"I object to people writing my political obituary," Bella Abzug said over and over yesterday to a stream of reporters who visited her headquarters looking for obituary material.
Abzug, one of New York's major political figures 17 months ago when she gave up a House seat to run for the Senate and still one of its most colorful, sat in her campaign headquarters yesterday trying to make the best of her third consecutive election defeat in that year and a half.
Not only was she defeated in the special congressional election in New York's 18th District Tuesday, but she was beaten by S. William Green, a Republican who had 2 percent name recognition when the five week campaign began. Her defeat came after losing badly in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York only last September.
Abzug said the haste with which reporters wanted to declare her political death reflected a double standard.
"If a woman is defeated, she's meants to return to the kitchen. If a man is defeated, he's given time to get a suntan and a shave and go on to other things," she said.
"I have not ruled out anything," Abzug added. Abzug and Green have both called for a re-canvas of the vote, and if irregularities turn up there may be a recount. Green beat Abzug by 1,270 votes of about 59,000 cast, according to the announced results.
For the third time in a row, Abzug, 57, began a race as the favorite and lost. No one disputes that she is widely known throughout the city, but her defeat reinforced the argument made by her political opponents that because of her "Battling Bella" rough-and-tumble image she pulls more votes against her than for her.
Abzug lost the 1976 Democratic Senatorial primary by one percent of the vote to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and finished fourth in last year's Democratic mayoral primary. The 18th District, which had been held by new Mayor Edward Kock, is 3-to-1 Democratic, but Green's $150,000 campaign overcame all Abzug's apparent advantages.
GOP National Chairman Bill Brock called Green's victory "a tremendous accomplishment and a major boost for Republicans everywhere." The national committee actively supported Green's campaign.
"I'm keeping all my options open," Abzug said. "I don't expect to disappear despite the fact that people are writing my political obituary."
Green, 48, is a former state assemblyman and federal housing official.