A couple of months ago my mother expressed her profound disappointment regarding some unflattering rumors she had heard about a certain elected official's personal life. Without blinking I said, "Well at least there are no hookers or children involved."
My mother was horrified.
The scary thing is I had not said this to be a smarty-pants. I genuinely meant that as long as this elected official wasn't alleged to have broken any laws then his constituents and supporters really didn't have it so bad. But hearing my mom's reaction reminded me just what a sad statement that is on the standards we have come to accept as voters and as citizens.
As someone who got my start in New York politics before "retiring" from campaigns a few years ago, I have been following the horserace to fill Sen. Clinton's senate seat with the same measure of excitement, enthusiasm and anxiousness that others might feel if their hometown team made the playoffs, and you had a friend or two who was actually starting. Only we all know that with our nation falling deeper and deeper into an economic black hole and our international reputation in tatters there is a lot more at stake in the U.S. Senate than on a baseball field. Which is why it has been so incredibly frustrating to watch the way the media has handicapped this Senate appointment race.
It is mind boggling to me that in a year in which our country has elected its first black president on the strength of his credentials, as well as his ability to run the best campaign (even his detractors admit it), that qualifications as shallow as race, gender and even geographic origin are being weighed at all in the New York Senate seat appointment contest. (Disclosure: I once worked as an aide for Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, one of the contenders.) Barack Obama is the ultimate anti-affirmative action candidate, proof that if you have the chops that outweighs just about everything else--even an exotic and somewhat controversial middle name. That's what I thought we fought for all of these years--to be seen beyond the silly limitations we placed on each other for so long.
But reading some of the analysis of what supposedly made various candidates viable contenders for the seat was sort of like perusing some awkward Match.com profiles. In my eyes, every article that refers to Rep. Nydia Velazquez as a "twofer," because she is both a woman and a Latina, without any mention of any qualifications, or that declares Tom Suozzi as a possibility because of "Catholics and the suburbs," or pronounces Reps. Brian Higgins and Kirsten Gillibrand as good bets because they have the good fortune (and perhaps good sense) to live in a cheaper part of New York than I do, only cheapens the seat itself.
Speaking as an African-American woman--but most of all as a New Yorker, I could care less whether the person appointed is green, purple or what kind of anatomical equipment they are working with, as long as they are the best person to fight to make life a little better for those of who call New York home.
But hey--it could be worse. We New Yorkers could be in a state where our Governor thinks a Senate seat is something to be raffled off like a new car, or to be put on eBay like Sarah Palin's plane. After seeing the mess that is unfolding in Illinois, I am counting my lucky stars that we New Yorkers have the governor we now do, and the slate of candidates to choose from that we do. Not a single scandal-plagued, prostitute-patronizing, tax-evading, child-porn loving, wacko in the bunch...as far as we know. I just hope that ultimately the right candidate is chosen for the right reason.