The New York Republican Liberty Caucus has been ecstatic over the victory of our state chair, Dan Halloran, in his New York City (Queens) City Council bid. This may make Halloran the highest-ranked Libertarian Party elected official (he ran on the Libertarian -LP- as well as the Republican, Independence and Conservative tickets).
A message for liberty Republicans is that they need to find imaginative hot button issues that respond to the voters. Once in office, then cut programs, waste and corruption. As an issue, government cutting appeals to a segment of the population. But this concern needs to be coupled with other, imaginative ones.
Via e-mail, I interviewed a member of Dan Halloran’s campaign team, Phil Orenstein of Queens, New York, as to the strategies that Dan used in his campaign. Phil’s remarks suggest that Halloran won by marketing himself to the Queens voters. His ability to win emanated not only from his libertarian ideology but also from his understanding of his constituents.
Halloran is a genuine libertarian who won by articulating a message that appealed to Democratic Party voters. In this he contrasts with the passing generation of Republicans such as Newt Gingrich, George Pataki and George W. Bush, who are Progressives at heart. The 1988-2008 Republican generation pandered to conservatives during elections but expanded government when elected. Halloran is a libertarian who appealed to Queens voters and so overrode the anti-libertarian New York City media.
Halloran emphasized traditional achievements and traits such as life-long residence in the community (in contrast to his opponent, New York Times-supported Kevin Kim, who had moved to the neighborhood less than a year earlier). The aggressive support of a popular New York State Senator, Frank Padavan, also helped.
As well, Halloran emphasized cultural and value issues such as immigration that are non-libertarian and perhaps anti-libertarian. In a democracy, the voters need to be anticipated. A libertarian who wins by catering to social or cultural issues can still implement libertarian solutions in many areas. It is a hard balance between morality and moral flexibility, but that is the nature of democracy. A hard morality with respect to political packaging is not going to be consistent with libertarian victory in a city like New York, where the citizens are subjected to 12 years of ideologically statist indoctrination in the public schools.
In the end, pressing the flesh, endorsements from well-respected sources, and understanding voters’ key concerns were the tactics that won the race. Orenstein and his colleagues used imaginative Alinsky-like tactics such as storming the opponent’s political rally. Education of voters alone, the worn tactic of the LP, will rarely if ever be a winning strategy in a democracy.
Langbert (L): How did you package yourself to be attractive to the voters in the district?
Orenstein: (O): Dan’s campaign stressed his 4 party line endorsements from the Independence, Conservative, Republican and Libertarian Parties and touted the local Fire Marshal’s and Police Sergeant’s endorsements. He highlighted his life long residence in the community in contrast with his opponent Kevin Kim an interloper who just moved into the District last Feb in order to grab a council seat. Dan’s family has been active in district 19 in civic affairs and politics for over 100 years. Also Padavan’s appeal to all voters including Dems played a big part in marketing Dan. Padavan was out 24/7 campaigning for Dan and we always said “endorsed by Sen. Padavan” to prospective voters. Padavan offered his generous coattails which played a big part in the campaign.
L: Were there one or two “hot button” issues? Were voters frustrated with the candidates or did you create an issue or two?
O: Yes. The big issue was overdevelopment and the increasing loss of American values and culture in the community. Simply put there was frustration with the mass influx of Korean immigrants who fail to Americanize. Korean store signs, Korean language only churches and private schools are proliferating, thus balkanizing the neighborhood. A once bucolic American neighborhood is now being festooned with signs all over in Korean. English is soon to become a forgotten language. We ran with this issue…and heard the voters’ frustration and buoyed their confidence that Dan will be their Councilman to fight against overdevelopment, and fight to restore American language and values, and “take back” their communities. Of course the Kim campaign, backed up by the media and local politicians, shot back and condemned this approach as racist. Some people bought this line, but much fewer than the long time residents who are dismayed with the changing landscape. Many of these same people were also frustrated with the direction of our country under the Obama admin and especially with ObamaCare. We expressed the need to awaken the voters to take this election very seriously, get out the vote & take our country back starting with our city government and then go on to Congress in 2010.
L: What was the role of pressing the flesh, meeting voters individually?
O: This was the most important aspect of the campaign IMO. The biggest hurdle to overcome was voter apathy. City Council races notoriously bring out few voters and few were excited with the NYC mayoral race to boot. Anthony Carollo, myself and a few Tea Party folks organized weekly supermarket leafleting campaigns where we met the voters face to face, distributed Dan’s literature and talked to the voters about the issues. This was the hardest, but most necessary grunt work which we did for 2 months of Saturdays and Sundays nonstop. The voters were apathetic and didn’t want to be bothered for the most part, but we kept up the drum beat, and even chanted loud cheers “Dan’s our Man!” at the shopping malls and I believe turned the voter apathy around into excitement and in the end the turnout was good, better than most other districts, I believe. Our passion and excitement for Dan’s candidacy rubbed off on the voters and spread to others as word got out. Senator Padavan and other supporters were constantly campaigning at train stations in the AM and PM. The contrast between the paid campaign workers and Dan’s volunteers was quite noticeable. The climax of the campaign was the last Sunday, Nov 1, when 2 dozen of us crashed the Senator Chuck Schumer rally to endorse Kim at Bay Terrace Shopping Mall. They didn’t know what hit them as we fired back in answer to their religious bigotry, lies and dirty campaign tactics. Even some Kim supporters at the rally told me they wish they had more time to properly vet the candidates and one guy asked me serious questions about what Dan stands for.
L: Were there specific environmental dynamics (voter frustration with the economy, Obama, etc.) which you believe contributed to your victory?
O: Yes. Many prospective voters who were frustrated with the economy and Obama, became supportive and excited with Dan’s candidacy when we enlightened them as to where Dan stands on the issues: cutting taxes, reduce dependency on governmentt, fight to cut the size of government by 50% by cutting overlapping agencies, fight against fraud and abuse in City Hall, fight for individual liberty, be a dissenting voice on the council, support police and firefighters first, etc.
L: What was the role of building a good campaign support staff?
O: Daryl, Giulliani’s former NY campaign manager, was Dan’s campaign manager. Queens GOP Party leaders were all on the scene. It was disorganized at first with more chiefs than Indians, and no real organized plans. But things got organized, calling lists, speaking engagements, press conferences, etc. were organized and campaign volunteers flowed in steadily and were immediately utilized.
L: Did the New York City media play a role pro or con?
Con. They attacked Dan’s religion making it a political issue, exposing their own bigotry and hypocrisy as the so-called “champions of diversity” The Queens Tribune, the Daily News, Village Voice, New York Post all followed the herd in beating up on a minority whom they thought would take the beating in silence. But they all lost!
L: What advice would you give to future libertarian candidates:
O: They should capitalize on the frustration with Obama and the state of the economy and the socialist direction our country is taking. They had better know their Constitution and Declaration of Independence backwards and forwards, otherwise the Tea Party crowd and many awakened citizens will have nothing to do with them. Dan knows his Constitution by memory! Honesty counts, integrity counts, ethics is the key, and sticking to principle and never pandering for votes, is the winning strategy in these Obamanation times. People are looking for leaders of character and principle not sleazy lawyers and political hacks. Those days are over.
Mitchell Langbert can be visited at http://www.mitchell-langbert.blogspot.com.