Wishing everyone a happy and peaceful thanksgiving! Try not to bring up politics at the dinner table. Talk about other stuff.
With the United States now in a pattern where presidential politics start early and go on for what seems like forever, you would think that it would be easy to adapt to the same level of activity on the state and local level. But it still takes some getting used to.
The year 2019 saw the reinstitution of June primaries for state and local offices, something the state has not had for nearly five decades. June primaries mean petitioning starts in February, when there may be snow and ice on driveways and sidewalks and it gets dark in early evening – not ideal conditions for circulating petitions.
The new political calendar also moves up the dates for state Supreme Court judicial conventions from late September to early August, which means longer campaigns for those offices.
The one thing that state legislators did not revise when they went to a June primary system is the filing dates for campaign financial reports. That schedule currently leaves reports to be filed in early July, but after that, not until about the beginning of October. In the interest of transparency the schedule should add another reporting time in late August or early September.
The new calendar has led recently to early action for state legislative seats:
- Democrats have already endorsed Assemblyman Sean Ryan for the 60th District Senate seat being vacated by Senator Chris Jacobs, who is running for Congress in the 27th District.
- Joel Giambra is seriously considering a bid for the Republican nomination in the 60th District.
- Senator Robert Ortt, another candidate for the congressional seat, will likely vacate his 62nd District Senate seat.
- It has been heard on the street that Ortt’s predecessor, George Maziarz, may be a candidate in that district. If elected, Maziarz could double dip with a Senate salary that will be $130,000 in 2021, on top of his $80,815 state pension.
- Some folks are suggesting that Buffalo Delaware District Councilmember Joel Feroleto should shift his interest from challenging Ryan in a 60th District Democratic primary, and instead run for Ryan’s 149th District Assembly seat. No decisions forthcoming yet.
- Assemblyman Robin Schimminger’s decision to retire after the completion of his current term in the 140th District is generating interest among Democrats. County Democratic Chairman and Board of Elections Commissioner Jeremy Zellner has expressed an interest in running for the office. Zellner in 2011 ran against then Republican Kevin Hardwick for a seat on the County Legislature.
- Kenmore Mayor Pat Mang’s has also been mentioned for the Assembly seat. Perennial candidate Kevin Stocker has been campaigning for the seat, this time as a Democrat. There are several elected Democrats in that district who might also have an interest in running to succeed Schimminger.
- Chairman Zellner also reports that he will be a candidate for re-election as County Democratic Chairman in 2020. There are precedents where a state legislator or member of Congress has simultaneously held a party county chairmanship.
The NY27 congressional seat is drawing lots of activity. Governor Andrew Cuomo has yet to announce a date for a special election for that seat, replacing Chris Collins, but the most likely date is April 28th, the same day as New York’s presidential primary. Donald Trump will have has his re-nomination locked up (not the same as “lock him up, lock him up”) by April 28, but the Democratic Party is likely to still have four or five candidates in the running for the nomination, so April 28 should work to the turnout advantage of the Democratic candidate for the congressional seat.
The Democratic candidate in NY27 in 2018, Nate McMurray, has as of this writing lined up the support of seven of the eight county organizations in the district, the holdout being Erie County, which represents 49 percent of the district. No other major Democrat has announced for the seat. Melodie Baker is a potential candidate.
Republican Party leaders will need to choose among Jacobs, Ortt, attorney Beth Parlato, and likely Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw for their nominee. It will also be important to see if the Republicans and Conservative Party leaders can agree on a candidate.
While the campaign for the special election is being run, Republican candidates in NY27 will also be running in the June primary for the same office. It is conceivable that two different candidates could be elected in NY27 in 2020, one in the special election and another in the November general election. Whoever wins in November will likely see the district wiped out by reapportionment in time for the 2022 elections.
The Board of Elections budget story
The annual Erie County budget is developed over a period of months beginning during the summer, with the submission of the proposed budget by the County Executive to the County Legislature in October, and final action on the budget by the Legislature and Executive in December. It is a process set in both law and custom, and has followed more or less the same schedule for decades.
This year, during the course of the process, something got screwed up in the part of the budget that is for the Board of Elections, which is just seven-tenths of one percent of the total budget.
The Board’s Commissioners, Republican Ralph Mohr and Democrat Jeremy Zellner, should have submitted their requests to the county budget office in August or early September, but they forgot to. The county Budget Director, Robert Keating, then took it upon himself to prepare a supposed budget request for the Board.
But when it came time in November to review the budget with the Legislature it was discovered that the Board’s 2020 proposed budget was underfunded, they say, because of the costs involved in running the special election in NY27, the presidential primary, in addition to the regular June primary and November general election. There are also the costs of the newly –created early voting system. Net effect: the Board says their budget needs $2 million more that the Keating-created Board budget provides.
In a $1.555 billion dollar budget that problem can be worked out.
There seems to be enough fault in this dilemma to go around, most particularly with the Elections Commissioners (they claim the office was busy and just forgot), and the budget director. Who am I to judge, but as a former budget director I think the biggest part of the blame goes to the budget director who is responsible for the entire budget document. If the Board didn’t have their budget in on time, the budget director should have given them just one more day to produce their request. Budget directors have a lot of clout in such matters.
A final note about Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, who will retire from office in December 2020.
I have, as noted from time-to-time in previous posts, been actively involved and an observer of local politics for many decades, starting in the late sixties when I was student at Canisius College. Many of my friendships go back decades.
Among all of them, however, the oldest of those friendships is with Robin Schimminger.
When I was a freshman in 1966 I took my first political science class. Also in that class was Robin Schimminger, then a sophomore. Schimminger’s class, BTW, included future Buffalo Mayor Tony Masiello and future Hamburg Town Supervisor Jim Shaw.
Robin and I became friends in the late sixties. I then went to SUNY Albany for a master’s degree in poli sci, while Robin went off to New York University Law School.
My first full-time job was with the staff of the Erie County Legislature. In 1973 the Democrats were looking for a candidate for the seat occupied by long-serving Tonawanda Republican John Clark. I suggested Robin for the Democratic nomination. He got it, somewhat by default, and also had the Liberal Party nomination. The icing on the cake was Robin also securing the Conservative Party line via a write-in campaign against Clark. And thus in 1973 a classic campaign sign was produced that simply read “Schimminger, Schimminger, Schimminger.”
Robin served three years with the County Legislature before running for and winning a seat in the State Assembly. He did that 21 more times. He has led the Assembly’s Economic Development Committee for many years, and has produced many job-generating appropriations and policies for Western New York. He has also been helpful with the needs of local schools and not-for-profit organizations. He produced a multi-million dollar funding grant for alma mater Canisius, a project that I was involved with when I worked at the College.
I’m sure that Robin will continue to play a role for the benefit of Western New York even after his service in the Assembly ends next year. Well done Robin!