We've always known New York City is not a normal place. Minneapolis is normal. Omaha is normal. New York is a town whose lurid eccentricities have a disturbing way of massing into destructive madness -- like Sandy roaring into town under a full moon at high tide. The resulting chaos is not a sight for the squeamish or for tiny school children or for civics teachers.
As the city's election season hits cruising altitude, here is what we're looking at:
A race for city comptroller headlined by a destructively impulsive but occasionally brilliant man who managed to be governor of the third-largest state in the nation for 14 1/2 months before a prostitution scandal did him in. If Eliot Spitzer can collect 3,750 signatures by midnight Thursday, he stands a real chance of blowing earnest Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, out of a job that looked like a sure thing.
But wait! To get on the ballot, Spitzer, who only announced his candidacy Sunday night, must collect nearly 4,000 valid signatures of registered voters and render them on paper in a legally prescribed, obsessive-compulsive style designed to derail do-it-yourself campaigns and sneakily award an advantage to party hacks. Cover sheets must be done just so. Initials and other minutiae must be presented with slavish adherence to form. A few slip-ups and a court challenge and you're dead. Spitzer has been around the block a time or two. But this time he's messed with the forces of nature by jumping into the race, and his enemies cover an impressive spectrum. He's looking at a tough fight.
Then there's Weiner, Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former congressman who's running in the Democratic mayoral primary. Name recognition has catapulted him to the top of a wildly crowded lineup. Unless he self-destructs on the campaign trail -- always a possibility with a guy so impulsive and mercurial -- he'll probably fail to snag the 40 percent required for an outright nomination on Sept. 10, and then wind up in a runoff three weeks later. That could be trouble.
The New York City Board of Elections has made it clear for months that it can't competently handle the fast turnaround required for a runoff if it must to use the computerized scanner voting system it initiated in 2010 -- especially if recounts are required. This admonition petrified everyone, from the New York State Legislature to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. When the board itself warns us of its incompetence, we'd better trust it. So the old lever-pull machines, invented in the 1890s, will be brought out of mothballs for (we hope) a last hoorah. The problem? While the old contraptions can do a recount expeditiously, they can't produce a paper trail. So if a tally is wrong on a machine, it stays wrong. There's no way to eyeball a ballot to determine voter intent.
The city that never sleeps might need a mental-health timeout when this one is over.