The Fickle Voter
In late December 2013, I received an invitation to meet and greet the Mayor-elect of New York City, Bill de Blasio, in his new home-to-be, Gracie Mansion. I almost deleted the invite because I was still smarting over the fact that my first choice for Mayor hadn’t made it through the primary. I had voted for Christine Quinn because I thought, even though she was more conservative than I am, she’d earned the right to be Mayor, knew her way around the city’s political system, and was tough. You need to be tough for the second most difficult job in America. Also, I’m tired of super competent women being pushed out of the way when the next tantalizing upstart male comes onto the ballot. And I liked the idea of a married lesbian couple living in the above mentioned Gracie Mansion.
As far as de Blasio was concerned, I didn’t think he had enough experience; he’d never held a high elective position and hadn’t managed any operation even close to the unwieldiness of New York City. Even his votes when he was on the City Council were not impressive. He’d talked a good line but not followed up with his voting record.
But upon thinking further about the invitation, I said to myself, you’re a good Democrat, you voted for him in the end, so get over it, go welcome him. And it was an historic event. It wasn’t to be a lesbian couple in the house, but a mixed marriage of a White Mayor and his Black wife and hip Black children was pretty close. I also had never been to Gracie Mansion and this was my opportunity to see the place. So I accepted.
Sunday, January 5th dawned very cold and overcast and by the time I arrived at Carl Schurz Park overlooking the East River where the mansion is located, it had begun to drizzle and the line of citizens waiting to meet the mayor extended a dozen blocks along the river’s promenade. Thousands of people had gotten there before me. The waiting time by then was two hours. My strength and my failing is that once I start on a project, I see it through to the end. I called my husband to say that I probably wouldn’t be home until after dark. He thought I was crazy but he wasn’t surprised; we’ve been married for over forty years.
The crowd was terrific, totally mixed racially and ethnically, with every age, economic class, and sexual orientation represented. A few people peeled off after an hour, but then no one did. We bonded as a group, laughing at ourselves for doing such thing. “I’m contemptuous of people waiting in line for hours to buy the newest IPads,” one woman said, “and look at me now.” But we were serious, too. I’ll admit that I felt a bit fraudulent, thinking I must be the only person here who hadn’t supported him in the primary. And surely one of the only who still didn’t have much confidence that he could do the job. But I said none of that.
Four hours later when we finally reached the Mansion’s veranda, we were all so frozen that we could barely write our names on the white cards they gave us to fill out, asking us to include our emails. After another half hour in the cold we were inside the house, going through the security checks, only to stand on another snaking line for close to an hour. And then we were at the threshold of the room where the Mayor-elect was to shake our hands! We were then told to take off our coats and keep the white cards at the ready as we were about to have our pictures taken with him. Our pictures, I thought. I didn’t sign up for that! But then what could I do. I couldn’t exactly refuse in front of all my new found friends.
So off went my coat. A young woman took the card from me and gently pushed me toward the six-foot-five de Blasio who stood in front of a fireplace, towering over everyone. All I could think to say was, “Good luck!” shaking his hand. He said, “Thanks for supporting me.” I thought, “But I didn’t.” And next I knew he had his arm over my shoulder and I had my arm around his waist, and someone said smile and the cameras popped and it was over.
But it wasn’t really over, because from that moment I was smitten. He could do no wrong. It was as though I’d fallen in love with him, simply because he’d put his arm around me and, I, mine around him. I was furious when people made fun of him for eating his pizza with a fork and angry when people became impatient with him for not accomplishing everything in his first month. I never, ever thought I had such propensity for fickleness in politics. I worked on Bill Clinton’s first campaign and went to his Inauguration. I worked on voter protection in Ohio during the two Obama campaigns. I shook Bobby Kennedy’s hand once in the Senate basement and John Edwards’ at a campaign stop and Hillary’s in a small venue, but never was I in their embrace and never did I lose my skepticism. It was the embrace, that some of the above have surely discovered that did the trick.
But a hold over from my doubts about de Blasio’s competence, fed into my doubts that I would ever see that photo of the two of us. His people couldn’t possibly coordinate the thousands of white cards we handed in with the pictures taken of us. I joked with friends that I was curious whose photo I would receive. And then on March 5th the email pinged and there I was standing with Mayor Bill de Blasio in Gracie Mansion. It portended well for the future of our city! If he and his staff could keep the thousands of white cards in order, perhaps they can actually execute the promises made to us to recreate a more egalitarian city, affordable to all.