On the eve of today's primary election, there were no major campaign rallies, no endorsements, nary a political press conference. The best way to see the leading candidates was to watch their ads on television or read the fliers they sent in the mail.
The memory of a national tragedy trumped campaign politics in the city yesterday, as party hopefuls missed a key opportunity to reach undecided voters by heeding the unspoken protocol of avoiding the stump on September 11. The 2001 terrorist attacks interrupted a mayoral primary scheduled for that day, and an election that falls on the second Tuesday of September will never be far away from the 11th.
Amid this year's memorials, some candidates and civic groups are questioning whether the state should move the party primaries away from the anniversary of the attacks.
"I think unfortunately we need a discussion about moving the primary," a candidate for Congress in Brooklyn's 11th district, Christopher Owens, said. Entrenched in a close battle to succeed his father in the House, Mr. Owens kept a light schedule yesterday but did stump at a subway stop in the district in the morning and later appeared at an anti-war commemoration.
The campaign of another challenger in the 11th, Yvette Clarke, echoed Mr. Owens's comments, as did candidates for other offices.
"It makes a lot of sense to move it," the anti-war candidate for the Democratic Senate nomination, Jonathan Tasini, said. Mr. Tasini, who is running far behind Senator Clinton, also made a few campaign stops yesterday."We're doing it in a very respectful way," he said. "We're not making a big show of it."
None of the front-runners for statewide office — Mrs. Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, or Andrew Cuomo — held any campaign events yesterday.
By not campaigning on September 11, candidates are avoiding the perception of politicizing the tragedy. But aides to several hopefuls suggested the practice had gone too far. Even in reporting that John Spencer had suspended his GOP Senate campaign for the day, his spokesman, Robert Ryan, noted that there is nothing "Osama and the Islamic fascists would like to see more than that they've affected the democratic process in America."
Taking a similar tack, one civic leader, Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters, proposed that as an alternative to moving the primary away from September 11, the state should use the tragedy as part of a get-out-the-vote effort. "This is what the terrorists tried to tear down, along with the towers," Ms. Bartoletti said, suggesting as a slogan, "Celebrate democracy by getting out to vote tomorrow."
Any effort to change the primary date faces several obstacles. Moving it to earlier in September would conflict with Labor Day, when many residents are away, and pushing it later cuts into the general election and the time the Board of Elections uses to print ballots and certify primary results. "The calendar's pretty tight," a spokesman for the state Board of Elections, Lee Daghlian, said. "If they squeeze it too close together, it would be almost impossible."
New York State moved its primary to September from June in 1977, and some civic groups and elected leaders want to move it back. An earlier primary would avoid a campaign during the summer months, when many voters are not paying attention to politics, and it would allow for a longer general election race. The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, has co-sponsored a bill that would move the primary to the third Tuesday in June, but it has not gotten out of committee.
The issue is also intertwined with partisan politics. Democrats more frequently have contested primaries, and Republicans are in no hurry to move the election earlier. "If you did it in June, Democrats wouldn't be beating each other up in June, July, August," a professor of public policy at Baruch College, Douglas Muzzio, said.