Campaign 2018 is right around the corner

In the next few days we will see the final documents of Election 2017, the post-election financial reports. Next up – federal and state elections, with a couple Erie County campaigns thrown in too.

The statewide campaigns will be the main focus, with the race for governor featured – or maybe not. Heading into his third gubernatorial campaign, Andrew Cuomo has lost the luster of a newcomer and has morphed into the role of defender of the administration record. Reports are that the 2019 state budget that Cuomo will file in January has billions of dollars of holes to fill. There are complaints about how the state manages the subway system in New York City.

Upstate’s economy is still anemic despite all the money that has been handed out. The $750 million Riverbend/Solar City project in Buffalo is, at the moment, a major sore thumb. That and other Cuomo economic development initiatives such as the college-related START-UP NY program, have been and will continue to be criticized in a bi-partisan manner by Assemblymen Robin Schimminger, Ray Walter and others.

And then there will be the corruption trials in 2018 related to Solar City and other economic development projects. Particular focus will be directed to the trial of close Cuomo associate Joe Percoco.

It seems likely that outgoing Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner or some other Democrat will challenge Cuomo in a primary. Cuomo has been very successful in stockpiling a gazillion dollars, or actually $25.7 million in his most recent financial report last July. The odds will be stacked in Cuomo’s favor, but it should be remembered that Zypher Teachout, a totally unknown law professor, received 33 percent of the vote in her 2014 challenge of the incumbent. There will be more issues to explore in 2018 than there were four years ago.

The real question here, however, is whether the Republicans will offer a credible opponent. The heavy emphasis will be on businessman Harry Wilson, who narrowly lost the race for state comptroller in 2010 against Tom DiNapoli. The year 2018 looks to be a good year for Democrats and New York is one of the bluest states in the nation. If Wilson passes on the race, the others contenders – State Senator John DeFrancisco, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro – are all “B” level candidates at best and a Cuomo primary win would probably unofficially wrap up the election.

As for the other statewide officials on the ballot next year, it would not be surprising to see a primary challenger for current Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who also had a primary opponent in 2014. The incumbent Attorney General Eric Schniederman and incumbent Comptroller Tom DiNapoli should cruise to victory. It will not be surprising to see one or more of the “B” list Republican gubernatorial candidates running for Attorney General or Comptroller.

 

Congress

The local congressional districts are pretty stacked to favor the incumbents. Brian Higgins represents one of the most heavily Democratic districts in the state and Chris Collins holds the most Republican-affiliated district. Higgins has a Republican challenger or two checking things out but he is in no danger of losing. Neither is Collins at the moment, unless his stock-brokering-related ethics investigation turns into something serious in the next several months.

State Legislature

Members of the Legislature are generally as secure as an elected official can be. Twelve months before the next election, the only local legislative seat in question is the one held by Mickey Kearns. Kearns will resign on December 31st to become County Clerk.

The names most prominently mentioned for the Kearns seat are Buffalo Councilman Chris Scanlon, County Legislator Pat Burke and Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanaki. Scanlon is the early favorite, but don’t be surprised if Burke emerges as the Democratic candidate. The Republicans went with Kearns for that seat, so maybe they would try the same thing with another registered Democrat in 2018. We will have to wait to see if and when Governor Cuomo calls a special election for the seat. There are several vacant state legislative seats at the moment.

County Clerk

Clerk-elect Mickey Kearns has to do it all over again in 2018. He will run for a full four year term in November. Democratic turnout will be much better next year than in 2017 with the statewide and congressional offices on the ballot. State Democratic Chair and Mayor, Byron Brown, will be expected to turn out a large vote in Buffalo for the governor, and that should have spillover value for other offices.

The 2017 candidate for Clerk, Steve Cichon, ran a professional and spirited race and might have a decent shot in 2018. He seemed to say on Election night that he wasn’t interested, but there is time to think about that. No other names have been mentioned thus far.

Judicial Offices

There will be two State Supreme Court seats on the ballot next November, along with a County Court Judge seat. The Supreme Court seats are held by incumbents Paula Feroleto and John Curran, so cross endorsements are a possibility. There are some rumblings among party-types about both candidates, but there’s plenty of time to work that out.

The County Court seat is presently held by Michael Pietruszka, who will retire. Susan Barnes is mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate. Interestingly, there have been three other County Court seats on the ballot in the past two years and there were no primary or general election challenges for any of them. It’s personally expensive to run for judge, and perhaps that is what has been keeping the interest down.

Call Chris Collins

There have been some robo calls flying around the Buffalo suburbs telling people how great the Republican tax bill is and asking folks to call Chris Collins to thank him. The calls are sponsored by something called the American Action Network, whose Board include former Congressman Tom Reynolds. If you are so inclined, Collins’ local district office phone number is 634-2324. He loves to speak with his constituents.

