Carrión’s defection stirs up hope, and denunciations

Bill Thompson and Carrion, in 2009. (BillThompson2009 via flickr)
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Manhattan Republican Party chairman Daniel Isaacs can't wait to meet Adolfo Carrión Jr., the former Obama administration official and previous Bronx Borough President, who is leaving the Democratic Party to run for mayor as an independent and Republican.

"I've never spoke to the man, never met him, never met any of his people," Isaacs told me this morning.

Carrión is the latest Democrat to announce plans to seek higher office by circumventing the crowded field in the Democratic Party's primary.

Local publisher Tom Allon switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party last month, and Democratic State Senator Malcolm Smith has publicly flirted with the idea of running on the Republican line.

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To run as a Republican, Carrión and Smith, and anyone else not enrolled in the party, would have to obtain a Wilson-Pakula waiver, granted by at least three of the five Republican County leaders.

The New York Times, which broke the news of Carrión's decision, reported that he had been speaking to several chairmen individually, and would meet with them as a group on Wednesday night. Smith recently convened the chairmen at a Harlem steakhouse for a similar meeting.

Isaacs said he was inclined to grant a Wilson-Pakula to only one candidate, rather than several, in the hopes that the party could avoid a costly primary and focus on the general election.

"I personally don't think a primary is beneficial," Isaacs said. "We need to settle on one candidate and one candidate only. That's my take on it."

"If we settle on someone who is not in the party," he said, "we'll only give a Wilson-Pakula to one individual."

Carrión was never a particularly liberal Democrat, and he inflamed some existing tensions last year when he said residents in Kingsbridge didn't aspire to be retail workers, a comment that rankled some in the progressive and labor scene, like Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail Wholesale Department Store Union.

"Adolfo Carrión has been trying to find something - anything - in public life for some years now," Appelbaum emailed me, in response to the news of Carrión's switch. "New York didn't work out, especially after the scandal involving the abuse of his public office regarding his home on City Island. Washington, D.C. didn't work out either.  And the Democratic party has now apparently not worked out for his ambitions as well.

"He is now trying to remake himself as a Republican leaning Independent. I don't believe he will be any more successful in this makeover either. New York City is ready for a Democratic mayor in 2013. That, by his own choice, will not be Adolfo Carrion."

But Carrión's battles with labor could be beneficial in another regard.

John Catsimatidis, the billionaire supermarket magnate who is also a potential Republican candidate, said Carrión "has to get the business community behind him if he wants to be viable."

"I hope he's not doing this to avoid running against five Democrats in the Democratic Party," Catsimatidis added.

The Republican line has grown increasingly appealing since Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg both overcame the city's massive Democratic advantage to win election, and re-election. No Democrat has won the mayor's race since David Dinkins in 1989.

One political consultant, who is not affiliated with any potential mayoral candidate, expects that streak to end.

"When the voters first elected Republican mayors, you had extraordinary people running during extraordinary circumstances: Giuliani in '93 coming off of a crime wave, and Bloomberg in '01 in the wake of 9/11," this consultant said. "There's nothing right now to suggest that the circumstances are extraordinary enough or that Carrión is different enough from whomever the Democratic nominee will be to expect voters to cross party lines again and vote for the Republican.

"While there are scenarios where the Democratic nominee could lose, it would probably have to be to a different opponent who had real, specific expertise in a time of crisis. That's not the case here."

UPDATE: Not every Republican is embracing the former Democratic lawmaker. David Catalfamo, a former Pataki aide who represents Republican mayoral candidate George McDonald, said, via email, "Welcome to the race. We look forward to hearing how support of the same economic policies that have brought three straight years of higher poverty and unemployment to New York fit with the GOP and future job growth."

UPDATE: The former fund-raiser for the New York State Senate Democrats, Bill Samuels, who actively supports Bill de Blasio for mayor, laments the recent defections by Carrion and Smith. In an email, Samuels told me, "The idea that either Adolfo Carrion Jr. or Malcolm Smith would run for Mayor on the Republican is an affront to the integrity of the Republican Party. Neither is a Bloomberg or a Giuliani. It is an opportunistic move that reflects badly on an otherwise exemplary career."

UPDATE: Mark Green, the former public advocate who spent years sparring with then-mayor Rudy Giuliani and was the Democratic mayoral nominee in 2001, emails: "This says nothing about the Democratic Party but alot about Carrion. He's a transactional politician who simply wants back in and figures that he can be a Bloomberg, minus $20 billion or so. As for Republicans and the Latino vote, their solution is not the color but the content of candidates -- if they keep calling human beings 'illegals' and opposing a Dream Act and comprehensive immigration reform, they'll politically sink like a stone."

[Correction: This item was changed to reflect David Catalfamo currently represents George McDonald, a Republican mayoral candidate.]