Some facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets

We are now just seven weeks away from one of the most momentous elections in the history of the United States. I know that might sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not.

All midterm elections are, to some degree, a referendum on the occupant of the White House. Donald Trump’s words and deeds make that even more likely in 2018.

That’s not to say, however, that there are not local issues. In fact, for different reasons both Democrats and Republicans are working hard to emphasize local issues. The Democrats know that Trump’s low standing does not require them to talk about him; instead they are emphasizing local matters in their various districts. The Republicans, on the other hand, are trying to talk about local issues in order to get voters to forget about or to ignore Trump. That is difficult when Trump steps in doo-doo every single day.

Here are some facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets:

  • Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser will have their turn in the barrel next Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Kavanaugh has interestingly simplified the subject at hand. Since he has categorically denied Ms. Ford’s accusations it will be up to the Committee, the whole Senate and the American people to simply decide who is telling the truth and who has lied under oath. Perhaps the Judge would be willing to take a lie detector test, as Ms. Ford did.
  • Western New York Republicans have been working hard to sweep a major political liability under the rug. It isn’t working so well, and they seem to be pretty unhappy. Their effort to drop Chris Collins into a race for Clarence town councilman to remove him from the congressional ballot was hardly an example of political strategizing at its best. But now Collins has basically sent a “screw you” message to Republican Headquarters.
  • So for the Republican establishment the campaign will essentially come down to this: “if you support Trump, vote for the [alleged] crook.”
  • Erie County Chairman Nick Langworthy wants Collins to spend his whole $1.3 million campaign account on the election. On what? Ah, maybe TV ads that will say that Nate McMurray is a radical liberal, followed by – “this is Chris Collins and I approve this message.” That should work wonders.
  • Langworthy seems to have forgotten that Collins is the guy who, knowing that he was going to lose the county executive race in 2011, hit up his appointees for money at a fundraiser the day before the election so that his committee could repay his personal loan of funds. He might have some legal bills at this time that he will want to spend that $1.3 million on.
  • For my non-Twitter followers who have not already seem this suggestion, I think it would be really interesting to see some enterprising Democrats come up with some creative lawn signs to highlight the mess the Republicans find themselves in. I’m thinking about some old-fashioned candidate combination signs that have fallen out of favor, like: Molinaro/Collins; Collins/Ranzenhofer; Collins/Walter; Collins/Kearns, etc.
  • It’s still a stretch to see Nate McMurray winning in the face of the gerrymandered district which voted overwhelmingly for Trump. But then I think about a campaign buried in my memory from 1964, when Democrat Max McCarthy defeated right-wing Republican John R. Pillion in the 39th congressional district, which was also a very strong Republican district. That district is the linear predecessor of the current 27th district.
  • The turnout in last week’s Democratic primary in Erie County was amazing, but then again, it was also very good and far better than the rest of the state in 2014.
  • I’m still having trouble understanding how the state Democratic Chairman can publicly endorse the Republican candidate for Erie County Court Judge.
  • Just wondering: why were Senator Tim Kennedy’s robocalls going into the Town of Amherst, which is not in his Senate district?
  • The financial and enrollment issues at Erie Community College that this blog outlined in three posts in August have not been resolved. In fact, the problem is growing bigger. A policy change has created additional problems. I’ll have more to say in a subsequent post.
  • The ECC Board of Trustees and county officials seem content to accept whatever they are being told by school President Dr. Dan Hocoy – maybe at lunch or dinner. When was the last time that the Buffalo News wrote a story about ECC?
  • Sort of like the big brew-ha-ha about county officials saying they wanted to do something to reform the Erie County Water Authority.
  • Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder last spring detailed very serious financial issues about the city’s finances. This blog published a post about the issue, pointing out the credibility of Schroeder’s numbers. The first quarter of the city’s 2018-19 fiscal year is almost done. Has anything been done to address Schroeder’s concerns? From what I haven’t read in the Buffalo News, I think the answer is no.
  • These head-in-the-sand approaches to important public issues remind me of a musical I’m fond of, 1776. Part of the story line is that George Washington kept sending letters to the Continental Congress about his needs in organizing and managing his army and they mostly ignored him. That led to a song with the opening lines, “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?”

