Malcolm Smith mess the latest setback to black NYC Democrats

Opinion

Senator Malcolm Smith attends European School Of Economics Foundation Vision And Reality Awards on December 5, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for European School of Economics Foundation)

Senator Malcolm Smith attends European School Of Economics Foundation Vision And Reality Awards on December 5, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for European School of Economics Foundation)

The race to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg as New York City mayor reached high drama Tuesday morning with the arrests of State Senator Malcolm Smith and other politicians for allegations of bribery.

The federal criminal complaint alleges that Smith, a Democrat who was once Majority Leader in the State Senate, attempted to bribe his way into the race for mayor as a Republican candidate with the help of city councilman Daniel Holloran.

If Smith were successful in becoming the next mayor, Holloran wanted to become his deputy mayor or become deputy commissioner of the police department.

The next David Dinkins? Nevermind…

Instead of these two lawmakers leading the Big Apple, the likely result is the end of their political careers, including Smith’s, who also could have been the New York’s second black mayor since David Dinkins left city hall in 1993.

Smith allegedly bribed Republican officials with money he got through a real estate developer who, unfortunately for Smith, was working undercover.  His alleged co-conspirator Holloran said in one wiretapped conversation, “That’s politics, that’s politics, it’s all about how much. Not about whether or will, it’s about how much and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that, all like that. And they get like that because of the drive that the money does for everything else. You can’t do anything without the [expletive] money.”

The allegations are detailed and incriminating because of both the content and the apparent tone of the participants.  Many of the alleged conversations and illegal behavior were undertaken casually as if was just another day in the rough-and-tumble world of city politics.  And it again reveals the worst-kept secret about politics in New York: It takes a lot of money to run a successful political campaign in New York City, with a billionaire self-financed mayor currently in his third term.

A black void in the mayor’s race

With Smith gone, the only chances for a black mayor exist with the candidacies of former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who is trailing City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, and possible Republican primary candidate Pastor A.R. Bernard of Christian Cultural Center, the head of an influential mega-church in Brooklyn, New York.  Thompson already lost to Mayor Bloomberg, who was elected to his third term in 2009.

In the wake of Smith’s bribery scandal, Pastor Bernard told City & State, “I no longer actively considering a run for mayor, however if there’s some compelling reason that presents itself, I remain open to that possibility.”

Smith’s bribery scandal could certainly be a “compelling reason” for Pastor Bernard to jump into the race and the question then becomes whether he is capable of winning over Democratic voters and, most significantly, a meaningful portion of the black vote.  Given the Republican party’s current popularity among communities of color, that doesn’t look likely.

“I think it’s going to be an interesting four or five months ahead of us, I really do,” Pastor Bernard told City & State.

A period of uncertainty

The loss of Smith as a mayor possibility and Bill Thompson’s low poll numbers and prior loss, along with Pastor Bernard’s unclear future creates a significant moment of uncertainty for the New York black political establishment.

At a moment when any credible chance to become the next David Dinkins looks to have come and gone, the city’s black political class requires a reboot to reevaluate and cultivate new talent and to recruit prospective candidates to make future races more competitive.

Follow Zerlina Maxwell at @ZerlinaMaxwell