In Western New York and throughout the state 2021 was a busy and eventful political year. Mayoral elections in New York City and Buffalo; various county races; the resignation of Andrew Cuomo and the ascension of Kathy Hochul as governor made the year one for the record books. The upcoming seven weeks, however, are going to quickly leave 2021 far in the rearview mirror.
The June primaries are the main reason for the escalated schedule. Here is a summary of what is coming up:
- Filing of campaign financial reports. The first major event on the schedule will be the filing of political committee financial reports with the State Board of Elections on January 18th. All committees, whether or not they are involved in an election campaign this year, are required to file.
- Among the interesting things to watch for: the size of the campaign treasuries of statewide candidates and state legislators as they gear up for their upcoming elections. We already know that Kathy Hochul has raised more than $10 million since August. Will Senator Tim Kennedy post another spectacular set of numbers? Will former Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw file the 2021 financial report that was due on November 29th? His last report, filed on October 22nd, indicated that he had $30,030 in his account.
- Redrawing congressional and state legislative districts. The New York State Independent Redistricting Commission last week presented two versions of new congressional, State Senate and State Assembly districts following the 2020 federal census, one from the Democratic members of the Commission and the other from the Republicans. The dueling documents were sent to the Legislature, which rejected both plans yesterday. The Commission can submit new versions within two weeks, which will also be sent to the Legislature and will probably be rejected again. The next step? Surprise: the Legislature will draw its own lines, which most political observers have expected from the get-go.
- The Commission versions of the plans did not make many significant changes in the existing districts. Politico reported last week, however, that the Democratic Commission members’ version of the State Senate map would create six districts that are inhabited by two current Democratic senators; one of them reportedly is a district that includes both Senator Sean Ryan and Senator Tim Kennedy. That sort of problem seems correctable.
- Another interesting question concerns the congressional lines. Dave Wasserman from the Cook Political Report is indicating that the Commission drafts would give Republicans opportunities in as many as nine of the 26 districts. That is likely to change as Democrats, in charge of the entire process in Albany, will try to maximize the number of congressional seats that the party can pick up in November.
- The 2022-2023 state budget. Governor Hochul will present her first budget to the Legislature on January 18th. While Hochul’s State of the State message last week offered many priorities for the state’s 2022-2023 fiscal year in broad strokes, the budget will present the details that would change those generalities into legislative and financial reality.
- Hochul is stressing a collaborative approach with legislators as they get to work on the budget. That style change will be tested as the work begins. Both the Assembly and the Senate have large Democratic majorities but progressive far-left legislators will stake out positions on some issues that will not be in sync with Hochul’s proposals or even most Democratic legislators. Funding for a new football stadium in Erie County will likely be one such issue. How that will play out in real time will be interesting to observe.
- Party nominating conventions. The state’s four political parties will conduct their party committee conventions in mid-February to select party nominees for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state comptroller and United States senator. Democrats will still have multiple candidates in the mix come convention time.
- Hochul is likely to be the Democratic Party endorsed nominee for governor despite there being two or three other candidates in the running. The remainder of the statewide slate will include current incumbents: Lt. Governor Brian Benjamin; Attorney General Leticia James; Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli; and Senator Charles Schumer.
- Republicans long ago appeared to have settled on Congressman Lee Zeldin for Governor, but wait, will Harry Wilson become a late entry into the race? Perhaps too much Trump taint on Zeldin? The remainder of the ticket is up in the air. Rob Astorino for Lt. Governor or Comptroller? Andrew Guiliani for Senator?
- Conservatives will undoubtedly go with whomever the Republicans nominate.
- The Working Families Party will be the wild card. The party is aggressive and has a strong left-leaning agenda. They had limited success in 2021 in elections where they placed big markers. Will they endorse any Democrats or go their own way?
- A statewide candidate who receives more than 50 percent of their party committee weighted vote automatically gets on the primary election ballot; another candidate who receives 25 percent or more of the vote also qualifies. Any other candidate who wants to run in the primary but who does not hit one of those marks is required to pursue the cumbersome process of petitioning throughout the state. A total of 15,000 valid signatures must be collected and those signatures must be distributed among at least 13 of the state’s congressional districts.
- Petitioning. Candidates for Congress, the State Legislature and various local offices will begin in late February or early March to circulate nominating petitions to put themselves on the ballot. Late winter weather and COVID issues make petitioning difficult. The Legislature may once again reduce the number of required signatures to deal with the added difficulty of petitioning at this time. Going forward it would seem that winter weather will always be an issue in March, so it would be helpful for the Legislature to look at some alternative scheduling for the petitioning process.
Fasten your seatbelts. The fun is about to begin.
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