Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Weiner, Spitzer out: Thank you New York

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
updated 9:44 AM EDT, Wed September 11, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Avlon: New York's primary election sent an important message
  • He says voters chose to reject comeback attempts of Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer
  • Avlon says Republicans wisely chose not to nominate candidate with the most money
  • Voters also didn't vote strictly along ethnic or demographic lines, he says

Editor's note: John Avlon, a CNN contributor and senior columnist and executive editor of The Daily Beast, is the author of "Independent Nation" and "Wingnuts." He won the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' award for best online column in 2012.

(CNN) -- Twelve years ago, New York City taught the nation about resilience in the face of a massive attack.

On Tuesday, New York again taught the nation that character counts.

There is, of course, no comparison between the horror of 9/11 and a mayoral primary in America's largest city. But while the shadow of the twin towers still hangs over the hearts of many in New York, the persistence of daily life remains a quiet sign of defiance.

John Avlon
John Avlon

This year, city politics seemed determined to hit a new low rather than aspire to new heights. A series of scandal-scarred candidates sucked up the oxygen amid an otherwise forgettable field. And for a while, Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer seemed likely to win their respective races on the strength of name ID and notoriety.

If successful, their candidacies could have compounded the cynicism that surrounds politics in an era where too few leaders feel the obligation to hold themselves to a higher standard.

But when it was discovered that Weiner had been a recidivist sexter -- under the quintessentially creepy nom de guerre "Carlos Danger" -- something heartening happened: Common sense kicked in.

Weiner plummeted from first to fourth in the Democratic primary polls, with much of his support shifting to the aggressively progressive Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, who rose to pole position aided by powerful ads featuring his biracial son, Dante de Blasio, and a campaign theme focusing on inequality.

Anthony Weiner campaign's final days

Likewise, Spitzer's last-minute entrance into the obscure city comptroller's race initially injected that campaign with a shot of adrenaline. The former state attorney general and governor had derailed a meteoric rise with ill-advised dalliances with hookers during a stormy tenure in Albany. Instant infamy was followed by a long slog for redemption, punctuated by a brief tenure as a cable news host on CNN and Current TV.

But the brilliant, ambitious Spitzer was always aiming for a return to political power, and he saw the comptroller's race as a means to that end, threatening to bigfoot the otherwise pedestrian campaign of mild-mannered policy wonk and career politician Scott Stringer. But the self-funded Spitzer was ultimately denied victory, an outcome that largely represented more of a rejection of Spitzer than an endorsement of Stringer.

On the Republican side of the aisle -- in a far less prominent race -- a self-made billionaire grocery magnate named John Catsimatidis essentially tried to buy the GOP nomination, encouraged by a cadre of consultants and a handful of high-profile endorsees, many of whom were persuaded to support the man at least in part because of his financial largess.

A barrage of negative ads directed at his opponent Joe Lhota -- a Giuliani administration deputy mayor during 9/11 (whom I served alongside) and chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority during Hurricane Sandy -- failed. In a political world where big money often drives outcomes, this was one campaign where wealth didn't determine the winner. That's a win for representative democracy.

There is a final hopeful note in this primary election, 12 years after 9/11. In the past it has always been a cynical article of faith that winning campaigns were cobbled together by ethnic algebra. But this year, New York voters sent the clear, hopeful message that identity politics would not drive their decisions.

The African-American candidate, Bill Thompson, did not win the black vote. The openly gay City Council Speaker Christine Quinn did not win the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender vote or the female vote. That represents real progress and political evolution toward a more perfect union -- and that is the deeper purpose of our politics.

Twelve years after 9/11, voter participation still isn't what it should be -- turnout is low in closed partisan primaries, and that represents a creeping complacency where openness and civic energy should be an obligation.

But in rejecting the sociopathic circus in favor of more sober candidates who tried to build coalitions across old dividing lines, New Yorkers sent the message that substance can beat slick self-promotion.

Simply put, character counts. And for that timely reminder, it is worth saying again -- thank you New York.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT