Oct. 29, 2004
In Kerry's pocket

By URIEL HEILMAN
NEW YORK

Regardless of who ends up winning the November 2 vote for US president, next week promises to be a historic one in American politics. Even if there is no clear winner by week's end - a real possibility given the legal battles over the vote already underway in states where the race is too close to call - next week's events have the potential to transform America's domestic agenda, the future of the Middle East, transatlantic ties and even the US electoral process.

But in this presidential election that some political observers are calling the United States' most significant since World War II, residents of New York have pretty much been left out of the campaign.

That's because in New York the races are all but over.

Sen. John Kerry will carry the state easily in the presidential contest, Sen. Charles Schumer likely will win his bid for re- election by a landslide and it's an off-year for every other major statewide officeholder, including the governor, the state's other US senator and New York City's mayor. One prominent congresswoman from New York - who, like all congressmen, is up for re-election this November for a two-year term - could not even recall her opponent's name when the question came up during a recent conversation.

"For New York, this is almost a non-election year," said Martin Begun, chairman of the Baruch School of Public Affairs and a former president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. "This has to be, in my memory, the quietest presidential election in New York ever."

It's not that there hasn't been any electioneering in New York. The Empire State is home to many of the country's wealthiest political donors and the headquarters of countless media outlets, so the state invariably serves as America's town square during election years. But with such a lopsided outcome in the state expected November 2, it's difficult to make the case to your average New Yorker that his vote can make a difference.

That's why the effort in New York these days is not so much to get out the vote, but to get out the money to get out the vote in places where the vote actually can make a difference. In a telling sign of the times, volunteers for the Democratic National Committee combing the city's streets are seeking not to register or convince voters, but to get them to write a check to help the campaign in one of several so-called swing states, where the election still is too close to call.

One 30-year-old Jew from Manhattan, Mik Moore, has taken up this call to arms with a plan to bring more than 100 volunteers from New York to Florida's Palm Beach and Broward counties starting this weekend to help older Jewish voters get to the polls on election day. He calls it Operation Bubbe.

"If we worked inside New York for the election, it wasn't going to have any significant effect," said Moore, relating the Shabbat dinner-table conversation during which the idea for Operation Bubbe was born. "Somebody at the table said, 'Why don't we all go to Florida?'"

Those two Florida counties were heavily disputed after the 2000 election, when, analysts believe, many Jewish retirees mistakenly voted for Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan instead of Vice President Al Gore due to a confusing ballot. Operation Bubbe is determined to prevent a similar voting fiasco this year among Jewish grandmothers, with volunteers hoping Sen. John Kerry reaps the benefits.

Even for those who stay put, however, New York doubtless will have a lot of action come election day - it just may not be at the polls.

That has public servants like Begun, a former chairman of the now-defunct New York Liberal Party, upset.

"I think every citizen should vote because that's a powerful statement about what this republic is all about. It's a privilege and a right that ought to be exercised, regardless of the outcome. And you can never be sure of the outcome. What happened at Yankee Stadium proved that," Begun said, referring to last week's monumental collapse of baseball's New York Yankees to the cursed Boston Red Sox in the American League championship series.

What's worse, he said, the lack of campaigning by both Democrats and Republicans in New York may encourage voters to skip the polls in future elections.

"At a time when we're on this messianic mission to sell democracy to the world, it would be nice if more than 48 percent of the American people voted," he said.