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Schumer V D-Amato Essay, Research Paper
In one of 1998’s most costly, caustic senate races, New York candidates Charles Schumer and Alfonse D’Amato battled it out with negative campaign ads, personal slurs, and attention on previous political mistakes. Yet somewhere among the mud-slinging and personal attacks some issues emerged, of which education became a top priority. Schumer and D’amato both realized the importance of education to New York voters and therefore the necessity of addressing the issue in each of their campaigns. D’amato promised to reform a dysfunctional school system, by improving the quality of teachers, which he blamed for many of the problems. Schumer, conversely, sought to improve the current, well-functioning system, with increased funding and standards for students (Saunders, 1998). Although both candidates were forced to address their contrasting views on of education as a response to public pressure, the issue was clouded by the negative campaign and discussed mainly in the context of the other’s past political actions.
Education became such an important issue in this senate race because New York City’s recent rejuvenation and economic boom has shifted New Yorker’s focus from social issues such as crime and welfare to those of education and taxes. New York has previously been a state politically divided between the north and south on many issues, but education is one that unites them. With many educated citizens of upstate New York fleeing for more promising academic territory and downstate’s hope of retaining an educated middle class, education reform has gained importance throughout the entire state. A Quinnipiac College poll asking New Yorkers to name the single most important problem facing the state resulting in 17% pointing to education, with only 7% singling out crime (Dolman, 1998). This prompted each candidate to address the issue in his campaign without the fear of alienating any specific district, even though neither of them had focused on education in their political pasts (Nagourney 2, 1998). Schumer and D’amato responded to the public’s wishes and both aimed at capturing the support of the broadest number of voters, neither of them willing to risk overlooking such an important issue. Schumer, who touted a classically democratic education plan, threatened D’amato who consequently went full force with a plan of his own (Dolman, 1998).
D’amato, the incumbent was supported by the Republican Party, but his campaign tactics were a little more aggressive than many of his republican supporters had hoped. Contrastly, Schumer was strongly supported by his party and stuck to their values concerning most issues. D’amato moved to blamed the shortcomings of the public school’s on teachers’ unions (Nagourney 2, 1998). By challenging the unions, he provoked the wrath of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), knowing he would not have gained their support anyway. His headstrong, aggressive manner of campaigning became clear when he supported mandatory testing to ensure teacher competency, renewable rather than lifelong tenure, and pay based on merit. This was an open attack on teachers, and stirred much opposition among them. D’amato also knew that he wouldn’t be supported by teachers and proceeded with his full-fledged attack on them. As a result he was depicted as somewhat of an enemy of public education, but also as taking a distinctive, fresh, yet gutsy, view on a crucial issue in an attempt to give himself an edge in the competitive campaign (Dolman, 1998). He also openly opposed Schumer and the Democratic Party in supporting government funded vouchers to offset tuition at private and parochial schools. D’amato’s popularity increased for a short time during his ads supporting this and his evidence of voucher’s benefits from a study done in New York City’s public school system. With all of his tough campaigning, wily strategies, and massive fund-raising attempts, D’amato’s chances of reelection were optimistic. However, his opponent matched him in intensity, nearly in money, and fought back with just as many negative ads and accusations (Sullivan, 1998).
Schumer, playing the safer side of the fence in the nature of his education platform, supported teachers (his own mother was a teacher), even promising to forgive teacher’s student loans after five years of teaching in order to attract great teachers. He called for more spending for schools to hire more teachers, rebuild deteriorated building and start pre-kindergarten programs (Saunders, 1998). He appealed to many parents, mothers especially, when he referred to the overcrowded classroom conditions of his own child’s kindergarten class and said building new schools must be on the top of national agenda. All of his proposals included increased spending, which paralleled the Democratic Party’s views on education (Nagourney 2, 1998). Schumer also backed President Clinton’s plan for stepped-up standards in math and english for students. Consequently, Clinton and the first lady helped campaign for him and even made some appearances in support of him. Hillary Clinton praised Schumer for proposing to make college tuition tax deductible for families with incomes up to $150,000. Along with this she assailed D’amato for voting to cut various scholarship programs, like Pell Grants, contrasting this to Schumer’s support of these programs. Mrs. Clinton also explicitly urged women to support Schumer, especially because D’amato had consistently voted in favor of so many issues that women care about (Nagourney 1, 1998). Schumer targeted women’s votes in his campaign, hoping it would give him the edge over D’amato in such a close race. He took a much more supportive view of education and New York’s existing system than did D’amato, with his fierce attack on teachers.
Had the campaign truly been about issues and a genuine desire for education reform, the views of the candidate’s would have been very clear and easy to decipher. Yet during the campaign this wasn’t so. The campaign was so negative and so focused on the other opponent’s past voting record, that the issue of education was clouded and discussed primarily in that context (Zeh, 1998). When asked if he was an anti-education senator, D’amato responded that he wasn’t; he voted for a bill to hire 100,000 new teachers, but when that bill came up on the house floor, Schumer wasn’t there. He once again reinforced his point that Schumer was out campaigning rather than doing his job as a congressman (Hardt 1, 1998). Their views on education reform were printed on paper and asserted clearly during individual platform speeches, but they were completely overlooked during debates. Their focus was on their opponent’s poor past performance in office, missed votes, and some juvenile name-calling tactics. Every issue in the campaign was used by D’amato as a chance to scold Schumer for missing votes in congress and vice versa. In response to a question about how the candidates differed on education, Schumer simply retorted that “Senator D’amato is one of the worst senators. His record is one of the worst for education in New York’s history.” Schumer went on to point out that D’amato voted against education aid and voted to cut the very successful government program, Head Start (Hardt 2, 1998). This led to D’amato’s rebuttal that Schumer missed the Head Start vote altogether, and this went on indefinitely. The overall altruistic and beneficial views that the candidates touted about education never even came up when they were debating. This proved true of their entire campaign: very good, strong platforms on the issue of education which were lost among the mud-slinging and negative campaigning.
The race between these two long-time politicians with the ability to raise massive amount of campaign funds was close until the end. With D’amato repeatedly citing Schumer’s missed votes in Congress and Schumer calling the senator an untrustworthy liar, the race featured more character attacks and name-calling than issues. Nevertheless, education emerged as an important issue in the campaign, helping Schumer win over teachers and women and giving D’amato a competitive edge in the campaign. The race appeared to be a toss-up, but a late development involving D’amato insulting Schumer with a vulgar personal slur was enough to give Schumer a stunning 54%-45% victory over D’amato, finally ending the bitter campaign