There have been Reagan Republicans and Rockefeller Republicans, Bush Republicans and Buchanan Republicans. Michel Faulkner, a Republican running for comptroller, says he is a Frederick Douglass Republican—aligning himself with the great abolitionist and orator who supported the party that emancipated Southern slaves and fought for post-war civil rights in the former confederacy.
Douglass’s support for small government appeals to Faulkner, who argued in a Thursday interview with Ben Max of Gotham Gazette and your correspondent that government programs motivated by white guilt and an overweening suspicion of systemic racism have only done harm to the Black population.
In his run to be the city’s comptroller—the third-ranking citywide official who monitors the budget, audits city agencies and manages the massive city-employee pension funds—Faulkner links that broad social critique to a multilayered municipal agenda. He believes the city sends too much tax money to the feds and vows to lead an effort to wrest at least some of it back. He plans to advocate for affordable housing for the middle class. He says public housing as it now exists in New York will not survive a decade and believes long-term residents deserve an equity stake in the inevitable sale of those properties. And he says New York has not saved enough against a possible economic downturn, although Mayor de Blasio has set aside very large amounts.
After his candidacy for mayor failed to gain traction, Faulkner opted to run for comptroller against incumbent Scott Stringer, who enjoys the highest approval ratings of any citywide official, a huge registration advantage and a big lead over Faulkner in fundraising. There’s also a wee bit of history on Stringer’s side: No Republican has served as comptroller in New York City since 1945.
It’s not clear whether any of the Republicans who have gone down to defeat over the intervening 72 years have identified as Frederick Douglass Republicans. It’s also not clear that Douglass himself would recognize today’s GOP, or that he would support its leader—though Faulkner still does. While he says he disagrees with some of the things President Trump has done, if the election were today, Faulkner says, he’d vote for Trump with no hesitation. Faulkner insists the country is better off than it would have been had the 2016 election gone the other way.
After reading that last sentence, many readers may find their lower jaw on the floor. Give Faulkner credit, at least, for following some of Douglass’s advice: “I prefer to be true to myself,” the great man once said, “even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”
Hear Ben and my conversation with Faulkner below.