The New York primary is fast approaching, and our next president will likely be a New Yorker. Oy, gevalt!
Two hometown sons from New York City are in the race. There is Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, who was raised in outer borough Queens and has spent decades stamping his name in large, gold letters on luxe buildings across Manhattan. And there is Bernie Sanders, the don't-count-him-out-yet democratic socialist candidate, who long ago traded working-class Flatbush, Brooklyn for the greener pastures and hills of Vermont.
So, too, there is the leading Democratic contender, Hillary Clinton, who in another era might have been called a political carpetbagger. She moved to the New York City leafy suburb of Chappaqua - rather than back to Little Rock, Arkansas - when her husband, President Bill Clinton, had to cede the White House back to the Bush dynasty. Not long thereafter, Bill set up his post-presidential post in the heart of Harlem, and Hillary's new New York neighbors elected her to the Senate.
Odds are one of the three will be elected, and the prospect of a New Yorker presidency has some folks hot and bothered. Earlier in this colorful campaign season, Ted Cruz, who is running second place in the Republican slugfest, tried to cast aspersions on Trump by accusing him of having "New York values." When pressed during a debate to elaborate, Cruz - who himself was born in Calgary, Canada - claimed, "Everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal, pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, focus around money and the media." More recently, Cruz called Trump a "big, loud New York bully," as if New York nurtures its own special breed of bullies distinct from the tormentors of other states.
Has anyone other than Cruz thought through the implications of a New Yorker presidency? It certainly won't be the first. Four presidents were born in New York: Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Others have had strong New York connections. Chester Arthur practiced law in New York and reported to William Tweed, the boss of the corrupt Tammany Hall machine that manipulated New York City politics and patronage. Grover Cleveland was sheriff of New York's upstate Erie County.
More recently, Barack Obama temporarily made New York his home, while completing his undergraduate degree as a transfer student at Columbia University and then starting his career. In Dreams from My Father he recalls, "I spent my first night in Manhattan curled up in an alleyway." Obama woke up the next morning and joined a homeless man "washing himself at an open hydrant." But the current president's New York credentials are admittedly flimsy. After all, he largely was raised in Hawaii and raised his own daughters in Chicago.
It is about time we had another New Yorker in the White House. As a fourth generation New Yorker, and the mother of two fifth-generation New Yorkers, I fancy that I am as fast-talking and sharp-elbowed as my lineage and years navigating the crowded aisles of Zabars and Fairways have primed me to be. But I have never experienced a New Yorker presidency. I was born during Lyndon B. Johnson's second term. Working backwards, apart from Obama, the presidents in my lifetime have hailed from: Texas (George W. Bush), Arkansas (Bill Clinton), Texas (George P. Bush), California (Ronald Reagan), Georgia (Jimmy Carter), Michigan (Gerald Ford), California (Richard Nixon), and, yes, Texas again (LBJ). In other words, apart from Bush Sr., who grew up in Connecticut, there has not been a single president in the past half century affiliated with anywhere on the East Coast.
As I look down the long and winding road toward New York's primary on April 19 and beyond that to the general election, I wonder to what extent geography is destiny.
How will a New Yorker presidency differ from a Texan or Californian presidency?
Unlike Cruz, I realize that New Yorkers are not all alike. After all, as Trump so helpfully reminded us, when rebutting Cruz's comments about New York values, "Conservatives actually do come out of Manhattan, including William F. Buckley and others."
A Sanders presidency surely would little resemble a reign of Trump. Even so, will some essential eau de New York - the salty mist of the Atlantic or the refreshing spray of Niagara Falls - waft into the Oval office with its next occupant? Will the pungent bouquet of the disturbingly named Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island - once the biggest garbage dump on the planet and after 9/11 the sorting ground for the rubble and human remains from Ground Zero - make itself known?
Will the next occupant of the White House have a New Yorker's outlook on matters foreign and domestic? Emily Dickinson famously wrote,
I see -- New Englandly --
The Queen, discerns like me --
Will our next President see New Yorkerly? Will he or she discern provincially?
In all likelihood, next November we will collectively elect the Empire State's first president since FDR. But which stripe of New Yorker will it be? The homegrown capitalist, the native socialist, or the geographic opportunist?