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
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
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
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.