Sneak attacks are the sludge of new politics: GOP targets Latimer

January 23rd, 2012

Cowardly tactics are commonplace in the bitterest of election campaigns.

It’s an unfortunate fact of life.

But the professional liars, fact manipulators and propagandists whose aim is to infiltrate the consciousness of voters have achieved a new and disturbing low.

Anonymous attacks are now being used as pre-emptive strikes against potential candidates, meaning people who haven’t announced their candidacy for any particular office but are nonetheless perceived as a threat to the opposite party.

Such is the case in Westchester County, where 10 days ago, state Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer, D-Mamaroneck, announced she would not seek re-election in 2012.

This was big news.

That’s because for years Republicans drooled over the prospect of capturing the 37th District, which the septuagenarian Oppenheimer has commanded since Cuomo’s early days as governor — Mario Cuomo, that is. The GOP, which holds a 32-30 majority in the Senate, has spent a fortune in its quest to knock her off — and in 2010, Bob Cohen, a wealthy businessman from Scarsdale who has never held public office, came within a whisker of succeeding.

The stakes are higher now. Oppenheimer benefited from a heavy Democratic enrollment in the 37th, but the district lines are soon to be redrawn and the thinking is that any new configuration will include traditionally Republican precincts in Yonkers and Eastchester.

Many observers believe that the seat is ripe for a Republican takeover, making this an all-or-nothing year. Cohen has already conveyed his intention to run again, listing his three priorities as cutting property taxes, reducing spending and creating jobs.

There is no announced opponent on the Democratic side. However, four possible candidates have been mentioned — New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, former Rye mayor Steve Otis, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin of Scarsdale and Assemblyman George Latimer of Rye.

Latimer is widely considered to be first in line, but GOP operatives aren’t waiting to find out one way or the other. They’ve already targeted him. Within hours of Oppenheimer’s announcement and before anybody had a chance to give her a gold watch and a handshake for her years of public service, a pair of automated phone calls, or robo-calls, invaded thousands of homes in her district.


Both calls basically alleged that Latimer was a tax-and-spend liberal and that his record disqualified him as a serious candidate for the Senate.

Left unmentioned were his votes to lower the income-tax rate for New York’s middle-class wage earners and to eliminate the much-maligned MTA payroll tax. Nor was it stated that when Latimer was chairman of the county Board of Legislators a decade or so ago, county property taxes were lowered for three straight years — an achievement, Latimer would be the first to acknowledge, helped by an infusion of tobacco settlement money.

In a fair fight, Latimer can stand or fall on his record.

A first-rate retail politician, who fully understands Woody Allen’s rule that 80 percent of success is showing up, Latimer is hampered by a lack of money. Campaign filings show that he has exactly $66,307.55 cash on hand, while Cohen has $210,221.11.

Before he decides to run or not, Latimer will have to consider the redistricting, the disparity in campaign funds and the dark purpose of those early robo-calls.


The truth is they were not really a message to voters. Election Day is nine months away — and the public has a short attention span.

No, the message was meant for Latimer himself. It was an immediate warning, a shot across the bow.

The message was loud and clear: If you decide to run, we’ll go after you tooth and nail. Get ready, Georgie boy. This is going to be a mean and dirty race — a race dominated by false and misleading TV ads, YouTube slanders and more intrusive robo-calls at dinnertime.

The template was set in 2010 when Republican operatives released a heavily edited YouTube video showing Oppenheimer fumbling answers to questions put to her in the Senate chamber. No one believes for a minute that Oppenheimer has exactly been at the top of her game in recent years, but the video’s cruel intention was to make her look distracted, disorganized and utterly senile.

Cohen’s reputation, too, was roasted in a Democratic ad that falsely accused him of being a slumlord.

Expect more of the same in 2012.

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