McKinstry: Russell can't shake 2001 essay
The two Republicans vying for a chance to challenge Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Harrison) in November couldn't be more different.
In one candidate, you have a guy who's been accused of being a racial separatist. Jim Russell, a case manager for the state insurance fund, hasn't raised much money, but he's run for Congress nearly a half-dozen times so he has some name recognition -- a valuable commodity.
In the other you have a guy who's been attacked for supporting President Barack Obama in 2008 and for being an out-of-touch hedge-fund manager. Joe Carvin has some money, buoyed by the million bucks he loaned his campaign. And the Rye town supervisor, who gained attention for cutting spending and trying to abolish his own government, has the Republican Party's backing.
But even with such starkly different candidates, few people seem to be paying attention to this race.
Turnout could be abysmal on June 26. For all the hype of the Republican presidential primary, only 7,283 voters turned out in April in this congressional district.
And this one could be worse.
After state lawmakers failed to come up with primary dates that complied with a law requiring states to get absentee ballots to military personnel at least 45 days before the general election, a federal judge set the congressional primary for June.
"June primaries are a problem," said Hank Sheinkopf, a political strategist. "We haven't had a June primary in 40 years. Nobody remembers in June."
Far too many people don't have their political antennas up yet. Summer vacation, the end of school, even taking out the trash may top primary voting on the to-do list for the last Tuesday of the month. And strategists agree that it would cost millions to spur more interest.
One of Carvin's fears is that Russell will drum up his loyalists -- whom Carvin has called "crazies" -- and that Russell won't talk about his controversial essay about race, published in the winter 2001 issue of the Occidental Quarterly.
These days Russell would much prefer to talk about immigration, the economy or his opposition to the federal housing settlement with Westchester County than the piece written a decade ago about Western civilization, finches and racial intermingling.
For Carvin, Russell's essay is personal; his wife is black and his two children are of mixed race. To him, Russell's writing "wholly disqualify him as a candidate."
It's "far worse than anyone understands," said Carvin, 57. "You can't have it both ways. You either stand for those views or you don't. My goal is to make it clear that people know who Jim Russell is."
Despite national coverage of the essay during Russell's run against Lowey two years ago, he garnered 38 percent of the vote. That was after the Republican Party's failed attempts to throw him off the ballot.
Republican and Conservatives leaders from Westchester and Rockland on Thursday again condemned Russell and accused him of trying to hijack the election. But Russell maintains that's up to voters, not the party. He says the Occidental Quarterly piece was taken "out of context" and had been intended to spur discussion about race.
"It provokes thought," Russell said recently. "You don't write things that everybody is going to agree with."
For his part, Russell is trying to paint Carvin as too liberal for the district, which includes much of Westchester County and part of Rockland.
And Russell thinks the new district boundaries work in his favor.
"I think this is really the opportunity I've been working toward," said Russell, 58, of Hawthorne. "Maybe slow and steady wins the race."
Lowey's people say regardless of who wins the primary, they are going to run an aggressive issues-oriented campaign.
But first the Republican voters have to pick the person who better represents his party.
Assuming they go to the polls.
Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.