By Sydney H. Schanberg
New York Newsday, September 9, 1986
Money would appear to be the central issue in this year’s primary election, being held today.
For example, one local newspaper — in bestowing its endorsement for Queens Borough President Claire Shulman (who asks us to believe that, during her years of service as deputy borough president under the late Donald Manes, she never came across the faintest hint of the bribery and shakedowns whose discovery led to Manes’ suicide and to the present municipal corruption scandal) — airily dismissed Shulman’s insurgent opponent, Lois Marbach, by saying that her “under-financed campaign did not permit her to attract more general attention.” The message: Find some more money and we’ll pay attention to you.
Over on Manhattan’s West Side, an investment banker, Julian Schroeder, is challenging the five-term incumbent, Rep. Ted Weiss, for the Democratic nomination in the 17th Congressional District. Schroeder, who calls himself a liberal Democrat but sounds more like a rightist ideologue with a talent for distorting his opponent’s record, displays as one of his major qualifications his sizable personal funds.
Schroeder is spending over half a million of his own dollars on the primary — which is a lot of money for a congressional race.
But the centerpiece of pelf in this primary is the spending of John Dyson, who has already laid out roughly $5 million of his personal fortune, estimated at $25-30 million, in his contest against Mark Green for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. Green — a public interest lawyer, former Ralph Nader associate and author of several books on Congress and national policy issues — has raised and spent between $500,000 and $600,000 which he has received from about 9,000 contributors.
Dyson has said he will spend another $2-3 million of his money on the campaign for the general election on Nov. 4. He has the uncontested Liberal Party nomination and says he will not drop out even if Green wins the Democratic designation. (That would make it a three-way race for the seat now held by Republican-Conservative Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, who will be spending about $9 million, raised in large part from companies and lobbying groups whose interest he has protected in Congress.)
Gov. Mario Cuomo is officially neutral in the Dyson-Green primary, but unofficially he has permitted the state party establishment to endorse Dyson. The apparent reason for getting behind the money candidate is Cuomo’s concern that if D’Amato were to run against a poorly funded Democratic candidate, he might ring up a bigger victory marking than the governor himself in his run for re-election this year — which wouldn’t look too good as a launching pad should Cuomo decide to go for the presidency in 1988.
This is a far piece from the Cuomo of 1982 who endlessly accused multimillionaire Lewis Lehrman of trying to buy the gubernatorial election with his personal fortune. Cuomo talked repeatedly then of how money could distort the democratic process.
Though Lehrman spent $14 million in that race — more than double Cuomo’s outlay — Cuomo defeated him by 4 percent of the vote.
Cuomo seemed to be saying then that you can win even without the big bucks. Now, as a national star with campaign contributions piling in, he does not seem willing to take the same stance toward Green. At last count, the governor had amassed $9 million in his campaign treasury.
Dyson, who is more conservative than either Cuomo or Green and has supported and courted the Conservative Party until as recently as last December, has been astonishingly direct about the importance of his money to his qualification for this office.
When Dyson appeared before the Reform Caucus of the State Democratic Committee in June, he said: “Talk is cheap. Campaigns are not cheap. And you better have someone with resources to run against D’Amato.”
When a Manhattan delegate then criticized him for suggesting that only a rich man was equipped to challenge D’Amato, Dyson softened his position somewhat, pointing to his record as a former state commerce commissioner, agriculture commissioner and power authority chairman, and saying: “You can’t raise money with no record.” But with the exception of around $80,000, the only person he has raised the $5 million from is himself.
Money pops up all through Dyson’s career. Michael Kramer, in a recent article in New York magazine, reported that Gov. Hugh Carey told him (Kramer) that the reason he made Dyson agriculture commissioner in 1975 was money. “They’ve got it,” Carey was quoted as saying of the Dyson family (John Dyson’s father, Charles, a master of the leveraged buyout, is said to be worth about $500 million). “And politics is money.”
Cuomo seems to agree. Dyson certainly agrees. Some of the city’s editorial pages also agree.
Whatever happened to that old notion that money isn’t everything? Aren’t we supposed to teach that to our kids anymore?