You can, if you choose, thank him for making it harder to go to graduate school or to be a teacher; or for sticking you for higher taxes by cutting back or eliminating the deduction for property and state income taxes; or for making your new tax rates temporary while corporate cuts will be permanent. Remember, be polite. And remember, he works for you.

So an ex-con, an establishment Republican and a holier-than-thou judge walk into a bar

Okay, they didn’t walk into a bar. They literally or figuratively walked into the offices of Trump brain and evil mastermind, Stephan K. Bannon.

The characters in question are former Staten Island Congressman and current candidate for Congress from the same district Michael Grimm; defeated Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, a man whose work in the Bush Administration, as Republican National Committee Chairman and as a lobbyist, defines “establishment Republican;” and Roy Moore, the twice-removed Alabama judge who now is running for the United States Senate from that state. Continue reading

Closing the books on the 2017 election

The numbers are in.  There are bragging rights for both parties. Here are a few observations about the 2017 elections:

  • The Republicans held on to what they had, with wins by Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard and Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw. They will fill the County Clerk’s Office for the completion of former Republican Clerk Chris Jacobs’ term by electing Mickey Kearns. There will be another race for that office next year for a full four-year term.
  • Howard’s margin of victory (51-49) was very small.
  • Kearns’ margin was also small (4 percent) while Mychajliw’s margin (10 percent) was the best of the countywide group.
  • None on the countywide victors ran anywhere near what was projected in private polling.
  • The election turnout was better than expected, but still an anemic 35 percent.  The turnout in Buffalo was just 27 percent.  If the Buffalo turnout had just matched the suburban and rural turnouts it is likely that both Bernie Tolbert and Steve Cichon would have been elected.  It wasn’t too long ago that turnouts of about 60 percent in local elections were common.
  • The Democrats won control of the County Legislature with impressive wins by Tom Loughran and John Bruso. Guy Marlette substantially outspent Loughran and used a lot of his campaign funds in a highly negative campaign, but it did not work.  Ted Morton also ran an incredibly negative campaign.
  • An ugly campaign also occurred in the 10th District when Joseph Lorigo was re-elected by a healthy margin. 
  • Democrats had some important victories in town elections. Jim Shaw will be the new Supervisor in Hamburg and Brian Kulpa will take over in Amherst Town Hall.
  • Republicans won three seats on the Hamburg Board but they lost the highway superintendent race.  Amherst will have an entire Democratic Board , with Democrats Jacqui Berger and  Shawn Lavin winning seats.
  • The Town of Tonawanda, under the Democratic Party leadership of John Crangle, once again elected all Democrats to Town offices.
  • Erin Baker raised $88,776 in her losing campaign for the Amherst Town Board. Of that amount, she transferred $30,750 to the Erie County Republican Committee which is chaired by her husband, Nick Langworthy. Transfers of funds to a County Committee from local candidates for things such as mailers and petitions are not unusual, but this is an extraordinary amount of money and obviously was not just for such things. Baker’s Amherst Council Republican running mate Joseph Spino, for example, only transferred $7,550 to the County Committee.
  • Oh yeah, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown was re-elected to a fourth term.
  • And oh yeah, several judges were elected without opposition.

That’s about it. The countywide turnout of 35 percent was better than the 25 percent in 2015 but still was not great. A review of the turnout by parties will show that the Democrats did substantially better than the Republicans in getting their people out.  That bodes well for 2018.

Elections, of course, provide bragging rights for political parties as well as candidates. There are two ways of looking at this year’s numbers.

Republicans won all the countywide offices, despite a huge Democratic enrollment edge. So yay for them.

But Democrats can and will claim that the Republicans already held all those offices and will point out the difficulty of removing incumbent non-executive officeholders in County Hall. There has only been one incumbent elected sheriff defeated in Erie County in more than fifty years. The last elected incumbent county comptroller to be defeated was in 1963.

So on to 2018. We could be in for a very competitive year for state offices. We could be in for a year where the Trumpification of the Republican campaigns might spread vitriolic campaigning from Buffalo to Montauk. The defeat of two Republican County Legislature candidates and the closeness of the countywide races may indicate that voters are turned off by the Trump negativity.  We’ll see.  The Trump-Bannon style was test-marketed here this year, but it came up short. Fasten your seat belts.

The new normal seems pretty scary

“There’s something happening here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear.” (The Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth”)

We are more than nine months into the Trump presidency. It seems like a hundred years.

The United States of America has, in 2017, been handling public issues and public controversy like someone drinking water out of a fire hose. That can be very dangerous. Continue reading