Knickerbocker nominees

New York City

The Mets might have lost the World Series, but New York City is looking well-placed to reclaim the White House.

For all the talk about this election being about ‘we the people’ rising up against the east coast Establishment, the irony is that for the first time in recent memory, at this crucial stage of the race – just 24 hours out from from the Iowa caucuses – both the Democratic and Republican frontrunners are New Yorkers.

Though she was born and raised in Chicago, and spent much of her adult life in her husband’s native Arkansas, Hillary Clinton has been, for all intents and purposes, a resident of the country’s largest city since leaving 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

She was a Senator for the State of New York for two terms, and when not overseas collecting cheques from dictators or being interrogated about her allegedly negligent handling of confidential information as Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary is said to split her time between homes in DC, Manhattan and Chappaqua in upstate NY.

Donald Trump meanwhile has unquestionable New York credentials. Born in Queens to a prominent property developer, he took his father’s inheritance and became active in the city’s resurgence from the crime-ridden depression of the ‘70s and ‘80s to an international financial hub and tourist Disneyland. Today, his towering global headquarters is as synonymous with the NY skyline as the Chrysler or Empire State buildings.

Democratic underdog Bernie Sanders – who, as I write, is neck and neck with Clinton in the Iowa Democratic primary polls – is also a native New Yorker. Though he has represented the State of Vermont in Congress since 1991, he maintains a thick Brooklyn Jewish accent, and at times, a blustering Big Apple temper.

There have even been reports that former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, another Manhattan billionaire, could enter the race as a centrist independent should the two main parties pick candidates too far to the Left and Right.

New Yorkers can often feel a world away from the pork-chop-on-a-stick, barnyard rally circus of the early presidential primaries. As a safely Democratic stronghold, and with its own array of public policy issues to contend with, the city’s interest in politics is often more local than national. But evidently this time around, they have a little more reason to pay attention.

Indeed, New York itself has been a thorny issue in the increasingly heated back-and-forth between Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, as they battle it out for the support (and perhaps soul) of the nation’s right wing.

In an effort to convince Republican primary voters that Trump’s newfound conservatism is only skin deep, Cruz has pointed to a TV interview with Meet the Press in 1999, in which the billionaire celebrity expressed his strong support for a range of issues deemed unforgivable by the GOP base – from government-funded abortion to gay marriage – describing these as “New York values”.

“Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan,” Cruz spat in a recent televised debate aimed to expose Trump as a closet left-winger.

While I hesitate to give Trump any positive press – not to overstate the influence of this humble blog – he came out on top in this exchange.

His response, evoking the community spirit and patriotism displayed by New Yorkers in the aftermath of 9/11 earned a rousing applause from the crowd, and even from the politically savvy Cruz himself, no doubt sensing defeat.

Cruz has correctly identified the strong hostility from many ‘Middle Americans’ towards the patrician east coast ‘elites’, those Ivy League-educated globally-minded villains they see as the architects of a rigged political and financial system.

But he failed to acknowledge that this hostility does not extend to New York City itself, especially not since 9/11. Despite its politics, many Americans of all stripes take pride in what is arguably the world’s most dynamic and impressive metropolis.

New York City is at once inherently American and a capital city of Planet Earth, the seat of the United Nations.

This is a place where hot dog grease drips onto $30,000 mink coats; where hedge fund managers play parkland chess with sandwich merchants; where kids in the Queensbridge projects turn old vinyl players into billion-dollar entertainment industries; and where, in 2001, two buildings collapsed and more than 3,000 innocents were murdered, only to be replaced by a more unified city, a moving monument and a bold and shimmering Freedom Tower to serve as a permanent Middle Finger.

To anyone that has visited – as I did last week and countless other times over the past six months – the city retains a magical quality and elicits an emotional response that goes well beyond partisan politics.

The city also has an infamous sense of humour, on display as I passed through La Guardia the morning after the ‘New York Values’ exchange.

“God bless our troops,” said flashing neon lights through the airport, in what was no doubt a subtle rebuttal to Cruz’s smug insinuation.

Yes, it is more than a little ironic that a billionaire TV star like Donald Trump and multi-millionaire political machinist like Hillary Clinton can claim to be champions of the downtrodden white-collar workers of America.

It must be especially frustrating for Cruz, who has spent years carving out a reputation as a Washington outsider and defender of Christianity and the Constitution only to be ‘trumped’ by a fraudulent, foul-mouthed, secretly-liberal Manhattanite.

But, despite global caricatures to the contrary, American voters are far from stupid. They know Trump is not a lifelong conservative, just as they know Hillary hasn’t bought her own groceries since the 1980s.

And yet, if the polls ahead of Iowa are anything to go by, they just might be readying to elect one of these two New Yorkers as Commander-in Chief.


(La Guardia Airport displaying a traditionally conservative political message the morning after the Cruz v Trump ‘New York values’ exchange.)

Published on 31 January 2016. 

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