Tragedy in the 11th

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The New York Sun

So many ironies abound in the fracas over the 11th Congressional district that it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s not just that black and Hispanic officials are scrambling to figure out a way to prevent a white candidate from winning the seat being vacated by Rep. Major Owens. Nor is it just that the country has long since figured out the flaws with racially gerrymandered districts (they actually weaken the influence of minority voters). Nor is it that a single figure in politics has spoken up for the lone white candidate, David Yassky, vying for the nomination of the Democratic Party. There is also the irony that not a single candidate, black or white, has sought to gain a purchase in the district with the ideas of economic liberalism.

This is, by our lights, the most striking feature of a quarrel that has centered more on who should run than on why anyone is running – what beliefs and goals animate the various candidates. In the contest to replace Rep. Owens, race seems to matter more than, well, the race. That is the import of the meeting yesterday in which Councilman Albert Vann tried to broker a deal between the three black candidates in the four-way primary that would allow one of them to consolidate the “black vote” in the district and beat Mr. Yassky for the right to proceed to an almost certain general election victory in the heavily Democratic district.

What Mr. Vann, along with the three black candidates – a state senator, Carl Andrews, a city councilwoman, Yvette Clarke, and Rep. Owens’s son, Chris Owens – want is in keeping with history. The 11th was gerrymandered into existence in the 1960s after a lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act; Rep. Owens’s predecessor was Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to enter Congress. Rep. Owens has sat in that seat since 1983.

But is it necessarily in keeping with the interests of the actual voters in that district? Who knows, since hardly anyone seems to be talking in new or creative ways about issues that might matter to those voters. Of the four, Mr. Yassky seems to be the most interested in talking about issues, telling us yesterday that he’s emphasing questions like affordable housing, how one gets a job, how one can improve schools. Absent from his list are such questions as New Yorker’s outlandish tax bills or how to extend America’s war against Islamist extremist terrorism.

At one point we asked Mr. Yassky whether, if he is denied the nomination because of the racial maneuvering against him, he would consider running as a Republican. He made it clear he has no interest in such a course. “I’m not a Republican,” he said. “I don’t agree with anything in the Republican platform.” Mr. Vann said yesterday during a press conference that “the principles of the Voting Rights Act need to be supported and maintained.” By our reading, the key principle was that all Americans have a right to voice their opinions on the important issues of the day at the ballot box. What New Yorkers are left with is the spectacle of four Democrats hostile to new ideas fighting over what is going to be the race of the representative. It is hard to imagine that this tragedy for New York has anything to do with the movement behind the voting rights legislation.

The New York Sun

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