Transformative Election

Posted on 14 November 2008

By Karl Grossman

For the nation—indeed the world—the presidential election last week was, well the word being used is transformational. The notion of transformational leadership was introduced 30 years ago by presidential historian James MacGregor Burns and he defined it as leadership that reaches “high levels of motivation and morality.”

That’s what a resounding majority in the nation thought Barack Obama is about. So despite this country’s horrible racist history—including recent history—a man of mixed ancestry described as a black person will be our president.

My first newspaper job was at the Cleveland Press and News in 1960 when the big question was whether a Catholic, John F. Kennedy, could—or should—be elected president. As for African-Americans, the black reporter at the paper was consigned to doing obituaries. Oh, how far in my lifetime we have traveled!

Suffolk County, which in the 70’s and 80’s competed with then equally conservative Orange County, California in giving the highest pluralities of any large U.S. county to Republican presidential candidates, went for Democrat Obama 52 to 47 percent. That wasn’t as enormous a percentage as many areas in the U.S., but not only was Suffolk for many decades prime GOP turf, it’s a county where the Ku Klux Klan marched through the 1920s, a place where housing patterns have been racially segregated and acts of racism numerous.

For Barack Obama to carry Suffolk County comfortably—and do it with political coattails—was remarkable. The times, they have a-changed.

There were other important aspects of the election here especially the landslide 59 to 41 percent win to the New York State Senate of Democrat Brian Foley, the reform-minded Brookhaven Town supervisor and former county legislator, over 36-year GOP incumbent Caesar Trunzo. It will be the first time Suffolk will have a Democrat as a state senator since 1902 and it helped change the balance of the Senate.

Noteworthy, too, is the second re-election of State Assemblyman Marc Alessi, a Democrat, in a district including Shelter Island, the North Fork and northern Brookhaven, represented for decades by Republicans. He was a 29-year-old in the state comptroller’s office who helped expose financial scandals in several Long Island school districts when he first won the seat in a special election in 2005 after former Suffolk GOP Chairwoman Patricia Acampora stepped down. His victory by a 60-40 margin announces his hold on the seat and a healthy two-party system in that sizeable part of Suffolk.

Important, too, and a measure of the political independence and sensitivity of Suffolk voters, was the big re-election win, once again, of State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. in a district that includes Southampton, East Hampton and a slice of Brookhaven Towns. Considering the ballot this year with the Democratic line on top, Obama-Biden first and then judicial candidates and Tim Bishop for Congress—and a majority of voters staying with the Democratic ticket—it took a little work to hunt for Republican Thiele’s name. That many, many people who otherwise turned Democratic levers voted for this fine public official was a reflection on them and him.

The Democratic wins—subject to recounts—of Sally Pope for town board and Andrea Schiavoni for town justice against Republican incumbents in Southampton Town are noteworthy as well. There were the Obama coattails, their Independence Party endorsement and anti-George W. Bush sentiment, but what more might be brewing in Southampton Town?

About Barack Obama, I first realized how extraordinary he is after an old friend, Bill Farnum of West Hampton Dunes, gave me a copy of his autobiography, Dreams From My Father. Reading it caused me to realize, at once, that this was a person who not only soared in speechmaking but expresses himself, in general, in a dazzling way, his thought processes just brilliant. It became my view that if Mr. Obama won the presidency, we’d have elected a man the caliber of a Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

With the enormous amount written and said about Mr. Obama, reading Dreams From My Father and his new book, The Audacity of Hope—both in paperback—enables you to learn about him first-hand. It’s some great fortune he’s to be our next president, especially after what we’ve been through and considering the challenges 

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