Eight weeks to go

So the national primary election season, which stretched from March through yesterday, is finally over. New York brought up the rear. (I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not that is a pun.)

Andrew Cuomo’s campaign went through more than $21.4 million so far in 2018 (as of August 31st) to make sure that things came out okay for him. And they did. His 31 percent margin of victory would probably have been a little bigger if he didn’t get greedy by staging a grand opening for the new $3 billion plus Mario Cuomo Tappen Zee Bridge, only to have the bridge shut down the next day for safety reasons.

Then last weekend Cuomo denied having any pre-knowledge of a slanderous brochure attacking Cynthia Nixon, suggesting that she is anti-Semitic. The stunt strangely parallels the “Vote for Cuomo, not the Homo” signs that appeared late in the 1977 New York City mayoral campaign when Mario ran against Ed Koch.

Nixon had only a superficial understanding of state issues. She essentially wrote off upstate. She focused on education, ignoring the fact that New York State already spends far more per pupil than any other state in the union.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul was seriously challenged by Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, but upstate and New York City’s suburbs provided her with the votes she needed.  She carried three of the five boroughs in the City.  Hochul’s victory margin was about 6 points.

The Attorney General primary was highly competitive. Letitia James’ victory over Zephyr Teachout (by about 9 percent) was good in a crowded primary field.  Teachout’s results seem to show that the endorsement of the New York Times can only carry a candidate so far.  Sean Patrick Maloney will now have to shift gears to re-start his congressional re-election campaign.

Perhaps as important as the election results was the turnout in the Democratic primaries throughout the state.  The statewide turnout was up about 155 percent over 2014 numbers, reaching to nearly 24 percent of state registered Democrats, with two percent of election districts yet to report.  Erie County’s turnout was it was approximately 25 percent.  It’s beginning to look like a strong blue wave in New York State in 2018.

So the tickets are set and Election Day is less than eight weeks away. The issues in the governor’s race will not be a whole lot different in the general election than they were in the primary, except that Republican Marc Molinaro will likely hit Cuomo harder on corruption issues than Nixon did. Having Chris Collins as a running mate, either for Congress or for Clarence Town Councilman, might complicate things a bit for Molinaro. Cuomo already has an ad on television hitting Molinaro on ethical issues involving Dutchess County contracts (Molinaro is the County Executive) and even notes Mrs. Molinaro’s role in working for one of the county contractors.

It was almost like upstate did not exist in the Democratic primary, but Republicans of necessity will need to introduce upstate issues. They will hit hard at economic development programs that have produced meager results as well as gun issues and transportation matters. Somehow they will talk about tax cuts, but that could invite a counter attack by Cuomo about how Republican tax legislation in Washington has hurt New York State.

Cuomo still has the millions left in his campaign account with the ability to raise more as necessary. Molinaro’s treasury was relatively low when last reported in July ($887,239). We won’t see another report from him until early October.

Molinaro’s team will hope that Nixon continues her campaign on the Working Families line she holds, right into November, but that party’s leaders will do whatever they can to push her into a no-effort candidacy for Assembly in the district she lives in to permit a Cuomo substitution. They would also need to figure out where to move Williams to allow a Hochul substitution for lieutenant governor.  The Working Families will want to maintain their guaranteed ballot status for the next four years, which requires their candidate for governor to receive at least 50,000 votes.

There will also be Stephanie Miner’s independent campaign effort for governor on the Serve America Movement line and Howie Hawkins’ repeat performance as the Green Party candidate. Despite Republican hopes that those candidacies will subtract votes from Cuomo, there is a reasonable chance that they may simply draw anti-Cuomo votes that might otherwise go to Molinaro if the election was just a Democrat/Republican contest.

