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

Welcome to the unofficial end of summer! The time when campaigns begin to ramp up activities and a sense of urgency starts to develop.

Here are some facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets for the beginning of September:

  • All serious campaigns have already or are now finalizing their plans for mailings, advertising, and targeted campaigning. Oh yes, and raising more money.
  • On the other hand, Democratic candidates for president may be adjusting their approach now that the stage is set for the next debate on September 12th in Houston. We won’t be seeing all those desperate emails asking for one dollar because the candidates needed 130,000 unique donors, dispersed among several states, in order to qualify for the debate stage.
  • One of the failed candidates is New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Maybe now that she does not need to spend time in Iowa we might spot her occasionally in Western New York.
  • Unfortunately, the rules for the October presidential debate will give more time for some of the candidates who did not qualify for September to raise sufficient funds or to rise in the polls to qualify, which might mean more than ten candidates and debates again stretching over two nights – not a positive development.
  • We would all like an extra $1,000 to spend, although perhaps not from the deficit-ridden federal government, but why can’t Andrew Yang, who adds nothing to the primary debate, see the light and graciously depart?
  • Quote of the pre-Labor Day week from Donald Trump: “We have to start looking for a new News Outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore!” Wow! What is the world coming to when Fox News makes Donald Trump unhappy? Can this marriage be saved?
  • When will the Republican debates be scheduled now that Trump has two opponents? For those not paying attention, they are former Massachusetts Governor (and failed candidate for New York Governor) William Weld and former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh; and maybe former South Carolina Governor and Congressman Mark Sanford.
  • Trump clone Boris Johnson, new Prime Minister of the country formerly known as Great Britain, has prorogued Parliament for a month in order to hasten the country’s departure from the European Union. Prorogued is a technical term meaning “shut up and go away,” and is not to be confused with pierogis, which are a Polish delicacy. Trump would no doubt like to do the same thing with Congress and is probably even now checking to confirm that the Constitution permits him to do that.
  • Why not the Trump Doral Resort in Miami for the G-7? The sessions are held in August, which is the height of the hurricane season, so the place will probably be empty. If a storm were to strike when G-7 was there, Trump could go from bungalow to bungalow passing out paper towels.
  • As economic signs point more and more to an economic slowdown or maybe a recession, Trump is doing anything and everything to point the finger to anyone but the guy he sees in the mirror. The sugar-high benefits of the corporate tax cuts have worn off and his tariff shenanigans are a disaster.
  • And why so little reporting about the likelihood that Trump is really pushing for the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates because the “king of debt” stands to benefit personally from lower rates on his failing properties?
  • In local political news, there is hardly any. Candidates are campaigning. There basically is no local political media coverage for anything below the countywide level, and even that is only occasional.
  • On August 27th this blog pointed out that the Erie County Board of Elections’ website had no mention of the dates and locations for early voting in Erie County this year, which begins on October 26 and runs through November 3. On August 28th the Board of Elections’ website provided information about early voting and the locations that will be available. Thank you.
  • The early voting could change the dynamics of the election – or not. It will come down to what the parties can make of it. Democrats usually do better with a larger turnout, and Republicans usually look for ways to keep turnout down. At the very least early voting will not keep turnout down.
  • Interesting factoid: during this year’s state legislative session, Senator Tim Kennedy sponsored the most bills passed in the State Senate, 65.
  • There have now been two State Supreme Court decisions concerning last year’s legislation that provided pay raises for the state’s elected officials while tying the second and third helpings of ten thousand dollar legislative raises to limitations on their permitted outside income. One of the decisions said that the raises could not be linked to the outside income limitations and that the second and third legislative pay raises could not occur. The other decision allows the additional raises but says that the Commission that linked the raises to the income limitations exceeded any authority to do so. The Court of Appeals will eventually weigh in.
  • So the question is, does the matter of legislative authority essentially being given to an unelected commission carry over to the 2019 version of a commission?
  • That body is charged with setting up procedures for public funding of statewide and legislative elections, and oh yeah, deciding whether fusion voting should continue in the state.
  • Public financing of state elections could be tremendously expensive. It could also significantly change the landscape of those elections by encouraging potential candidates who might not otherwise have the money to run, to jump in. In the New York City model that the commission might be following, lots of money is spent and wasted on fringe candidates.
  • The question of eliminating fusion voting, however, might in the end become the predominant matter coming out of the Public Campaign Financing Commission’s work. If they recommend the end of fusion voting and that recommendation is sustained, the political landscape in the state will change considerably. Statewide the Republicans opportunities for election will be damaged. The same will apply in some parts of the state such as Erie County where the Conservative Party has been of great assistance to Republicans.
  • The Commission has hardly started its work, but already it has created one of the strangest, though unofficial alliances in state politics. The left-leaning Working Families Party and the right-leaning Conservative Party are already working feverishly to prevent or defeat any effort to end fusion voting. Strange bedfellows.
  • The Bills kick off the new season next Sunday. Forgive me for not being too excited.
  • During the current millennium (which has run 19 years thus far) the Bills have had only three seasons where they finished with more wins than losses, and of course, just one playoff appearance. Go back to the team’s beginning in 1960 and you will see that there have been only 23 winning years out of 60.
  • That being said, my opinion is that Josh Allen can turn out to be a good quarterback. They have added some better receivers and have beefed up the offensive line. It is still hard to think, however, that they will go past another 9 win and 7 loss year and make the playoffs.

