Where the Mud Is Thickest


October 19, 1992|By GEORGE F. WILL

NEW YORK — New York. -- The cab crawls through congealed traffic. The driver, an immigrant from some fragment of the Soviet Empire, understands little English.

Lucky him. The political commercial snarling from the cab radio, reviles ''mudslide Bob Abrams'' as a thrower of ''manure.''

The Democratic nominee for senator is Robert Abrams, the state's attorney general, who recently made news by skipping Manhattan's Columbus Day parade and calling his opponent, the two-term incumbent Alfonse D'Amato, a ''fascist.''

Mr. Abrams is a liberal in good standing but he did not duck the parade for the correct liberal reason. Mr. Abrams needs cash and had to go prospecting for some of it upstate, where he paraded for Columbus in Binghamton. Besides, Mr. Abrams has an Italian problem.

Remember Geraldine Ferraro and the rumors of mob associations that muddied the Mondale-Ferraro ticket in 1984? Last month Mr. Abrams narrowly edged Ms. Ferraro in a four-way primary. Initially Ms. Ferraro had a 30-point lead. Then another rival, Elizabeth Holtzman, this city's comptroller, charged that Ms. Ferraro ''took $340,000 from a child pornographer.'' Ms. Ferrarro's husband rented warehouse space to a mob-connected pornographer for three years after she promised to have him evicted.

Ms. Ferraro, wrapping herself in the skirts of Saint Anita, said Ms. Holtzman ''may be biologically a woman but she's acting just like the men in the Clarence Thomas hearing.'' Mr. Abrams, who is biologically incorrect in this Year of the Woman, fretted about reports that some contributors to Ms. Ferraro's congressional campaigns had Runyonesque nicknames like ''One-Eyed Charlie'' and ''Billy the Butcher.''

Ms. Ferraro said she was a victim of ''guilt by ethnicity'' but Mr. Abrams insisted that ''Ferraro attacking D'Amato on the sleaze issue would be a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.'' Senator D'Amato's sense of chivalry was stirred on Ms. Ferraro's behalf (although he was the first this year to raise the mob issue about her). He called Mr. Abrams a savage and a ''sissy.'' A savage sissy? Go figure.

Mr. Abrams was born in the Bronx on the Fourth of July -- a good career move -- in 1938 and has been a political careerist since age 27. He is running as an outsider, of course, as is Senator D'Amato, who is seeking to win years 13 through 18 in the Senate. No slouch as a name-caller, Mr. D'Amato answers the ''fascist'' charge by calling Mr. Abrams something worse -- an ''incumbent.'' Mr. Abrams calls Mr. D'Amato ''a desperate rat.'' Mr. D'Amato calls Mr. Abrams a ''sleaze bag.''

Mr. D'Amato is known as the Senate's Bart Simpson -- crude and proud of it. He is proudest of the nickname ''Senator Pothole,'' a tribute, so to speak, to his manic miniaturization of politics. He has built a career on the principle that ''no service is too small.'' He serves anyone who will let him be useful. He is no fascist but he would get a fascist's pothole filled (but only if the fascist were a registered voter or had relatives who were).

The Senate Ethics Committee says he has conducted ''the business of his office in an improper and inappropriate manner.'' Mr. D'Amato's response is hey, what about being your brother's keeper? A guy can't let his brother (who has been indicted on fraud charges) use the office to do a little lobbying for a defense contractor?

Mr. Abrams' ''fascist'' remark, which he says was ''unfortunate,'' vented his frustration with Senator D'Amato's negative ads that play fast and loose with such facts as they contain. Mr. D'Amato, figuring that 30 seconds is a filibuster in in-your-face New York, is running 10-second kick-in-the-groin ads, such as: ''Bob Abrams demanded a $6 million-a-year luxury office suite. Now he wants to raise your taxes. Bob Abrams. Hopelessly liberal.''

In this city, where politics mimics a local industry (mugging) and everyone worries about ethnic groups getting ''dissed'' (disrespected), the term ''fascist'' is abhorred not just, or even primarily, because it connotes totalitarian convictions, but because it has what Senator D'Amato purringly calls ''so many connotations.'' Meaning: Mussolini. More picking on Italy.

This column is intended as an October pleasant surprise for non-New Yorkers. You thought politics where you live is as squalid as politics can be. You were wrong.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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