Voters cast ballots in areas touched by terror
By Ian Christopher McCaleb
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The first national election day since last year's unprecedented, 36-day presidential drama has crept up with barely a notice in most quarters.
With the public's focus trained squarely on ongoing terror alerts, burgeoning fears of biological and chemical warfare and the military campaign in Afghanistan, the demands of the American democratic system haven't garnered the sort of attention they otherwise might -- even in a so-called off year.
But some of the regions most affected by the airborne assaults of September 11 are holding key elections for local and statewide offices on Tuesday -- elections that could well determine how each locale continues its recovery efforts and weathers the social and economic storms touched off by the terrorist attacks.
The challenges and uncertainties facing each of Tuesday's political hopefuls will be great should they win. Even those candidates who are running for mayoral offices in cities that weren't affected by the early autumn assaults will face tremendous financial strains as they seek to stem the effects of a service economy that has tanked since the first weeks of September.
Security threats are described by the administration of President George W. Bush as constant and chillingly worrisome, and the costs of countering any perceived terrorist threat will likely only add to the economic troubles faced by many cities and states.
In New York and the states of Virginia and New Jersey, those costs -- at least for now -- are incalculable. All hold elections Tuesday.
New York seeks a new mayor to replace the wildly popular Rudolph Giuliani, while the residents of New Jersey and Virginia seek new governors.
The most concentrated activity of this off-year election has taken place in all three areas, and albeit coincidentally, New York; Virginia, the home of the Pentagon; and New Jersey, where at least some of the mysterious, post-September 11 anthrax attacks seem to have originated, bear some of the deepest scars from the terrorist assaults.
New Jersey, separated only by a river from New York City and dealing with terror-related troubles of its own, will elect a new governor Tuesday. Either Republican Bret Schundler or Democrat Jim McGreevey will succeed acting governor Donald DiFrancesco. DiFrancesco replaced GOP Gov. Christie Whitman when she resigned earlier this year to become administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Though he was a member of the Democratic Party early in his career, Schundler, the mayor of Jersey City, describes himself as a Reagan-style conservative. He was elected to the city post twice by comfortable margins: He is credited with helping to resurrect Jersey City's reputation and making it an attractive place to live for many Manhattan professionals.
But Schundler's religious conservatism and his stand on many social issues have raised worries even within his own state party, and his opponents in the early primary season positioned themselves as GOP moderates in an attempt to win votes in a primarily Democratic state.
Nonetheless, Schundler won his party nomination, moving ahead to face McGreevey on Tuesday. His campaign predicts an upset.
"Tuesday's going to stand as one of the great upsets in political history," Schundler said at a campaign rally, according to the Newark Star-Ledger. "Jim McGreevey doesn't think it can happen."
McGreevey holds a solid lead, based on many state surveys -- some of which show him with a 20-point or more head start on Schundler.
Like Schundler, McGreevey is mayor of a northern New Jersey city, the city of Woodbridge. He served in the state Assembly as well as the state Senate.
Virginia was a direct target of the September 11 attacks. The 757 jetliner that struck the Pentagon just minutes after the twin towers of the World Trade Center were hit originated at Fairfax County's Dulles International Airport, and the Pentagon itself occupies a huge swath of territory in South Arlington.
Northern Virginia's economy sustained a large amount of damage at the hands of the terrorists, with the lengthy shutdown of nearby Ronald Reagan National Airport and the steep drop in demand for regional tourism and convention services.
The next governor of the Old Dominion will have to contend with the crippling blow to the state's most well-to-do area, while balancing the rest of the state's ledgers to account for cleanup and recovery costs incurred by the Pentagon disaster. Issues of taxation levels, including the status of the state's personal property tax on vehicle ownership, are sure to dog the winner for months.
Contesting each other for the post are onetime U.S. Senate candidate Mark Warner, a Democrat who was a heavy favorite early on, and Republican Mark Earley, the state's former attorney general.
Prior to his 1997 election as the state's top lawyer, Earley served in the Virginia State Senate. Warner, meanwhile, has never held public office, working instead as a venture capitalist specializing in telecommunications out of an office in Alexandria, Virginia, next door to Arlington.
Warner touts his abilities as a technology expert and investor as assets that will help bring some of Virginia's communications and education infrastructure up-to-date in its more remote areas. Earley, meanwhile, has chosen to focus on his law enforcement experience in the wake of the September attacks -- experience that has been highlighted in a television ad shot for Earley by outgoing New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Giuliani endorses Earley in the 30-second spot, and talks of a lunch they shared on September 10 -- less than 24 hours before the terror assaults.
Giuliani has been the focus of unflinching attention since September 11, with New Yorkers -- Republicans and Democrats, friend and foe alike -- raving about his comportment in the face of extreme hardship in the hours and days following the destruction of the World Trade Center's twin towers and several surrounding buildings.
His successor will face unparalleled scrutiny as the cleanup and recovery effort continues well into the next mayoral term. Facing off are financial news media magnate Michael Bloomberg, running as a Republican despite having been registered for years as a Democrat; and public advocate Mark Green, a longtime fixture in city politics.
Giuliani only recently opted to endorse Bloomberg, despite Bloomberg's experience at running a large organization.
But Green is likely to get the nod, with hundreds of thousands of the city's residents registered as Democrats. Still, several on Bloomberg's staff believe the city will give him a chance to carry on the recovery work started by Giuliani. Late polls have shown the race tightening up with hours to go before city voting places open.
Other cities electing mayors Tuesday include: Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Miami, and Seattle.
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