What happened to Paul Newell?

by Sebastian Benthall

I have mentioned Paul Newell–one of New York State’s Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver‘s first challengers in over twenty years–before on this blog.  Newell represented a departure from New York’s infamous “three men in a room” style of politics, since displacing Silver would have be a serious coup against a monolithic and unrepresentative political machine.

In the course of the primary, Newell’s grassroots fund raising effort outpaced Silvers by more than two to one.  Newell also garnered the endorsements of major New York newspapers including the New York Times, the New York Post, and the Daily News.

The day after the primaries, the New York Post reported Silver’s victory in the district with 68 percent of the vote against Newell’s 23 percent.

So what happened?

My guess is this: Newell had tremendous appeal across the state and even across the country as a good government reformer on the progressive “Change!” platform that has swept the Democratic party with Obama’s campaign.  But meanwhile, Silver has had 20 years to use his almost unsurpassed clout in the state legislature to support the entrenched groups in his district.  And ultimately, despite the impact of the election on statewide corruption and budgeting, the outcome came down to how Silver rebuilt ground zero seven years ago.

Like Sean Tevis’ campaign, this raises questions for me about the purpose of local elections.  In this case, where the locally elected official has such enormous statewide power, it feels like his office should be judged by a statewide tribunal of voters.  And indeed, I’m sure much of Newell’s support came from reform-minded people who could never cast a vote for him.  But meanwhile, Silver first and foremost is a representative of the Lower East Side, and apparently supports those constituents very well.  Were Newell’s supporters from outside that district just butting in where they have no business?

I don’t think so.  But I’m curious to hear what others say.

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