I had a friend named Murray – a few years older than me. He’s no longer with us but the story about how he got involved with politics deserves to be told.
When Murray was a kid in high school, he wanted to earn a few extra bucks. So, his father told him to go down to the local Democratic club in his neighborhood and ask for a job.
Which he did.
Murray was a Bronx kid, and the Democratic clubhouse was on Bainbridge Avenue, the only difference between that clubhouse and the St. Mary of Siena clubhouse down the block was that the Democratic clubhouse didn’t sell booze – if you know what I mean.
Murray’s ‘job’ was to hang out at the clubhouse after school and run errands for the ward captain and his pals. Pick up some coffee over here, take these letters to the Post Office over there, make sure to plaster the neighborhood with ‘Vote for So-and-So’ placards the week before the election, and so forth and so on.
Every Friday the guy who ran the clubhouse gave Murray ten bucks. That was serious money for a high school kid in those days.
This was how the Democratic Party was organized when the only way tp connect with voters was to go out and actually remind people face-to-face that they better show up and vote. It was called ‘working the neighborhood’ and it took place in every community where there were any Democratic votes.
When Murray was in his 30’s he was told by the guy who ran the clubhouse that his name was going to be on the primary ballot for the vacant State Assembly seat. There was also another guy who was on the ballot and when the votes were counted the night of the election, the other guy won.
The other guy got 75% of the vote so the next day Murray asked the ward captain, “how come my name’s on the ballot?”
“Gotta give people a choice,” he was told. That was that.
Murray never ran for elective office again because the Bronx Democratic Organization, as it was called, didn’t need to give the people a choice again by using him. They had other guys whose names they could use.
Murray not only worked his entire life for the ‘organization,’ as he called it, but rose through the ranks and was ultimately Number 3 or Number 4 in the whole shebang. His primary responsibility was to send names down to the mayor’s office when the city needed part-time, temporary help like cleaning up around Yankee Stadium after a game or plowing streets after a big Winter storm.
These were the kinds of jobs, and there were plenty of other such jobs, which helped make New York City work the way it was supposed to work by delivering services that were needed but did not require adding personnel to the permanent payroll. City agencies like hospitals, homeless shelters, after-school centers all needed extra help from time to time. Which is what the Bronx Democratic Organization helped provide.
What did the Bronx Organization expect in return for giving someone an opportunity to earn a couple of hundred bucks every now and then? Show up on Election Day, bring your wife and your friends and make sure they all vote.
If that’s not a valid definition for how politics should work, sorry, but I don’t have a better one. You think that politics is just a way to express your feelings about global warming and other concerns? Good for you.
That was then. This is now. Now we have people like Liz Cheney who serves a whole, big five years in the House of Representatives, loses her seat in a primary landslide and immediately announces that she might run for President in 2024.
This is what politics has become when all you need is pay some geek to put up your website, buy a couple of email lists, start raising money and you’re good to go. Party loyalty? That’s old news. Party discipline? Yea, right.
The good news is that with global warming there won’t be any snow, so we won’t need the Bronx Democratic Organization to get the roads plowed and cleared.