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Bret Schundler Media Archives

For President In 2008 Race,
Look To Bret Schundler

Originally appeared in the New York Post on Monday, July 19, 1999
By William F. Buckley, Jr.

The Firing Line Interview
With William F. Buckley, Jr.
Video A
Video B

PERHAPS because of the seeming eternity of Mr. Clinton's reign, interest in his successor focuses narrowly, whence the Bush, McCain, Forbes, Buchanan, Alexander business. Still, every now and again one hears the question asked, "Is there anybody out there on the horizon who is interesting for the day after tomorrow?" That would mean, let's say, the election of 2008. That assumes eight years for the GOP; or any of the other variables, including four years GOP, four years Democratic or even eight years of Gore.

Attention is attracted (in the case of this observer) to Bret Schundler. He is the mayor of Jersey City, which lies just across the river from Manhattan. It is to New York City what East St. Louis is to St. Louis. Or rather, that is how it looked when 10 years ago Bret Schundler was elected mayor. He is a young man (40) whose beginning in politics was a fascination with the cause of Sen. Gary Hart, then contending for the presidency. What Schundler decided, after close observation of the politics of the '80s, was that the effects intended by the Democratic contenders weren't being realized. His insight is interesting and plausible. It is that ideologically motivated politicians tend to get their satisfactions from the enactment of congenial legislation and from the money spent on idealistic purposes, but not, really, from the results achieved.

That is pretty plain viewing to many observers who recall that the war on poverty was formally launched about $2 trillion ago without any apparent effect on poverty. So that the satisfaction got by those who enacted the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson was less in alleviating poverty than in adopting measures designed to alleviate poverty.

Bret Schundler left home in New Jersey and did college work at Haifa University in Israel, then on to Harvard from which he got his degree. Sometime after his adventure with Sen. Hart, he went to Wall Street and succeeded. He looked for an opportunity to try out his new political visions and lo! the Democratic mayor of Jersey City was carted off to jail, leaving a vacancy. Against the advice of all the pros, Schundler submitted his name and committed his personal resources to the campaign.

Jersey city had last seen a Republican mayor during World War I. It is a city with a preponderant vote among ethnic and racial minorities. More than 30 percent are black, about 30 percent Hispanic, about 10 percent Asian. Schundler won with the extraordinary majority of 69 percent. The figure is emblematically interesting given that George W. Bush became an overnight presidential favorite after winning 69 percent of the vote in Texas, with a considerably smaller minority vote about 43 percent) than Jersey city.

How on earth does a conservative Republican get over two-thirds of the vote in a city two-thirds minority? Schundler s too modest to say that this is a tribute to his own skills. He uses the old refrain, coined two generations ago by Harry Truman. He talked sense to the people.

Schundler is lyrical in his argumentation. On the matter of schools, he declines to be diverted by ideological arguments or fanatical interpretations of the First Amendment. What he says is simply that nobody is going to stand in the way of parents who desire to improve the education of their children. What about the leaders -- one gives Rep. Charles Rangel as an example -- who are prominent black politicians and tough opponents of any government money going to private or parochial schools? His answer: The disputes are largely terminological. Money, could go directly to the student, as in the GI Bill. Or it can be given as a tax credit to the parents. The opposition will crumble, up against genuine prospects for improved education. The backing. of Charles Rangel dissipates up against proved advantages to the children of his constituents.

What is especially refreshing about Schundler is his confidence in his own approach. Those who are battle-weary over decades of arguments about vouchers and taxes and welfare overloads are arrested by the directness of his approach. But how to discourage somebody elected and then reelected by majorities hardly seen since the Bolsheviks stopped re-electing themselves all but unanimously? Schundler reminds seasoned observers of the usefulness of pretty basic observations, such as that parents want the best for their children. Look for him in 2008.


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