There was a time when someone like Max Rose would have been considered an ideal candidate for mayor. The question is whether even the catastrophic consequences of allowing the left to run the city into the ground is enough to make it possible for someone viewed as a centrist Democrat to have a chance.
And, in theory, there might be a path to victory for someone like him. After all, two terms of Mayor de Blasio’s incompetence should have Democrats turning to a centrist next year.
The left-wing belief in “bail reform” and contempt for the police has led to a rise in crime. And the sheer arbitrary insanity of the city and state’s pandemic policies has heightened economic misery and wrecked public education.
Gotham has been left beaten and bleeding by leftist delusions and is in sore need of some sane government not dictated by the myths of critical race theory or the demands of Democratic Socialist ideologues.
Most of the leading Democratic contenders for mayor, like city Comptroller Scott Stringer or Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, are offering more of the same. Polls show an outlier like entrepreneur and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang may offer a less ideological alternative. But Rose offers the possibility of a throwback to an earlier era of New York politics.
Throughout much of the 20th century, the Democratic Party maintained its grip on power by nominating white ethnic New Yorkers from the outer boroughs who disdained liberal elites. Those candidates could count on support from the working-class voters who were the backbone of the party.
Ed Koch was the kind of Democrat who could appeal to those voters. And after the disastrous four years of the late David Dinkins’ mayoralty, first Rudy Giuliani and then Mike Bloomberg proved that not only could New York be pulled back from the abyss and thrive as never before, but that candidates not in thrall to the hard left could still win elections here even if they called themselves Republicans or independents.
Is Rose the man who could pick up where they left off?
A feisty yet wonkish intellectual and a decorated Army veteran, Rose was a brilliant choice for the Democrats to win a traditionally Republican House seat in 2018. During the last two years, Rose did his best to try to thread the needle of retaining support in a district that voted for Donald Trump while maintaining his standing as a blue-state Democrat. He did that by rightly blasting de Blasio as a terrible mayor and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal” as “socialist” while also voting to impeach the president. But in a normal political year, he was still too liberal for Staten Island and lost.
On the other hand, despite the city’s crying need for a centrist option in 2021, he might be too conservative to win a mayoral primary as crowded as the one that appears to be shaping up for next year.
The political landscape of New York has shifted to the left since the Koch era and even that of Giuliani and Bloomberg. The GOP once might have been able to take advantage of the Democrats’ swing to the far left, but it has all but disappeared outside of Staten Island.
Rose is a novice when it comes to city politics and administration. And though he supported Bloomberg’s presidential run, he also said (in an effort to re-establish his progressive credentials) that Dinkins was the greatest mayor during his lifetime and embraced some of the same destructive policies as some of his competitors.
New York needs a mayoral candidate who will fearlessly take on the left, embrace law enforcement and economic development and stop pretending that more cant about social justice will fix what’s wrong with the city.
Such a candidate might not win but someone has to stand up for the values of ordinary middle- and working-class New Yorkers. If Max Rose is at least willing to try, we can only wish him luck.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org.