,
which reached its peak frenzy when Limbaugh likened Scozzafava’s
political behavior to bestiality. Even in the Northeast, as the success
of Maine’s referendum against gay marriage demonstrates, gay bashing in
politics still works.
People who have said that Scozzafava
couldn’t take the heat and should have gotten out of the kitchen
haven’t appreciated the nature of the attacks on her. This had nothing
to do with the kitchen; it wasn’t even suited for the locker room. She
did us all a huge favor by dropping her campaign and making the tough
decision to back Democrat Bill Owens, the ultimate victor. That brave
endorsement now appears to have tipped the scales in Owens’ favor and
deprived the Limbaugh crowd of their chosen role as gatekeepers at the
The mud that was slung at Dede
Scozzafava would not have been tossed at a man—and, if it had, it
wouldn’t have stuck. That should remind us, as we contemplate a city
with a female mayor, of just how far we have to go.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in The New Times.