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Bret Schundler Media Archives

Convictions Win

Editorial
The Wall Street Journal
Friday, June 27, 1997

Some Republicans are traumatized over accusations that they favor the rich, ignore the poor and impose moral values on public debates. The fact that last November the country elected the first consecutive GOP Congress in 70 years doesn't buck them up either. But even as the Beltway Republicans slip deeper into neurosis, the nation's politics continue to inch to the right.

Four Democratic state legislators switched parties this week in Florida, Alabama and Louisiana. Also, the GOP keeps winning elections in the unlikeliest places. Exhibit A is Jersey City, N.J., a gritty town of 240,000 people just across from Manhattan, which just re-elected Republican Mayor Bret Schundler in a landslide.

Jersey City is home of the legendary Democratic political machine founded by Frank ("I am the law") Hague. Waves of immigration have made it the most diverse city in America, with 40 languages spoken in its schools and a population that is now 30% black, 25% Hispanic and 12% Asian. Republicans have been an asterisk for years with only 6% of the city's registered voters.

But the jailing of a mayor on fraud charges in 1992 weakened the local machine and allowed Mr. Schundler, a former Wall Street executive, to win a 19-candidate special election. In 1993, he won a full four-year term with 68%. He has made step-by-step progress on his empowerment agenda. He forced police officers to walk neighborhood beats. He was sued by the ACLU for allowing a religious exhibit in City Hall. He set up business improvement districts to ensure cleaner streets. The number of city workers has fallen, and taxes are down slightly despite a drop in state aid. His biggest failure has been seeing his moves toward school choice thwarted.

For all this, the machine was out for revenge in a May election. A last minute mailing featured Mr. Schundler standing near a Confederate flag at a Lincoln Day dinner and implied he favored racism. He failed to punch back, and so won with just five votes over the required 50% to avoid a runoff.

The machine didn't concede. Jerramiah Healy, the Democratic candidate, filed suit charging election irregularities. Superior Court Judge Arthur D'Italia decided there was a seven-vote discrepancy between the votes cast and the number of people who actually showed up to vote. He subtracted all seven from Mr. Schundler total, leaving him two votes shy of a majority and forcing a runoff. Mr. Schundler complained that the judge was a former lawyer for the county executive who runs the local machine, but he decided to take his case to the people.

This time Mayor Schundler asked voters if they wanted to return to machine rule. Mr. Healy of course said the mayor was a clone of Newt Gingrich. With a higher turnout than in May, Mr. Schundler won a solid 59%.

Republicans should note the dynamics of who voted for whom. Mr. Schundler's vote in white areas fell from his 1993 totals, in part because of Mr. Healy's backing from Irish-Americans. But his support in minority areas rose. He won 64% in heavily Hispanic Ward E, the same percentage he took in the most affluent ward. He won 45% of the vote in African-American Ward F, where he had won only 39% in 1993. In Marion Gardens, the housing project that ABC's "Nightline" once featured as an example of urban decay, he won 52%.

Mr. Schundler has never hidden his conservatism. He argues that his empowerment agenda helps all classes of people and, along with his fellow GOP Mayors Rudy Giuliani of New York and Steven Goldsmith of Indianapolis, that it also earns support from minorities and immigrants. The Beltway GOP ought to start noticing what its colleagues are doing out in the country.


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