Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Case of the Millionaire Carpetbagger

Things are really starting to heat up in the 19th Congressional District of New York. Not only is an uber-wealthy political neophyte attempting to buy a seat, he just committed the ultimate faux pas. He refused to be interviewed by Politico! They came all the way up to his Ulster County HQ to talk to him, and the door was locked! Then they went to the private investment firm he started to loan money to local businesses to "create jobs" in this economically struggling backwater of a district. (full disclosure: I live here) And he wasn't in that office, either. So then they went to his palatial residence -- and they couldn't even get past the gates. 

It looked as though Sean Eldridge, like the hapless car salesman in Fargo, was "fleein' the interview."

Even before this brouhaha, I had been totally fired up about the mid-terms. My official choice this fall is between incumbent Chris Gibson, last year named the House's most liberal Republican, (yeah, what an oxymoron) and Democrat Sean Eldridge, the 20-something plutocratic arriviste who bought a luxury estate in a nearby town for $2 million cash so that he could then buy (oops, I mean "run for") Gibson's seat. He and his spouse, Facebook co-founder and New Republic owner Chris Hughes, had previously bought a different luxury estate in a downstate New York district to run against Tea Partier Nan Hayward, but that plan became moot once another wealthy Wall Street Street Democrat, also named Sean (Maloney), defeated her in 2012. Sean & Chris & Chris & Sean. The mind reels.

Like Politico, I have not yet met Sean E., but he, or maybe one of his many handlers, emails me constantly, urgently asking me if I got the last email asking me to sign another petition for immediate delivery to John Boehner, who no doubt will collapse in surrender upon reading it. Earlier this year, Sean the multimillionaire asked me to donate $5 to his campaign as a sign of my outrage over Congress's failure to extend federal unemployment benefits. One thing in Sean's favor is that he favors campaign finance reform. Which I suppose is an easy thing to favor if you're basically financing your own campaign.

I've looked for Sean around town, thinking maybe he'd be out and about, meeting and greeting, or maybe handing out glossy brochures in front of Stop N Shop. What I do see in front of Stop N Shop is a big (mostly empty) bin for any extra groceries people can spare for the hungry people who just got their food stamp stipends slashed in a fit of bonhomie by the millionaire Congress Sean aspires to join. So any spare change is going for peanut butter and Cheerios for my neighbors. Sorry, Sean. I cannot help you meet your goal by the magical midnight hour. Count yourself lucky, though, that you already scored your prince. You will never know how it feels to wake up in rags among rotting pumpkins.

Besides investing in entrepreneurs by loaning them his own personal money, Sean's idea of engaging with the community includes plunking down vast amounts of personal cash to feast at overpriced eateries in an overpriced tourist trap town up here called Woodstock, so as to help boost our struggling economy. And also by donating some unbelievably pricey 3-D printing technology to SUNY-New Paltz -- rather than, say, funding scholarships for needy indebted students, or helping sustain its excellent art and theater programs. Centrist Dems, as you know, are very keen on STEM training for those low-wage jobs of the future!

Plus, there is money to be made. The neoliberal venture also involves a $1 million state economic development grant from Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, as well as probable totally tax-exempt status for at least a decade courtesy of Cuomo's new "StartUpNY" public-private initiative. (Private profit at public expense. But jobs, jobs, jobs of the future!) Incidentally, the SUNY press release on Eldridge's investment makes absolutely no mention of his Congressional run.

