Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Weiner, Spitzer out: Thank you New York

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
September 11, 2013 -- Updated 1344 GMT (2144 HKT)
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
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Michael Werz says in light of the spying cases, U.S. is seen as a paranoid society that can't tell friends from foes.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Eric Liu explains why in his new book, he calls himself "Chinese American" -- without a hyphen.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
John Bare says hands-on learning can make a difference in motivating students to acquire STEM skills.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Karl Alexander and Linda Olson find blacks and whites live in urban poverty with similar backgrounds, but white privilege wins out as they grow older.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
ADVERTISEMENT