• U.S.

The Nation: Carey: An F.D.R. in Brooklyn

3 minute read

Wherever Brooklyn Congressman Hugh Carey, 55, campaigned in the New York gubernatorial race, he was pursued by strains of Happy Days Are Here Again —by a high school brass band, a black drum and bugle corps, a glockenspiel ensemble dressed up as Indians. Aside from the catchy tune and schmaltzy sentiment, the ditty had a further point: it was once Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign song. After 16 years of Republican rule in the state, a Democratic candidate was finally putting back together the old Roosevelt coalition of labor, liberals and minorities. So successful was his political surgery that Carey enjoyed a triumphant 3-to-2 victory over his hapless G.O.P. opponent, Governor Malcolm Wilson, 60.

Carey had all the attributes of a winning New York candidate. Brooklyn-born and bred, he had the genial but “don’t tread on me” demeanor of the neighborhood Irish bartender. A Roman Catholic widower with a dozen children, he was at home with the city’s ethnic denizens who ask, above all, that they not be looked down upon. At the same time, he was acceptable to the city’s liberals, the imperial custodians of party affairs. Though he served Brooklyn’s most conservative district, he maintained a relatively liberal voting record. Besides, after more defeats than they cared to remember, the liberals were hungry for a winner.

In the primary campaign, Carey was induced to lose 30 pounds, and his antiboss, neighborhood, pragmatic image was stressed as part of a $2.5 million campaign financed in part by his multimillionaire brother Edward, the president of New England Petroleum Corp.

Wilson never managed to emerge from the dominating shadow of Nelson Rockefeller, whom he had served for 15 years as Lieutenant Governor. Carey was careful not to give Wilson an issue; he came on as tough as his conservative opponent on crime, inflation and big spending, though somehow leaving the impression of a more generous spirit. While Wilson bogged down in circumlocutions, Carey reached dizzying heights of oratorical excess. After one rendition of Happy Days, he told his audience: “I hate to stop the music, but if you want to hear the harmony of this team being in symphonic rapture …” He broke off to laugh at his own hyperbole.

There is talk of putting Carey on the 1976 national ticket, but he may be too much of a New Yorker to appeal to a wider electorate—his voice a bit too gravelly, his approach a mite too street wise. However, simply by recapturing the nation’s second most populous state from the G.O.P., he has become a powerful figure in Democratic national politics.

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