The New York State political calendar being what it is there isn’t much of a respite from the high tension, exaggerated drama political action. Petitions go out for 2022 in late February. At least the holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day slows things down a bit.
Here are some facts, observations and heard-on-the-street items as Campaign 2021 closes out and Campaign 2022 revs up:
- The list of candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor is up to four now, with Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi joining the field. Suozzi also ran in the 2006 primary, which he lost to Elliott Spitzer 82 percent to 18 percent. Suozzi seems to be trying to occupy the (Andrew) Cuomo lane in the primary, whatever that may be.
- With two Brooklynites (Letitia James and Jumanne Williams) already in the contest, and a third, NYC Mayor Bill deBlasio, considering an upstate tour in January, the Kathy Hochul campaign team can almost be heard privately cheering. Three NYC candidates would split up the vote in the city; so would two.
- It would seem that James and Williams are more or less in the same campaign lane so one of them will need to bow out. That will be Williams.
- Suozzi made an appearance for Byron Brown during the mayoral election. Williams supported India Walton. Hochul and James remained neutral. So the question is, will Brown return the favor by supporting Suozzi or, like most Erie County Democratic elected officials and party leaders, will he support favorite daughter Kathy Hochul? Or will he just be too busy running the city to get involved?
- Aside from the fact that Hochul has been consistently leading published horse race polling by comfortable margins (too early to get too excited about that), she has also been piling up support from county organizations and elected officials.
- The nominating convention of the state Democratic Committee is just about ten weeks away and it would appear that Hochul has a good shot at receiving the support of more than fifty percent of the Committee. If that happens one of the other candidates (likely James) will get at least twenty-five percent of the Committee votes. That would then require any other candidate to prepare statewide petitions to get on the June 28th primary ballot.
- There are now five announced Democratic candidates for attorney general to replace James, with five more in the hunt. The announced candidates are: former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman; State Senator Shelley Mayer; law professor Zephyr Teachout; former state Financial Services Commissioner Maria Vullo; and State Senator Cycle Vanel. There is no clear cut leader of the group at this time.
- Congressman Lee Zeldin continues as the presumptive Republican candidate for governor. Where are you Andrew Guiliani?
- The next campaign filing report is due on January 15th and it is a requirement for all political committees in the state. Hochul has already announced that she raised $10 million between August and November. It is a good bet that she will be ahead of the other candidates when the January 15th reports are delivered.
- The final campaign financial reports for 2021 were due to be filed with the State Board of Elections on November 27th. Compliance with the law is very good but not universal.
- As of December 6th, nine days past the deadline, 1st District Erie County Legislator Howard Johnson has not filed the November 27th report. In fact, Johnson also failed to file the required reports that were due on October 1 and October 22.
- Defeated Hamburg Supervisor candidate Stefan Mychajliw does not yet have his November 27th report on record.
- Democratic candidate for mayor India Walton’s final financial report includes another $58,345 in donations where the name and address of donors and the amounts they donated are not documented. That brings the total of undocumented donations to Walton in 2021 to $358,672. The lack of transparency award for campaign financial reporting in 2021 goes to India Walton.
- Defeated County Comptroller candidate Lynne Dixon did file her report on a timely basis. It showed that she spent $75,039 with Big Dog Strategies which produced the negative campaign mailers that tanked her campaign; she lost by 16,885 votes. At least Big Dog had a good November.
- Big Dog also had a hand in Stefan Mychajliw’s losing campaign for supervisor, the amount of which is not yet known; nonetheless Stefan will be joining Chris Grant’s team in January. The losing Republican candidate in County Legislature District 9, Frank Bogulski, was reportedly a Big Dog client. Re-elected Legislator Joe Lorigo Paid Big Dog $14,070. So for those keeping score at home, the numbers are: four local Republican/Conservative candidates, 1 win in a lightly contested race; Big Dog Strategies, $89,109 and counting.
- Also concerning Big Dog Strategies, their website indicates that former Democratic operative Steve Casey is still part of the team. Casey has been in the news recently for his shenanigans involving state senate candidate Chuck Swanick in 2012. The story concerns cheating Swanick out of campaign funds. Strange, I thought they were friends.
- Democratic chair Jeremy Zellner originally supported Brown for mayor but backed Walton after the primary; now Zellner has Mayor Brown for the next four years. Walton supporters might run for some county committee seats. Nonetheless Zellner is secure in his position.
- The Republican chairman, Karl Simmeth, lost the major primary his party was involved in when the endorsed candidate for sheriff, Karen Healy-Case, was defeated by John Garcia. The opposing camps in that election are reportedly still not making nice.
- The Conservative Party also got involved in the sheriff’s primary fight on the losing side. There is now talk on the streets about a potential challenge to chairman Ralph Lorigo, perhaps involving the gun-loving 1791 Society. That’s probably a long shot (pun intended). The county’s Working Families Party has a chair most folks have never heard of which seems appropriate considering the local party seems to actually be run out of the state headquarters in New York City.
- Redrawn legislative districts for Congress, the State Legislature and local bodies including County Legislatures and City Councils will be due soon.
- The new congressional and state legislative districts need to be in place in the next eight or so weeks, which presents a problem for the timeline the state Redistricting Commission is following. The Commission needs to file a recommendation which will then be rejected by the Democratic controlled Legislature. The Legislature likely has their own version of the maps in the drawer and ready to go.
