Run, Joe, Run!

Political commentary and more.
March 7 2001 2:30 PM

Run, Joe, Run!

Tuesday's New York Post reports that National Review editor-in-chief Rich Lowry is considering running for mayor of New York City as the Conservative candidate. That's an interesting idea--William F. Buckley ran for mayor in 1965 when he was editor of National Review. Buckley got 13.5 percent of the vote, which is respectable. But Lowry's all wrong for the part. For one thing, he's 32, but he looks like he's about 17. He's also nice. Imagine if he won, and tried to run New York being nice! And he tends to worry--during the Florida recount he kept writing smart pieces about why his side could lose. That won't do. You don't see New York City's current leader, Rudolph Giuliani, running around worrying.

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But as long as we're nominating journalists for mayor, there is a member of the media elite who'd make an excellent candidate, and maybe even an excellent mayor. It's so obvious, I'm amazed nobody's thought of it before. Joe Klein. That is, the Joe Klein who writes for The New Yorker, who previously wrote for Newsweek and New York, and who anonymously wrote the novel Primary Colors.

The case for Klein, when you reduce it to talking points, is pretty compelling.

  1. He's a New Yorker. Not a New Yorker in the sense that I'm a New Yorker because I live here. A New Yorker in the sense that he was born in New York and looks and acts like he was born in New York. He's a recognizable Urban Ethnic Type, Jewish division. He's arrogant and smart but not a snob--the kind of journalist cops yell greetings to on the street. He's got an ego and is easily offended. He'll probably be offended by this item. He gets mad, then he calms down--in other words he's a recognizable political type too. Successful pols like Giuliani and Mario Cuomo come to mind.
  2. He cares about policy. Especially urban policy, about which he's written for decades. On the few occasions when I bump into Klein, he usually greets me by saying something like "Hey, you're full of shit about welfare," and then starts talking about a welfare-to-work project he's visited or some promising nostrum (like "second chance homes" or "faith-based social services") that he thinks will make all the difference. I've criticized Klein for these serial obsessions, but here's a chance for him to try them all out. I'm confident that if they don't work he'll respect the facts like any good journalist and move on to something else. Klein has also written highly effective articles criticizing racial identity politics, which is to say New York politics.
  3. He won't be in the unions' pockets. I once read through a couple of decade's worth of Klein columns, looking for contradictions to get him on. I didn't find many. But I did find one glaringly consistent strain of thought, which was an intense distaste for the excesses of government employee unions. This would set Klein apart from the other Democratic candidates in this multi-candidate race, and give him a clear mayoral agenda on issues like education, where unions are often the most important force standing in the way of reform.
  4. It's the right stage in his life. Klein has been the top political journalist in America. He wrote a really excellent novel, maybe the best political novel of his generation. What's left for him to do but master politics itself? At the very least he should get another good novel out of it.

Klein may protest that he's not a resident of New York City--he lives in the suburbs. But that's no excuse. There's no residency requirement! Klein can be a candidate for mayor the same way Bill Clinton, who also lives in the suburbs, can be a candidate for mayor. Maybe if Klein wins he'd have to move into the city. But the way I see it, he has no excuse for not running.

Geography of Shame Confirmed: Josh Harris, the Internet entrepreneur and multimillionaire who seems to represent everything that was wrong about New York's dot-com boom of the '90s, was in the paper again recently. But it wasn't another story about one of his lavish, self-promoting parties, or his "underground art" shows featuring couples achieving simultaneous orgasm, or his ridiculous enterprise, the aptly-named Pseudo.com, an all-hype/no-viewers  Webcasting network that ran through $35 million and then disappeared, throwing 175 workers out on the street. It wasn't even really about Harris' latest scheme, We Live in Public, in which he and his girlfriend stocked their loft with cameras and microphones and broadcast it all live on the Internet.

Harris was in the paper because ... he's leaving town! In doing so, he confirmed two hypotheses of Jacob Weisberg's recent "Geography of Shame." First, Weisberg notes that there is no penalty in New York for "erotic indulgence." Even the mayor has a wife and a girlfriend! But Harris was erotically humiliated, when his girlfriend, Tanya Corrin, moved out of the televised loft in the middle of the experiment and wrote a long, irresistible article explaining why in the New York Observer. Second, Weisberg argued that when you're too ashamed to keep living in New York, you move to Los Angeles, where "the greedy rich, vulgar and otherwise are always welcome." Sure enough, the New York Times reports that "Mr. Harris is leaving New York for California to work on a movie."