Like me, maybe you were wondering if Sean Eldridge is too good to be true, or even if he really exists. Well, rest assured, he lives and breathes the same air as we do -- in 3-D, no less. Unfortunately, judging from this radio interview, he sounds like he borrowed all his canned talking points from Barack Obama. Words like future, skills, entrepreneurs, opportunity and gridlock fly fast and furious. Which is not surprising, seeing how he got his political start, while still in college,volunteering for Obama. He even met his future husband during the Obama campaign. But meanwhile, an empty suit channeling an empty suit does not bode well, despite having SKDKnickerbocker, a lobbying/PR firm run by former Obama adviser Anita Dunn, doing his publicity.

be fair, the Politico accusations of willful non-accessibility are sort of unfair. Because when Sean and his hubby first burst upon on the local scene, they graciously gave an exclusive interview to the New York Times. Had I not read about a person wanting to represent me on the front page of the Times, instead of, say, in the local weekly, I never would have known he existed. You can't imagine how fired up I became as I read this:
Two years ago, Sean Eldridge and his husband, the Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, bought a $5 million estate in Garrison, about 50 miles north of New York City. It offered 80 acres of rolling fields and a farmhouse once owned by a Vanderbilt. It would also allow Mr. Eldridge, 26, to run for the local Congressional seat if he chose to.
But that seat appeared unattainable, and soon the couple’s gaze shifted north, to the neighboring district. In January, they bought a $2 million modern home here overlooking a reservoir, laying the groundwork for Mr. Eldridge’s campaign for their new local Congressional seat, New York’s 19th.
Word of Mr. Eldridge’s political plans has delighted the friends who make up his social circle: Donors to his exploratory committee include George Soros, the billionaire financier, and Sean Parker, the tech entrepreneur behind Napster and Spotify.
The locals, though? Not so much, apparently. It's really been a series of provincial faux pas for this plutocratic transplant to the provinces.  Before the awkward moment involving Politico, the first awkward moment was when he neglected to install a mailbox at the gates of his third residence, and his voter registration form was returned to the Elections Board as undeliverable. But in his Times interview, he convincingly scoffed at the notion that his move to rustic Ulster County had anything at all to do with personal political ambition:
“The Hudson Valley is my home,” he said. “It’s where I work. It’s where I got married.”
Mr. Eldridge said he and his husband, who also own a loft in SoHo in Manhattan, were settling into their new upstate home. He described a routine that includes grocery shopping and dining in Woodstock, the artsy enclave nearby. “We’re very involved in the community,” he said.
Mr. Eldridge’s supporters note that for all the trappings of wealth he now possesses, Mr. Eldridge grew up in a middle-class community in Ohio, where both of his parents were doctors; they say he has a genuine understanding of people of modest means.
And while the 19th District has vast stretches of rural, conservative communities, it is also home to more Democratic-leaning places, like New Paltz and Monticello, that could give his candidacy a lift.
“He clearly has a bright future,” said Mike Hein, a Democrat who is the Ulster County executive.
And that brings us to yet another faux pas in the unrelenting series. It seems Sean never bothered to personally call upon the Kingston (the county seat) mayor before he emailed him, casually asking for his endorsement. Mayor Shayne Gallo was neither amused nor impressed:
“I was extremely surprised, and I was offended,” he said. “I would think it would be prudent … if not politically polite and respectful, to reach out to those who’ve gone through this process and who are local yokels and who are stakeholders in the community you hope to represent.”
“Considering that someone isn’t from the area, wasn’t born or raised in the district, doesn’t have an established record in public or private service, nor any notable achievements in our local or regional economy … I’m very perplexed by that,” the mayor said.
OK, one more faux pas and I'll quit, I promise. When Sean Eldridge forked over that $750,000 for the 3-D printing venture in New Paltz, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-Wall Street) was on hand to gush over the gift, but with the caveat that such technology has a worrisome tendency to be used for nefarious purposes, as in terrorists sneaking undetectable plastic guns past TSA gropers and onto airplanes.

And Sean responded, "Although there's no silver bullet for economic growth in the Hudson Valley, we believe that 3-D printing has tremendous potential to grow our economy, spark innovation and create jobs in the region." 

Plastic bullets, yes. Silver bullets, no. 

Plastic candidates? About a billion bucks a dozen.

Third Home a Charm?


Fred Drumlevitch said...

Run, Karen, run !!!!!

Announce your own candidacy, file the papers. You might be surprised by what happens, but even if not, a running commentary at your blog would be illuminating.

Jay - Ottawa said...

I second Fred's motion!