At Democratic Mayoral candidate Bill Thompson’s election-night party last week, the story of the evening was the divided state of the city’s Democrats. Half an hour into the event, held in the ballroom of the Hilton on 6th Avenue, the only elected official in sight was Congressman and mayoral race-dropout Anthony Wiener. He was discussing the Democrats who’d chosen to attend Mayor Bloomberg’s party, little more than a block away. “People over there are the ones who like the free hot dogs. Not the wieners.”
Bloomberg managed to split much of the city’s traditional Democratic coalition, and to persuade many national Democratic figures to stay on the sidelines of the race. But despite this and Bloomberg’s huge spending advantage, campaign volunteers were still hoping for an upset. Outside the hotel, a gray-haired volunteer in an oversized blue campaign shirt was telling a friend, “It’s going to be like when Dewey beat Truman. I heard they’re over there drinking champagne already. Bloomberg put the fucking cart before the horse.”
Upstairs, another Thompson volunteer, Taylor DiGiovanni, a star of the reality show NYC Prep, was watching the returns the returns on a flat-screen TV near the buffet table. The ballroom was filling up, and politicians began arriving. “I hear it’s going pretty well,” she said, glancing at a ticker showing Thompson trailing by only one point, “and I’m glad, because we’re all screwed if Bloomberg goes again.”
The professionals were more cautious. Watching the returns by the bar, Letitia James, councilwoman from Brooklyn, called herself “guardedly optimistic,” but was heading somewhere she knew there’d be a celebration: “I need to get back to Al Vann’s victory party.” Coming in to make a very brief appearance, the burly State Senator Hiram Monserrate—recently convicted of misdemeanor assault—would only offer another sort of prediction: “The Yankees are going to win game six.”
By the time the official speeches got going, the result was clear—a loss, but at five points, a much narrower one than pre-election polls predicted—and the recriminations started. New York Governor David Paterson got things going. Given the chance, a rare one of late, to speak to a supportive audience, the Governor told them “there are too many Democrats who stayed home tonight because they listened to the polls.” Then, getting to the heart of the matter, “And there are too many Democrats tonight who should have stayed home.” The crowd cheered.
In case anyone missed his point, State Senator Bill Perkins, of Harlem, made it explicit. “We’re Democrats, and those that betray us—we have to make sure we don’t forget.” Standing at the podium in a tight brown suit and oversize fedora, he led the crowd in a chant: “Democrats don’t forget! Democrats don’t forget!” As the chants subsided, he added a final note: “We pay back.”
Thompson finally took the stage to make a concession speech, surrounded by Democrats who hadn’t betrayed him—among them John Liu, just elected to replace him as comptroller, and the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the few black clergymen not to side with Bloomberg. As he shook hands, a man in the back shouted above the crowd, “Nothing to feel ashamed about!” Thompson thanked, among others, New York’s two U.S. Senators, Congressman Charles Rangel, and President Obama—none of whom were present on the stage or gave him more than a tepid endorsement.
Afterwards, Bill de Blasio, the 6’5” former city councilman who had just been elected Public Advocate, was emotional, and not just about his resounding victory. “There’s a frustration tonight that a lot of Democrats sat it out, and obviously had they got involved it would have been different.” He spoke as he towered over well-wishers shoving him business cards. “Yes, of course, thank you. We’ll be in touch.”
Filing out with the crowd, the Governor and Sharpton still had words for the Democrats who had written Thompson off. Riding the escalator down towards the exit, Sharpton said, “I mean, we were saying it would be three percent, people thought we were crazy. It was five percent, I wasn’t surprised at all.” Did he sense a missed opportunity? “I was one of the people who was out there campaigning for him and endorsed him. So no I don’t feel that at all. I think those that didn’t do the right thing should feel that.”
Just before wishing Sharpton good night, the governor echoed the sentiment. “I don’t think people realize how close it was, and there were polls that indicated it was going to be close, and I don’t think anyone took them seriously.” One of his few remaining fans, a wide woman in a blue dress, managed to shoulder her way past his security detail and interrupt, solicitously: “Hey big daddy.” He brushed by her and continued, perhaps thinking of his own uncertain political future: “I think it’s a success whenever someone runs and ignores what the polls say and what the pundits say.”
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