Anthony Weiner is gaining momentum in his bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor of New York, according to recent polls, but a law passed more than 40 years ago makes a successful comeback highly unlikely for the congressman forced from office after sending inappropriate photos of himself on Twitter.
After a "law-and-order" conservative won the 1969 Democratic mayoral primary with a plurality, the New York state legislature passed a law widely recalled as the "Procaccino Provision."
The law required that a candidate win at least 40 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary to become the nominee for mayor. Failure to reach that threshold means that the top two vote-getters will compete in a runoff to determine a nominee.
The obvious purpose of the Procaccino Provision was to ensure that a conservative never again emerged as the mayoral nominee of Gotham Democrats. But it also means that a candidate such as Weiner who is scandal-tarred would face a runoff.
"Weiner benefits now from competing in a field that is as crowded as the Ames [Iowa] Straw Vote, but significantly duller," historian David Pietrusza told Newsmax. "But that scenario changes in a runoff. Weiner still remains the most interesting name on the runoff ballot, but in a two-person race, his brand of 'interesting' is no longer such an advantage, to say the least."
Speculation about a Weiner comeback in the mayoral primary began when an April Marist College poll
showed him running second and gaining ground against the long-presumed Democratic front-runner, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
According to a Marist Poll taken a month later, Quinn led Weiner among likely primary voters by an unimpressive margin of 24 percent to 19 percent. The April survey showed Quinn with 26 percent and Weiner at 14 percent. However, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll
in June put Weiner ahead among Democrats, 25 percent to Quinn's 20 percent.
"Written-off by election experts and shunned by the political establishment, Mr. Weiner has once again upended popular conceptions about him, vaulting to the front of the race for mayor," The New York Times noted on Friday.
In a string of interviews with voters, The Times concluded that the reasons for the former congressman's rebound include "a fascination with the celebrity he has become … his aggressive manner — those who have watched him say he seems ready to fight for their needs [and] other voters say it is Mr. Weiner's flaws, and his attempts to make peace with the past, that are making them take notice."
In all likelihood, Weiner won't go beyond getting into a runoff because of the events of 44 years ago.
At the time, New York City, under liberal Republican Mayor John Lindsay, was wracked by a string of strikes, a 75 percent increase in spending during his first term, and its first municipal income tax, which gave New Yorkers the highest per-capita taxes in the nation.
City Comptroller Mario Procaccino entered the Democratic primary for mayor, preaching law and order, tax relief, and welfare reform. He scored major points by filing a suit to reopen City College of New York after it was shut down by black militants.
"Work is the answer to an awful lot of problems," declared Procaccino, "just plain, hard work."
Procaccino's message was just enough to win him 35 percent of the Democratic vote and top a "Who's Who" of liberal illuminati: former three-term mayor Robert Wagner; Bronx Borough President Herman Badillo; author Norman Mailer; and Rep. James Scheuer.
All four would break in the general election to support Lindsay, who had lost the Republican primary to conservative state Sen. John Marchi but continued running as the nominee of New York's Liberal Party.
Procaccino's nomination was a national news story, and he made the cover of Time magazine. A famous New Yorker cartoon showed King Kong storming down Fifth Avenue and a terrified Manhattanite exclaiming: "That does it. I'm voting for Procaccino!"
Procaccino also coined a phrase to describe Lindsay supporters that would become timeless: "limousine liberals."
In November, however, Democrat Procaccino and Republican Marchi split the opposition to the liberal Lindsay, who squeaked back into office with 43 percent of the vote.
Empire State Democrats were determined that another conservative would not carry their banner in New York City. In 1972, the runoff measure for city Democrats was sponsored by state Assembly Democrat Stanley Steingut and sailed through the Assembly by a vote of 104 to 5. The Republican-ruled state Senate held the Procaccino Provision up for awhile but finally passed it by a vote of 49 to 8.
No one as conservative as Mario Procaccino would again have a chance at becoming the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York. And it seems safe to say that no one as controversial as Anthony Weiner will have a chance under the Procaccino Provision.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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