Counting down in Iowa; Tankleff Case Dismissed

Behind The News
January 2, 2008 1:35:58 PM PST
Happy New Year! And it figures to be an amazing year - but aren't they all? I'm thinking specifically about politics, because on only the third day of the new year, the 2008 Presidential election gets officially off the ground with the Iowa caucuses. It seems to have taken forever to get to this point -- many of these candidates, after all, have been running for the better part of a year.

But now the first voting-- although, make no mistake, the caucus isn't a primary.

Just how important is Iowa? Maybe not so much for who wins as who comes close. The dirty little secret about the Iowa caucus is that only one man who has won in Iowa has gone on to win the Presidency. That would be Jimmy Carter in 1976. And actually he didn't really win; an uncommitted slate of delegates got more votes than Carter, but he received more votes than any other named candidate, so he claimed victory.

Still, they're all there, the Republicans and the Democrats who would be President. The media is also there -- 2,500 have been credentialed, that's more than twice as many as in 2004. There's no question that a wide-open race draws more interest. And this is a wide-open race - the first time a President or sitting Vice President hasn't run for the office since 1952. Pretty amazing.

Politicians from our area are playing no small role in this first-in-56-years wide open election. Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Dodd -- all official candidates. And then there's Michael Bloomberg, who is reportedly chomping at the bit to run and spend $1 billion of his own money, as an Independent, but only if he feels confident he'll win.

I wonder if I'm the only one who is struck by how odd that seems. Can you imagine if all the candidates who run for President wouldn't run unless they felt confident they'd win? I suspect we wouldn't see many people running. But Bloomberg is first and foremost a businessman, and so it's understandable if he weighs all the options carefully before stepping foreword.

It may not be the most passionate approach to politics, but it's not illogical. And I know I wouldn't spend $1 billion of my own money on something I didn't think would be successful.

A billion dollars.

Few people have a million dollars, let alone 1,000 of those millions. And Bloomberg has at least six billion, perhaps as many as 11 billion dollars. I'm getting dizzy thinking of all those zeroes.

Next week, the Mayor heads to Oklahoma, where he'll participate -- and help head -- a panel of like-minded Independents who will weigh whether to challenge the Democrats and Republicans come Fall.

These folks need Bloomberg and not so much for his charisma. They need him for his money. So no matter what names are thrown out as possible Independent candidates, Michael R. Bloomberg's will be included. The old saw about money being the mother's milk of politics is a truism, and Bloomberg's willingness to pump in $1 billion and not rely on fundraising makes him the lactator in chief, financially speaking.

We have two reporters in Iowa for the caucuses -- political reporter Dave Evans and our weekend anchor Sandra Bookman. They'll be filing reports for us, including stories tonight at 11.

Also at 11, we're on Long Island where justice may have finally prevailed. The Suffolk County District Attorney late this afternoon deciding not to re-try Martin Tankleff, who served 17 years in prison for killing his parents. The conviction was overturned last month by an appeals court -- after "new evidence" surfaced. Tankleff has long maintained his innocence, and he and his family have consistently pointed the finger of guilt at Tankleff's former business partner, who was playing poker at the house the night of the murders, and who owed the elder Tankleff hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Tankleff's supporters have always called this case a travesty of justice, beginning with what was said to be a coerced "confession" by Tankleff, which he never signed, and ending with police apparently looking the other way when it came to the business partner, who changed his appearance and disappeared after the murders.

The case is an embarrassment for authorities in Suffolk County, but it's likely to become much more than that. State officials are now investigating the how and why of the case, and the role of the lead detective. It's been widely reported that he had previous business dealings with the slain Tankleff's partner. The case has scandal written all over it.

Jim Dolan is on the story for us, tonight at 11.

The weather is also a story tonight -- the coldest temperatures since last March. Lee Goldberg tells us how long the frigid air will be here.

And a really sad story out of Newark. That jail guard who was named in a sarcastic "thank you" note written by two prisoners who escaped, has killed himself. We don't usually cover suicides - unless they are part of a bigger news story. And this one is. Rudolph Zurick was only 40 and considered something of a perfectionist in his job. He was found in his home today -- the same day he was set to be interviewed about the daring escape by the inmates who chiseled their way out of the Union County Jail.

The prisoners have not yet been caught. The left behind a note that said to Zurick: "You're a real pal! Happy Holidays." The note included a drawing of a hand with a middle finger raised up.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.