- The state lost one congressional seat. The configuration of two districts in Western New York presently held by Brian Higgins and Chris Jacobs will change. The chopped up district of retiring Tom Reed figures into the equation.
- We currently have at least a couple WNY state legislative districts that were drawn in a contorted manner in 2012 when the Legislature still had a Republican majority in the State Senate and the Albany folks were working to preserve favorable territory for incumbents so some state districts will look somewhat different.
- The Niagara County Legislature has already approved their new districts and the Erie County Legislature is moving along with the process. City Councils also need to draw new lines. It’s not likely that there will be any significant changes coming out of those processes.
- Okay, now go back to your Christmas shopping.
Minor parties played a limited role in 2021 Erie County elections
New York State is among the few states that allow fusion voting, the process where a candidate for public office can appear on more than one political party line on an election ballot. The strategy is that having more than one line increases the possibilities of a successful election.
One frequently cited legend related to the benefits of fusion voting is the fact that no Republican in the past fifty years has been elected to statewide office without also having the endorsement of the Conservative Party. The thing about legends is that they aren’t always all they are cracked up to be.
Over the years there have been many minor party lines that do not current exist as officially recognized, ballot line guaranteed parties, including Liberals; Right-to-Life; Independence; Libertarian; Green. Recent changes in state laws have raised the thresholds to official status, in effect requiring re-certification every two years following elections for president and governor.
Presidential or gubernatorial candidates on a party line are required to receive a minimum of 130,000 votes or at least two percent of the total vote for president or governor to qualify the party. Former or newly creating parties are required to circulate petitions for their presidential or gubernatorial candidate and if they do so and meet the vote thresholds they can get the official line for the next two years.
The Republicans for decades have mostly been attached at the hip with the Conservative Party. Democrats over the past 25 years or so tend to favor the Working Families line, but this has often been a love/hate relationship.
It is sometimes suggested that the minor parties are the tail wagging the dog. Both current minor parties, the Conservatives and Working Families, can often be very demanding of candidates who seek their lines, wanting on occasion something approaching policy purity; sometimes potential patronage is an issue. Policy purity often points to political positions on the far extremes of the political spectrum.
Based on some political success, primarily in New York City, the Working Families folks have been pretty aggressive in promoting progressive/democratic socialist programs throughout the state. The thing is, public support for such programs is not widely dispersed throughout the state. The party’s platform and the questionnaire they require prospective candidates to complete can and has sometimes become a political drag on candidates on the line concerning an issue that has no real relevance to the office being sought.
We saw examples of such problems among some Democrats running for local office this year who got labelled as supporting such socialist policies as “defunding the police.” The matter undoubtedly cost votes to some Democrats.
So the question arises, how much value is there in a minor party endorsement for local office? The answer in Erie County in 2021 is, not too much.
The two major races on the ballot, aside from mayor of Buffalo, where just one party line was on the ballot (Democratic, held by India Walton), were sheriff and county comptroller. In neither case was a minor party line determinant in the winning candidates’ campaigns.
Sheriff-elect John Garcia eked out a 2,588 vote victory over Democrat Kim Beaty. The Conservative candidate, Karen Healy-Case, lost to Garcia in the Republican primary. The Working Families Party did not have a candidate in the race. Garcia’s margin of victory was created by a pop-up party, “Back the Blue,” created this year.
In the campaign for comptroller Democratic winner Kevin Hardwick had the Working Families line, but his total vote on the Democratic line exceeded Republican Lynne Dixon’s total combined votes on the Republican and Conservative lines, making the Working Families line a non-factor in the election results.
A previous post reported that in Erie County in 2021 just 60 of the 146 public offices on the ballot throughout Erie County had contested (Democrat versus Republican) elections. The non-contested elections included judgeships, seats on the County Legislature, and dozens of city and town councilmembers, supervisors, and highway superintendents. Candidates in non-contested races for offices such as judgeships and local offices often have minor party lines in addition to their Democratic or Republican spot on the ballot, but the minor party lines have no impact on the results.
After the election I took a look at how contested down-ballot local races fared where there were endorsements of candidates by the Conservative and Working Families parties. The conclusion is that at least in Erie County in 2021 the majority of candidates running in contested elections (having both Republican and Democratic candidates) saw no winning vote margin value in having a minor party line. That was the case in 30 local elections.
Where either the Conservative or Working Families lines vote totals were a factor in a candidate’s successful election, the results show that in just six elections did the Conservative Party line prove decisive. In six elections the Working Families line provided the winning margin. Five candidates did not have enough Democratic or Republican votes to win, but they had both the Conservative and Working Families lines, meaning that no serious conclusion about election success can be officially attributed to one or the other party line. So at least in Erie County in 2021 that tail wagging the dog was mostly useless.
Going forward Democrats are likely to be somewhat cautious about accepting the Working Families line given the party’s doctrinaire positions on some issues that can scare away rather than attract additional voters. The whole Democratic/Working Families drama will be played out on a larger stage in 2022 as those parties sort out their candidates for governor and attorney general.
In politics you make strategic decisions about the values you support and the assistance you seek in a campaign. Things are getting harder and the stakes are high because of the raised political sensitivities that currently exist in this country. That’s politics in the 21st century.
Ken Kruly writes about politics and other stuff at politicsandstuff.com. You can visit his site to leave a comment pertaining to this post.
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