The race for attorney general has the potential for getting interesting if Republican candidate Keith Wofford can make any headway with a campaign that emphasizes his plans to be a Republican watchdog of a Democrat administration, assuming he chooses to do so. He has raised a significant treasury ($1,023,847 as of July). Of course Letitia James will be hitting hard on her plans to investigate Donald Trump’s activities in New York State. She will need to re-build her campaign treasury after the primary, but anti-Trump money will make that easy.

The contests that will determine control of the State Senate are muddled at the moment but will clarify soon.

In other statewide news not involving primaries, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will be overwhelming re-elected, as will United States Senator Kirsten Gilibrand.

Local campaigns

The winning efforts of Sue Maxwell Barnes for Erie County Judge in the Democratic, Republican, Independence and Reform party primaries moreorless guarantees her election in November. She also has the Conservative Party nomination.  City Court Judge Debra Givens was ahead by just two votes in the Working Families Party primary with two election districts missing, and she will continue as the Women’s Equality Party candidate. The support of State Democratic Party Chairman and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown to elect Republican-endorsed Givens did not succeed, and it seems to have stirred some resentment among Democrats.

Senator Tim Kennedy, as expected, won re-nomination in the Democratic primary by a wide margin.

It will be interesting to see if the Democratic candidate for Erie County Clerk, Angela Marinucci, can parlay a likely strong Democratic turnout into an opportunity for a win in November. Republican incumbent Michael Kearns, who won minor party primaries yesterday, certainly has much more of a political history. Moneywise the two campaigns aren’t too far apart.

There are limited opportunities for changes in the local state legislative delegation. The race for the Assembly in the 146th District features Republican incumbent Ray Walter and Democrat Karen McMahon. Walter’s margins of victory in past campaigns have been slim, and an energized Amherst Democratic Committee that swept all local offices last year will be looking for another victory in the Assembly campaign in a district that is primarily based in the town.

In the 142nd Assembly District Republican Eric Bohen is the incumbent, but he is a minority party legislator who has only been in office for five months and has no track record to run on. The Democrat whom he defeated in the April special election, Pat Burke, should also benefit from a much stronger Democratic turnout eight weeks from now than what came out in April.  Bohen won his Republican and Conservative party primaries on Thursday, but lost the Independence line.

Finally, a shout out to a candidate whose stick-to-itiveness impresses. Luke Wochensky is the Democratic candidate for the 147th district Assembly seat currently held by Republican incumbent David DiPietro. In the past two elections DiPietro ran unopposed. This year, however, he has a tenacious challenger who has made a strong effort in a difficult district. He has organized a serious campaign effort and has plugged away at achieving some earned media. His candidacy will also help contribute to the Democratic turnout in November.

The view from a pew

A guest post by Steve Banko


This is getting harder for me and by “this” I don’t mean writing these essays.  I’ve always been able to write.  But I’ve always also been able to reason and to think and much of what is happening in my Church is making it harder for me to be a believer.

The hideous sexual abusers who have ravaged our young Catholics and punched holes in our confidence in the cloth are one thing.  Hardly a day goes by without another revelation of massive abuse: 300 priests in Pennsylvania, a thousand or so in Ireland, several dozen in Western New York, another hundred in Boston.

The list seems never ending, but worse than the numbers of abusers is the concentrated cover-up of the Catholic hierarchy. They knew what.  They knew who. They did nothing about it.  My catechism days taught me that absolution demanded three elements: confession to a priest, true sorrow for the sin, and the intention to avoid the near occasion of sin.  I’m not seeing much of the regulations in the feeble response of the Church.

But that’s not the beginning of my only crisis of faith.  A lot of it dates back more than fifty years when I was sent off to war without so much as a whimper of protest from the Church.  I saw things. I did things.  I confessed things, all while knowing I would have to do it all over again the next day. I still see those things and am haunted by the memories but I never recall any intervention of my Church or a real discussion of the meaning of a “just war.”

