For those of you who have tired of politics (which is the majority of local residents considering the low voter turnout), it’s all over but the counting. For those who have been vaccinated against political boredom, there is a lot to digest from last week’s election results.
Here are some observations about what happened and what the consequences may be.
- The election for mayor of Buffalo is more or less concluded, barring a late surge of Ben Carlisle write-ins that no one saw coming. The bottom line is that Brown and company, after their sleep walk through the primary election, were ready for what they needed to do in the fall. A write-in effort isn’t that difficult to pull off if you have arguments to present on the issues and the resources to fund the effort.
- The real winner of the race for mayor was indifference. About 60 percent of the eligible votes decided that neither candidate inspired them enough to get out to vote.
- The efforts of Walton and other democratic socialists such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Zephyr Teachout to build a beachhead in Buffalo ran up against the reality that the city is basically a moderate to conservative city that isn’t looking for radical changes. That doesn’t mean, however, that Walton-style candidates might not be successful in a Council or School Board election in those parts of the city where she was successful (Ellicott, Masten and Niagara Districts in particular). How did Byron Brown lose the Masten District?
- The election basically confirmed that the endorsement of a candidate by other elected officials is fairly meaningless – unless it comes with a boots on the ground commitment of help as displayed by South District Councilman Chris Scanlon on Brown’s behalf.
- The amount of money that Walton raised, plus what was spent for her by the Working Families Party, was incredible – more than one million dollars. The WF money was out-of-town cash; Brown had some too from the Realtors. Many of Walton’s identified donors were from New York City, California and many other states. We will never know where the donors came from who provided $300,000 in undocumented donations to the campaign. Money is great but votes win elections, so the value of a large volume of out-of-town donors is somewhat mitigated.
- The Working Families Party prides itself on policy purity, voting strength, and incredible talent in winning elections. So how did that go in Erie County in 2021? They failed to inform Walton that she needed to sign a Party non-affiliated candidate acceptance document by the legal deadline, costing her their ballot line in November. Their practice of asking candidates to complete questionnaires that may be directed in some cases to a far-left position on a public issue played a role in making Democrats who were on their line defend the issue that likely cost them some votes. The limits of the party’s voting strength, even in Buffalo, were demonstrated by the Walton totals.
- The speculation is already starting for future Buffalo elections. There will be School Board elections in 2022 and all nine Common Council seats will be up in 2023. Will the commitment and drive of Walton volunteers carry over to those races? Assuming that after “strive for five” it will be “nix on six,” Buffalo politics will focus on the potential candidates for mayor in 2025. State Senator Tim Kennedy has a very large and growing campaign treasury that could dominate a City Hall campaign. Senator Sean Ryan has a somewhat smaller but growing campaign account. It would seem that there are no potential mayoral candidates among current Councilmembers.
- The race for Erie County sheriff, with primaries in both parties and multiple candidates contesting, was complicated and expensive – the most expensive in county history. Charges flew from both sides. Both Republican John Garcia and Democrat Kim Beaty benefitted from the increased voter turnout in Buffalo. Registered Republicans and Conservatives and independents leaning in the direction of those parties likely came out in much larger numbers than in most recent mayoral elections. Their motivating factor may have been to vote for Brown/defeat Walton, but while they were voting they provided more Buffalo votes for Garcia than he might have otherwise expected.
- The fact that Garcia camped out at his election night headquarters on Grand Island rather than at Republican headquarters in downtown Buffalo speaks to the continuing animosity between Republican HQ and the Garcia folks following the divisive primary. A move to change party leadership in 2022 would not be a surprise.
- The race for comptroller was quiet for much of the year. Both Democrat Kevin Hardwick and Republican Lynne Dixon put out position papers and made all the rounds of picnics and parades. Hardwick went after Dixon for her employment as Stefan Mychajliw’s deputy, tagging her with the political trolling style and culture of the office. Dixon may not have liked that, but when you are the deputy in a major government office that presents itself as incapable of sticking to the business that is required by the County Charter the criticisms will come.
- The election of Randy Hoak for supervisor in Hamburg was a contrast between his “here’s how I am going to do the job” approach versus Mychajliw’s focus on culture issues unrelated to running a town government. Getting the job done won.
- Mychajliw and Dixon’s campaigns were the epitome of Trumpifying local elections. The efforts backfired. Mychajliw’s non-stop negative and false positioning on issues did him in. Dixon’s decision to go negative with her mailings did not work and the costs evidently left her with no money for TV ads that she had some success with in the county executive race in 2019.
- Suburban and rural towns in Erie County saw gains for Republicans in local offices. In seven towns the Democrats did not have a single candidate on the ballot. Kudos to Aurora and Tonawanda Democrats on their victories. A party’s base for future candidates often comes from their “bench” strength in local government offices.
- Going forward Democratic candidates have a lot of work to do, locally and pretty much everywhere else. Local Democrats need to re-think the value of having the Working Families Party line. With only four recognized parties authorized at this time, a separate independent line provides a spot on the ballot not too far down the ballot without the controversy that some of the WF policy positions may require candidates to deal with.
- In the City of Buffalo the election may be settled but city government is looking at a very large financial hole coming in 2022. The issue was never addressed in the campaign except for some attacks on Walton for proposing a very modest increase in property taxes. It is going to take much more than a three percent increase in the levy spread over four years to handle the city’s money problems.
Right around the corner come the statewide, congressional and state legislative races in 2022. There will be many primaries in the Democratic Party as it tries to sort out its election opportunities among different elements in the party. In New York State, at least, Trumpkin Republican candidates such as Lee Zeldin and Andrew Guiliani will provide many opportunities for Democrats to explore those candidates’ commitments to the Constitution and democracy. The 2022 party primaries are less than eight months away. Let the games begin!
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