What if they held an election and nobody came?

This year’s June primary seems to have taken energy out of the 2019 election. I know, if you’re a candidate, campaign staffer, or party official you will tell me you are working your tail off – and I believe you.

But for the 99.9 percent of local residents who are not personally involved in the election, you are undoubtedly finding it hard to get excited or even interested in the election that will be held in less than 70 days. To the extent that people are interested, they are directing their attention to the national level.

The election ballot in Erie County on November 5th will include candidates for 156 different offices from Erie County Executive to Brant Town Clerk. Many of those contests (I use the word loosely) do not even have candidates from both the Democratic and Republican Parties.

The 2018 elections, which featured statewide races and also included state legislative and congressional seats, drew a larger than expected but still relatively low voter turnout. It was stoked by national issues, with more than the expected numbers eager to send a message to national politicos.

That is not going to happen in 2019. You need a “shiny object” or two to get people interested enough to go out to vote. There are no “shiny objects” in Erie County this year.

The race for county executive will draw the most attention and will see the most money spent. But the race is not generating much excitement and voting starts soon.

Early voting comes to New York State for the first time in 2019. It will be an interesting experiment, and it could be a tune-up for national races next year. But it remains to be seen whether early voting will, in 2019, draw out more voters or simply serve as a convenience for those who don’t want to wait until November 5th. It will force campaigns to target some mailings or other activities for late October.

Early voting will be available between October 26th and November 3rd, but the process does not seem to be getting off in the right way. Take a look at the Erie County Board of Elections website. Search for “early voting locations” or “dates for early voting.” You will find nothing. The same goes for the State Board of Elections website except for the posting of that Board’s bureaucratic regulations for setting up voting sites and such things.

You would think that those Boards would want to publicize a major new voting procedure. Maybe they still plan to do so, but as of the date this blog article was posted (August 27) there are just 59 days until October 26th. What are they waiting for?

There will be 34 sites in Erie County, and State regulations require that they be centrally and conveniently located to serve the various political subdivisions. That is not the case in Amherst, where the site is in the southern end of the town, practically in Cheektowaga. And why spend money for nine sites in Buffalo, given the City’s anemic voter turnout history? (The site information came from info searching other than at the Boards.)

When you get past the county executive election, you need to look far and wide to find serious contests in the County. Those few include the following:

  • One of the three State Supreme Court seats in the 8th Judicial District will pit Democratic incumbent Diane Devlin against West Seneca attorney Gerald Greenan; two other incumbents have been cross-endorsed by the Democrats and Republicans. The early judicial convention nominations for that seat, compared with the previous end-of-September schedule, will force both candidates to raise and spend more money than we have seen in a campaign for Supreme Court in a long time.
  • Of the eleven county legislative seats on the ballot, some don’t even have both Democratic and Republican candidates running. There are only a handful of districts with what appears to be real competition including the 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th Districts. The 9th District is the seat that Lynne Dixon has given up to run for county executive and it is more than two-to-one Democratic by enrollment.
  • There are no serious contests for town supervisor in any large town with the possible exception of West Seneca.

In the City of Buffalo voters will elect a comptroller, three City Court judges and nine members of the Common Council. There is not a single serious contest for any of those offices.

In 2015, a comparable year in the four year election cycle, voter turnout in Erie County was about 25 percent. In the City of Buffalo it was 15 percent.

So, statistical junkies, here are turnouts in the past four elections in the county executive election years:

  • 2015 – countywide turnout: 152,655; Buffalo turnout: 26,414
  • 2011 – countywide: 237,825; Buffalo: 45,444
  • 2007 – countywide: 244,727; Buffalo: 46,517
  • 2003 – countywide: 256,169; Buffalo: 58,397

What does this all mean for the 2019 election? Expect a countywide turnout in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 percent. In Buffalo the number will probably be less than 15 percent. The low Buffalo turnout will hinder Mark Poloncarz’s efforts, but there remain good opportunities in the larger and Democratic-leaning towns where he should do well and help make up for Buffalo’s poor turnout numbers.

What, therefore, does all this mean for the state of the electorate?

Perhaps they are just satisfied with how things are going and see no need to vote.

Perhaps they don’t see any campaigns or issues that draw their attention.

Perhaps they just don’t care.

Or maybe they are just resting up for what is likely in 2020 to be the most engaged and exciting election that this country has seen in decades.

Immigration discrimination


“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The New Colossus,” a poem written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 to raise funds for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. It was later mounted inside the pedestal’s lower level. Continue reading

The Biden base

We have gone through the second round of debates among 20 Democrats running for president. The most recent sessions might be described as the elimination round of a game show.

It is hard to get an assessment of any candidate when they are talking, in a two-plus hour period, for just nine or ten minutes – with nine other people are also trying to make an impression on the voting public. It is not a great way to sort things out, but there aren’t a lot of appropriate alternatives. Continue reading

While Republicans stand by silently, Trump signals his willingness to break the law again; the Democratic primary

Donald Trump last week once again told the world that he is willing to break the law. Evil doers around the world smirked.  Republicans throughout the United States mostly observed the latest instance of Trump’s above-the-law attitude in silence.

As Paul Simon sang, “Fools” said I, “You do not know Silence like a cancer grows…” Continue reading