The Death of Character in New York City

Twenty years ago I ran for mayor of New York City as the candidate of the Conservative and Right-to Life Parties. I opposed the incumbent Democrat David Dinkins and liberal Republican Rudy Giuliani.

I entered the race to give New Yorkers a choice, particularly on social issues. Both Dinkins and Giuliani agreed on support for abortion, condom distribution in schools, gay rights, and opposition to school vouchers.

I believed I was suited to seek the office because living in borough neighborhoods most of my life, I knew first-hand the damage incurred over the decades by the “urban renewal” projects of social engineers.

I watched thousands of lower- and middle-class homes bulldozed and replaced with “projects.” I saw the bureaucrats create a welfare system that, in the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, resulted in the formation of a “permanent dependent class.” I witnessed many an erstwhile neighborhood collapse into something called “the community,” with its permanent underclass, rampant racism, runaway crime, and the myriad social programs that dreamers dreamt could solve the problems they had created. And those programs became a beast with an insatiable appetite for tax dollars.

In November 1993, I lost. But it was well worth the fight.

Fast forward to 2013. In this year’s citywide races, the candidates are a collection of extreme leftist wannabees who would like to take New York back to the days when then mayor and still liberal icon, John Lindsay, championed the Great Society and the social engineers drove the nation’s largest city into bankruptcy.

One Nanny State candidate who wanted to separate himself from the herd not only promised to expand the distribution of condoms to grammar school and high school students, but insisted the condoms be manufactured in New York City to increase jobs.

It gets worse. In the past twenty years, the rules for candidates have changed significantly. As long as a candidate walks liberalism’s party line, nothing else matters. Hence, the candidacies of Anthony Weiner for mayor and Eliot Spitzer for comptroller.

As a member of Congress, Anthony Weiner disgraced his office and embarrassed his family and his constituents with his sexting. He resigned in 2011, not because of his perverted actions, but because he was caught in a self-created maze of lies about his behavior.

Weiner, the ultimate narcissist whose purpose for seeking elected office was to get attention, was incapable of getting a real job and leading a normal life. After two years of brooding, he decided, in Bill Clinton fashion, that his scandalous behavior was old news and jumped into the Democratic mayoral primary.

For several weeks public opinion surveys placed him first in a field of seven. But then it became public that, while he was sitting at home in exile, he did more than just brood while undergoing “counseling.” He was sexting young girls under the nom de plume “Carlos Danger” and proclaiming himself “an argumentative, perpetually horny middle-aged man.”

Weiner’s politically ambitious wife and Hillary Clinton protégé, Huma Abedin, actually defended him in public, stating that because she has forgiven him so should New Yorkers. Despite the revelations, the shameless Weiner has refused to drop out and thrives on the attention over the “Carlos Danger” exposé.

To massage his ego, he has hired people to form crowds around him during campaign stops. Also, his interns are appearing in Weiner commercials looking in awe of him.

Then there’s the candidacy of Eliot Spitzer – a/k/a Client #9 – for the office of N.Y.C. Comptroller.

Spitzer, as New York State’s Chief Law Enforcement Officer and Chief Executive Officer – i.e., as Attorney General and Governor – repeatedly broke state and federal laws. He violated a N.Y. anti-prostitution law that he had promoted as AG and signed into law as governor. Spitzer took prostitutes over state lines in violation of the Mann Act.

The former “Sheriff of Wall Street” also engaged in money laundering. Wiring money from a bank for illegal purposes – in his case paying for prostitutes – is a violation of the Federal Laundering of Money Instruments Law.

Most people would hang their heads in shame and avoid the public square for committing sexual crimes. But Spitzer, who rivals Weiner for the City’s Narcissist of the Year award, dismissed his criminal activity as mere passing failures.

Sadly, many New Yorkers (but not his wife and three daughters who have shunned him) are buying his act. Recent polls indicate he might just win.

Yes, much has changed since I ran for office in 1993. The foremost being that defects in character no longer bar people from seeking or holding public office.

Character consists of empathy and self-control. The social-philosopher James Q. Wilson defined empathy as a “willingness to take into account the rights, needs, and feelings of others.”  “Self-control,” he wrote, is a “willingness to take into account the more distant consequences of present actions; to be, in short, somewhat future oriented rather than wholly present oriented.”

Weiner and Spitzer are textbooks cases of the opposite kind of character. But in New York City, the nation’s narcissist capital, they can get away with their depravities because properly formed character doesn’t matter. They fit quite comfortably into the city’s huge sub-culture with its nihilistic ethic of self-esteem and celebration of self-absorption and instant gratification.


George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is the author of The American Catholic Voter and Sons of St. Patrick, written with Brad Miner. His most recent book is Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man.