Some three million of us just walked in lock step with a pat on the back from the Church into the nightmare of Vietnam.  I was able to shake that off for a while – until a whole series of new wars sent new generations into battle without any end in sight. The Church dutifully sends chaplains off to the Middle East but says nothing about war without end, amen.

Then there was the letter from the Bishop just before the election in 2016, reminding Catholics they could vote their consciences as long as they voted for a candidate who was pro-birth. I’m still waiting for our bishop to send a similar letter condemning the deliberate separation of families at the southern border; an atrocity that should surely give cause for a real pro-life letter. Instead, Catholic Charities will now deny orphans of familial love and caring because of who a person loves. How much more can we cheapen the dictate to love our neighbor?

It is easy for a Catholic to note the simplicity of the commandments of Jesus to his disciples.  The commandments were love: love God and love our neighbor. But all I see in this country is hate, even among self-proclaimed Christians. Few categories of Americans are spared. So maybe I’ve been wrong all along. Maybe we need to be more tribal. Maybe we need to build walls and to surround ourselves in cocoons. Maybe I’ve got this religion thing all wrong and if I do, then maybe it’s time to end this charade of subscribing to a gospel of love and get with the program of separation.

Just about the time I want to give up and pack it in though, I remember other times in my life when my faith saved me. I was deep in the trough of drunkenness and about to lose my job, my family, and most likely my sanity. I prayed and was given a chance at rehabilitation. I was suffering through a dark post-combat depression, beset with nightmares that kept me awake through the night. I asked for help and found counseling that saw me through to the other side. I’ve needed my faith for a host of other issues, some major and some less so. And in that need, in that simple understanding that God was listening, I found peace.

So we’re looking at two sides of the coin these days: the human side that confounds, depresses, and appalls us and the divine side that always seems to be there when the times are darkest. But are my blessings the result of faith in God or adherence to a faith that is hierarchical, misogynist, abetting pedophilia? That’s an evaluation we must make for ourselves.

Some of my friends have had enough. They see no end to the depravity in some corners of our Church and in the cover-up in other corners. But I’m going to hang in there hoping the humanity of our Church catches up with the divinity. My confidence is shaken. My faith has been buffeted. But I’m going to try to ride it out, believing in the God who has answered so many of my prayers and who has made my life worth living.

I’m going to keep smiling, at least for a little while.

The Republicans’ congressional campaign in the 27th district; campaign finance updates

So someone turned off the music on the game of musical chairs that was intended to determine which Republican will succeed indicted Congressman Chris Collins in the 27th district. The candidates went round and round. Some of them felt that the game was just a charade and dropped out of contention on their own. Others either cling to the hope that it will all work out this fall, or maybe that they could position themselves for a special election in 2019. Continue reading

Financial and management issues at Erie Community College — Part III

Blog posts last week reported on financial and administrative issues at Erie Community College as well as the contract between Erie Community College and Canisius College for the provision of ECC student housing at Canisius. Today’s post concludes this series of reports by examining the use of expense accounts by senior management at ECC.

That spending is significant even while it is proportionally one of the smaller expense items at the College. Its significance speaks to the approach of the school’s leadership to their fiduciary responsibilities. College revenues, regardless of the expense category, come from the collective pockets of the students as well as county, state and federal taxpayers. Continue reading

Financial and management issues at Erie Community College — Part II

Tuesday’s post reported on issues related to developing financial problems at Erie Community College. Today’s post explores an issue that the College is touting as a win for the school:  the contract with Canisius College for the provision of student housing at Canisius for ECC students.

The two schools see the agreement as a win-win proposition. ECC would have dorm rooms available for some of its students, while Canisius, which has empty dorm rooms because of declining enrollment, would receive some much-needed revenue. Here’s part of the announcement of the deal as reported on the Canisius website on June 6th: Continue reading