What if they gave an election and nobody came?

Tuesday’s primary elections were some of the most anticlimactive political events that I have ever seen – a very boring day. It was like Erie County voters collectively sighed, “whatever!”

The race for Mayor of Buffalo in the Democratic primary seemed pre-ordained for a long time. Mark Schroeder and Betty Jean Grant gave spirited efforts. Schroeder’s TV ads were very well done and he put the best effort into telling voters what he would do in the next four years. For the most part Schroeder and Grant’s attacks on Mayor Brown’s record were professional and controlled.

Mayor Brown’s commercials were designed to make people feel good, with a lot of bragging about good things that he was responsible for as well as good things that just happened to happen during his years in office. I thought the Mayor, in the televised debate, was more sensitive and defensive about criticisms by his opponents than he needed to be.

Over a million dollars was spent on all these things, the majority by the Brown campaign. You always have to wonder in an election like this how much all that spending really mattered.

In the end, all that sound and fury led to a voter turnout among Buffalo Democrats of 24.9 percent; last week’s post suggested that the turnout would be less 25 percent.  A total of 25,968 Democrats in Buffalo came out. Brown received 51 percent of that vote (13,346 votes).  There is no Republican candidate in November.  Those 13,346 voters represent less than nine percent of the total number of voters registered in the city (approximately 146,000).

Mark Schroeder’s public efforts in the campaign were certainly more visible than Betty Jean Grant’s. The problem that they both faced, however, was that there was no traction for what they were talking about. Taxes have been under control. Basic city services have been provided. The Pigeon-Casey-Garner cloud hovering near Brown did not turn into a storm. It is pretty much impossible for a challenger to break through to the voters when city residents were not sufficiently aggravated to want to remove the incumbent.

Schroeder did win the nomination of the Reform Party yesterday, theoretically allowing him to continue his campaign on into November. There are 16 registered Reform Party affiliates in the City of Buffalo, but the party leadership allowed any voter who was not affiliated with a party to vote in yesterday’s primary. That potentially increased the number of possible Reform Party voters in Buffalo to a total of 20,772. Only 377 votes were cast on the line, so the expansion of potential Reform Party voters was insignificant.

In 1977, after Les Foschio lost the Democratic mayoral primary to Arthur Eve, Foschio had the option of running on an independent party line that had been created for him that summer. Cooler heads prevailed and Foschio bowed out. I expect Mark Schroeder will come to the same conclusion in 2017.

And that was mostly it for primary day. April Baskin won the Democratic primary to succeed Betty Jean Grant in the 2nd County Legislative District. There were primaries in the towns. Endorsed Democrat Jim Shaw handily defeated Dennis Gaughan in the primary for Hamburg Town Supervisor; they will meet again in November, with Gaughan on the Republican and Conservative lines.

Endorsed Democrats won their primary for Town Council in Cheektowaga, although the difference between the third and fourth candidate vote totals (three to be nominated) was only 44 votes. Endorsed Republicans won their primary for Town Council in Amherst. The party turnout was 17 percent in Hamburg.  In both Cheektowaga and Amherst the turnout in the respective party primaries appears to have been less than ten percent. Buffalo’s 25 percent turnout is, relatively speaking, outstanding!

So now we head into the general election campaigns that will be held in eight weeks, on November 7th. I choose to ignore the minor party candidates who are on the ballot but not really in the race. Here’s what local voters will be seeing:

  • An uncontested election for Mayor of Buffalo
  • An uncontested election for Erie County Court Judge
  • An uncontested election for Erie County Surrogate Court Judge
  • Uncontested elections in seven of the eleven seats on the Erie County Legislature
  • Likely uncontested, through party cross endorsements, two State Supreme Court Justice seats

The four contested races for Erie County Legislature are in the 9th District (Independent incumbent Lynn Dixon versus Democrat Michael Quinn); 10th District (incumbent Conservative Joe Lorigo versus Democrat Michele Schoeneman); the 5th District (incumbent Democrat Tom Loughran against Republican Guy Marlette); and the 8th District (incumbent Republican Ted Morton against Democrat John Bruso). It is more likely than not that all four incumbents will be re-elected.

There are active campaigns for three countywide offices, County Clerk, Sheriff, and Comptroller. Republicans presently hold all three offices. In none of those races, however, is anything significant occurring that will stimulate voter interest.

I assume that the respective Democratic and Republican candidates for those offices are actively attending to the traditional campaign activities such as parties and parades. If there are any real issues being discussed not much is being done to tell the general public about it.

Sheriff Tim Howard has to defend the operations of his office in light of more than 20 deaths on his watch at the holding center and at the correctional facility that he manages. Democrat Bernie Tolbert has been raising that issue but there does not seem to be much traction so far.

Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw has only occasionally raised financial issues that attract much attention. He has pretty much avoided getting into bigger and more politically sensitive things like payrolls and contracts at the Erie County Water Authority, the Erie County Medical Center and Erie Community College. Democratic challenger Vanessa Grushefski has either avoided such subjects or has not done enough to attract public attention.

The County Clerk’s office was last won by Chris Jacobs, who has since moved on to the State Senate, leaving Acting County Clerk Peggy LaGree in charge since January. It’s very hard to get voters to pay attention to anything about a race for the Clerk’s office. Neither Republican candidate Mickey Kearns nor Democrat Steve Cichon have found the magic formula. This race will focus on name recognition, which either already exists or could be created by TV, radio and mail in the next eight weeks. Both candidates have some recognition from their respective work experiences, but neither is a household name. This election is only to fill out the last year of Jacobs’ previous four year term, so there will be another go at it in 2018.

And then there is the question of voter turnout. A nothing November in Buffalo certainly works to the advantage of Republicans running countywide in the absence of any issues that will help produce Democratic votes. The trick would be for the Democrats to find a way to light a fire under City of Buffalo Democrats who generally have little interest in countywide offices.

It would mean that party committeemen would need to do more than show up for a meeting or party or two between now and November 7. It would mean an effort to register new voters. It would mean explaining to city voters that what happens in the correctional facility or jail, or at the Medical Center, or at the Community College means something to them.

There will be those who will say that what is happening in Washington with Donald Trump has no relevance to local offices, but the Democratic Party could try to make the case that the best way to send a resistance message in 2017 is to challenge those whose party leader is Donald Trump.

Whether any such things might happen to stimulate voter interest is problematic.

No-contest elections and a lack of anything to get voters excited about is what contributes to low turnout elections. The voters are lethargic because the political system is lethargic. Sad but true.

Just wondering

What happened with the State Supreme Court trial of Steve Pigeon that was scheduled for September 5th?