Sedita refunds nearly $100,000 from DA campaign account, but doesn’t yet have a Supreme Court account report filed; Flaherty raising and spending, but not reporting; Family Court race spending approaching $800,000; democracy in action

The last periodic pre-election financial disclosure reports were due with the State Board of Elections yesterday, October 23rd, reporting on transactions up through October 19th.

I’ll start this post with the unusual and amazing and work my way down to the expected.

District Attorney Frank Sedita has basically been elected Supreme Court Justice due to the bi-partisan endorsements that he and Emilio Colaiacovo have received. Since Sedita has a rather substantial District Attorney campaign account ($170,107 as of September 28th) he needs to dispose of those funds in the near future. The 11-Pre-General Election report filed this week indicates that 197 refund checks totaling $99,275 were distributed. So it’s like Christmas in October for those folks. A casual examination of the list shows many members of the DA’s staff among the recipients.

Bob McCarthy recently reported in the News that Assistant District Attorney Michael Flaherty raised nearly $80,000 at an event on October 14th for his upcoming campaign for DA.  Flaherty has also hired a campaign staff. The only thing we don’t have from Flaherty at this time is a financial report, since his first is not due until January. Sedita’s refund checks were prepared early in October. It is likely that quite a few people who received their refund checks from Sedita will show up as contributors in the January report as having attended the October 14th event held by Flaherty.

There is no financial disclosure report on the State Board of Elections website for the Sedita Supreme Court race, although a dormant Supreme Court account of his late father is still there. Sedita also still needs to dispose of $69,720 that remains in his DA account.

Sedita’s running mate for Supreme Court, Emilio Colaiavoco did file the required 11-Day-Pre-Election report, showing a balance of $52,925.

Now on to the amazing.

In the race for the newly created Family Court seat, a total of $711,506 has been spent so far by the candidates: Brenda Freedman ($242,783); Kelly Brinkworth ($189,007); and Michele Brown, who lost the primaries in September ($279,056). A fourth candidate, Joseph Jarzembek spent $660 the last time he reported anything. As of October 19th Freedman had a campaign balance of $7,093 and Brinkworth had $62,154. Assume that the combined balances of $69,247 will be spent, plus whatever else is raised before Election Day. So total spending on this race for a Family Court seat will likely exceed $800,000 before it is over with. That is amazing, incredible, crazy! Probably more than will be spent on the election for county executive. The other interesting point about this race for Family Court is that the great majority of the money has come from the candidates themselves and their families.

Mark Poloncarz and Ray Walter are both actively traveling to political events but the campaign focus is now on TV. Poloncarz since September 28th has spent $252,644 for TV ads. Walter, as of October 24th, has not reported his 11-Day-Pre-General yet.

And finally – we are still watching you, Right Democratic Team of Cheektowaga. The “Team” is a shadowy committee that evidently tried to play some role in the Cheektowaga Democratic primary this year. No reports since the inaccurate 11-Day-Pre-Primary report. What happened with that $3,410 that you raised? Perhaps their computer broke. Perhaps Uncle Billy lost the money on his way to the Potter Bank.

Democracy in action

TV ads and debates are sometimes interesting. But democracy still starts and functions best on the ground on the local level.

This past week I took the opportunity to attend the League of Women Voters campaign forum in Hamburg. TV might be king and oversized post cards and social media campaigning have become the current style of campaigning. But the League of Women Voters forums are still around and have not changed a bit in more than 50 years.

I guess I wonder why there is still a League of Women Voters. Gender-based political structures mostly passed out of existence years ago. Regardless, the League provides a useful function.

About 75 people attended the Hamburg meeting. Candidates for Family Court, Hamburg Town Court, Hamburg Town Council, County Legislature and County Executive all made their appearances. Judge candidates cannot talk about anything but their qualifications, which is probably about as boring for the candidates at this stage of the campaign as it is for their audiences. Poloncarz and Walter were joined that evening by Green Party candidate Eric Jones. Nothing new or exciting came out of the discussions but the Hamburg residents got to ask face-to-face questions.

The League forum also included a debate of sorts between attorneys Kevin Gaughan and Craig Bucki about the merits and de-merits of upsizing the Hamburg Town Board back to five members instead of the current three. Gaughan insists that the smaller board saves money, but Bucki notes that the 2016 Hamburg budget is higher than it was in 2009, when there were last five board members. I think a five-member board makes a lot more sense operationally. There were 500 signatures on the petitions that encouraged the current Board to schedule the November referendum on upsizing, but some politically active friends who live in Hamburg tell me the referendum will be defeated.

I also attended a luncheon meeting of the Cheektowaga Chamber of Commerce this week where both Democratic Chair Jeremy Zellner and Republican Chair Nick Langworthy spoke. They both gave their respective party pitches and then answered questions.

There were some complaints from the audience about the lack of electoral competition in some offices. The answers from both Jeremy and Nick were similar and they offer a reasonable explanation. Running for public office, regardless of which office, can be a large commitment of time and sometimes personal money to the effort. Party loyalists are less inclined to “take one for the team,” even if they know what they are getting into.

The County Republicans are noted for not running candidates for any office in the City of Buffalo, where nearly 30 percent of county residents live. A lack of competition in Buffalo depresses turnout and helps balance out the substantial county-wide enrollment edge that the Democrats have, at least on paper.

Langworthy, however, makes a good point. The only competitive race in Buffalo this year is in the Delaware District, where a Republican candidate emerged from a write-in process. Nick notes that the highest percentage of Republicans in any of the Buffalo Council Districts is in Delaware, but even there only 15 percent of the registered voters are Republicans. Those registration figures are not likely to change anytime soon, and without a registration base there is not much to encourage a Republican to run for office. To a lesser degree a similar situation exists in some of the county’s small and heavily Republican towns where potential Democratic candidates might be discouraged from seeking election.

Getting the public interested in a local election is a challenge, and poor turnout is certainly a negative mark on the political process. That being said, there is no obvious solution to the dilemma.