We are now less than 90 days until the November 5th election. Time to get serious. Time to assess.
The local campaigns are not creating much attention. In the City of Buffalo it is almost like some election czar cancelled the election. The marquee race is the one for Erie County Executive, pitting incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz versus Republican nominee Lynne Dixon.
Many folks, including some Republicans, would concede that Poloncarz is the odds on favorite. Dixon, however, has accumulated a decent amount of campaign funds to make her candidacy known.
This blog in April 2015 ran an assessment of the election for Erie County Executive that year and concluded that Poloncarz would be re-elected. You can read the full analysis here. The following is an edited version:
- Poloncarz presided over the preparation and management of three county budgets. The budgets have been balanced and have produced small surpluses. The fund balance is healthy. Taxes are down a little from where they were four years ago.
- The Bills. Poloncarz, with help from Albany, negotiated a new lease that pretty much keeps the team here for ten years. The Pegulas’ purchase of the team solidified that. Poloncarz also stood up to the NFL owners when they tried to tell Erie County that a new stadium is needed.
- Making sure the trains run on time. Okay, that expression is not exactly relevant for Erie County. The correct analogy is making sure the snow is plowed.
- There have been no scandals in Erie County Hall.
- Poloncarz will claim that he helped improve the economy around here. There is less unemployment and lots of construction going on. However no county executive can have any major impact on the economy. But the fact that employment is better and there are cranes in the sky creates a positive feeling in the community, and to some degree an incumbent officeholder benefits from that.
- Poloncarz is not a great political fundraiser, but he has a good amount in the bank.
So let’s update the four-year-old bullet points:
- Poloncarz has now presided over seven budget cycles. The budgets have been balanced and have produced surpluses. The fund balance is still healthy. The total county tax levy is up $57.4 million (24 percent) since 2012, but the county’s equalized full market value of property that the levy is based upon is up $10.86 billion (23 percent) over the same period. The hypothetical county tax rate, which no one’s actual tax is based on, is 17 cents lower than it was seven years ago. Republican legislators have occasionally voted to approve several of the past seven budgets. They will note their failed attempt to cut property taxes by about ten million dollars last November, which would have reduced the levy by about 3 percent.
- We are getting closer to the end of the Bills lease term. Poloncarz has written a book about the last negotiations, which the County Comptroller has objected to. The Pegulas have a study of stadium options underway. No one knows, or at least no one is talking about, what will come next, but sometime in the next four years there will be some serious decisions to be made by the county executive and the county legislature about whether to build a new stadium or to once again renovate the existing stadium. The team’s owners will try to drive that discussion to a large degree, but the potentially astronomical cost of new facilities will certainly give any county executive or legislator pause.
- The snow still gets plowed. Maybe this year’s slogan should be “it’s the roads, stupid.” Lots of roads still need work, and many people are talking about it. “Polocarz, fix this road,” the signs read. [The following is a public service announcement: Maple Road, please!] The fact is when you have 1200 lane miles of county roads and 278 bridges there will always be many that need attention. So the question is how much spending is enough when it comes to the county-owned roads? The record shows that over the past seven years of the Poloncarz administration the county has spent, through annual operating budgets and bonding a total of $413.2 million on the county highway system. That’s more, on annual average, than Chris Collins spent ($58.4 million versus $54.9 million). The last budget prepared by Joel Giambra (2008) had total highway spending of $39.8 million. Poloncarz’s highway spending in 2019 is just under $73 million. So the question is, how much more should be spent on roads?
- County parks are another matter. There is some substantial work that needs to be done, as Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw has pointed out. Poloncarz basically agrees with that and the work is underway.
- There was a scandal during the past four years, involving the county’s former Social Services Commissioner, who was convicted of raping a county employee in his department. The question is, how did Poloncarz handle the matter after he learned about it? The response was quick and firm, once some basic information was determined.
- The local economy continues to do well. The unemployment rate is lower than it has been in decades. Those in government who want to claim credit, and can point to specific actions, can proceed to do so.
- Poloncarz has substantially more in his campaign account that Lynne Dixon, as of reports filed on July 15th; $637,609 compared with $216,494. An unfortunate consequence of the changes in state election procedures this year is that we will now wait until October 4th for the next filings. A blog reader has correctly suggested that the Election Law should be changed to add some additional reporting requirements, perhaps with a deadline in early September so that those interested can get a better handle on what candidates have available, where they are raising their money, and where it is being spent.
So the question is, given the above information, does Lynne Dixon pose a serious threat to the re-election of Mark Poloncarz in 2019? The answer is that it is very unlikely.
Dixon is a good candidate. She has a decent amount of money available and will undoubtedly raise more, as will Poloncarz. But at the end of the day, what is her basic argument for being the next county executive? What will stir voters to change the leadership in County Hall?
Nationalizing the campaign, as in the issue about drivers’ licenses for undocumented aliens, isn’t going to get her too far, and frankly the potential pushback on national issues by questioning her allegiance to Donald Trump’s politics could certainly be troublesome.
Dixon has been a member of the County Legislature for nearly ten years now, but there is nothing in her legislative record that particularly raises her visibility or electability, or demonstrates any effort to lead on a county issue.
So the bottom line is, Mark Poloncarz has considerable advantages in this campaign that make his re-election a pretty solid bet. Take it to the bank.