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Henry J. Stern

Henry J. Stern

Posted: September 15, 2010 06:07 PM

The People Speak

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In an initial take on yesterday's primary, we offer some nuggets of fact, surmise and opinion.

1. The Democratic and Republican party organizations continue to weaken. They are most influential in races where no one knows who the candidates are, usually for judgeships or at the bottom of the ticket. For more important offices, where voters have familiarity with the candidates, they make their own decisions as to whom they will support, guided to some extent by the campaigns and the media.

The generally low Democratic turnout placed a premium on machine support. Percentage wise, more Republicans cast ballots.

2. Tuesday was a good night for incumbents. As far as we know, only two state senators were defeated. Pedro Espada, Jr., in the Bronx, against whom the entire civilized world had combined, lost 62-33 to Gustavo Rivera; and Bill Stachowski of Buffalo lost 63-26 to Tim Kennedy.

Stachowski, a state senator for 28 years, was a target of environmental groups for his opposition to cleanup of toxic wastes, and gay organizations objected to his hostility to marriage equality. Stachowski was supported by the Working Families and the Independence Party. He held up the state budget because he insisted on greater autonomy for SUNY Buffalo. However, in the end he caved and disappointed his constituents.

Tim Kennedy is an Erie County legislator who linked Stachowski to the dysfunction in Albany. We also suspect there were demographic changes in the district since the Polish-American solon, a former football star at Holy Cross, was first elected a generation ago. Both candidates signed the Koch pledge.

3. The only two Assemblymembers to be denied renomination were Ginny Fields in Suffolk County, who lost to Ken Mangan, 53-47, and Francine DelMonte of Niagara County, who lost to John Accardo, 52-48. Reform was not a particular issue in these races, all four candidates having signed the pledge.

Fields originally attacked Mangan on TV for not signing, but then he signed and mooted the issue. The state teachers union supported Mangan.

4. The majority of incumbent state legislators were not challenged by other aspirants. Therefore, primary elections were not held for those positions.

Fifteen incumbent senators were challenged. For the remaining 47 seats (out of a total of 62), the incumbents were unchallenged.

Twenty-seven assembly members were challenged. For the remaining 123 seats (out of 150), the incumbents were not challenged in a primary.

5. According to Jerry Skurnik, who is an expert in these matters, the reason there are proportionally more contested city than state elections is that the city's campaign finance system provides for matching funds on a 6-to-1 basis for contributions of $175 or less. The maximum public subsidy for a city council race was $88,550 in 2009, and it will rise in 2013. The expenditure limit was $161,000; it too will rise.

There is no provision for matching funds in state elections, so the candidate must raise all the funds he spends. This discourages candidacies, because to attain a minimal level of exposure in an assembly race against an incumbent, spending close to $100,000 is a requirement. Double that sum for a state senate race. Since people are usually unlikely to give large sums to local candidates, there is a great advantage to aspirants who can fund their own races.

6. The roll out of the new electronic voting machines was flawed, drawing the ire of the public and spurring elected officials to berate the Board of Elections. Now we must find out how accurate the electoral counts tabulated by the machines are. Today, the Board is conducting a lottery to randomly select 3% of the election districts in the five boroughs for a hand recount of the paper ballots processed by the machines. We will keep you posted on how the two sets of figures match up. Theoretically, they should be identical.

7. The 2011 legislature will be very much like the 2010 legislature, except that the coup conspirators Espada and Monserrate will be gone. We cannot predict which party will control the state senate next year, and what the effect of the Paladino candidacy will be on Republican legislative candidates. Will the GOP be energized by its standard bearer, or will frightened moderates desert the elephant line?

Democratic senate leader John Sampson of Brooklyn will presumably succeed Pedro Espada as leader if the Democrats retain their Senate majority. Sampson has written a letter signing on to the Koch reforms, as has Dean Skelos, the Republican leader, and all his troops.

8. If the senators keep their written pledges, substantial legislative reform would be a strong possibility in the areas of redistricting by an independent commission, ethics reform identifying and limiting the private employment of elected public servants in the legislature, and requiring a state budget to be balanced budget pursuant to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). This is the law in New York City, but not in New York State.

The Assembly will be a harder sell. Speaker Silver says that he would allow some reforms, but he has balked at an independent redistricting commission.

An important element of the Speaker's power to enforce his will is the ability to punish refractory (from his viewpoint) legislators by abolishing their districts, merging them with others, or removing their homes from their districts. An independent commission would presumably not be congenial to spot redistricting on the basis of a legislator's independence or submission to the Speaker.

The leadership has many other powers over individual members, including committee assignments, lulus (pensionable payments to committee chairs and miscellaneous favored designees), the use of the Rules Committee to advance or to bottle up bills, the assignment of office space and other facilities, etc. The Speaker's power was likened many years ago, with regard to the City Council, to the authority of a Mother Superior in a convent. The power to terminate a political career by reapportionment is a superfluous award of authority to the most powerful man in state government (with the occasional, but not recent, exception of the governor).

It is now 48 days to the election. We will be following the race.

 

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