by Geoff Kelly - posted 10:16 am, July 18, 2008
No, not the kind of greening Sam Magavern writes about in this week’s AV. Money.
In the most recent New Yorker (the one that’s generated a flap about the cover illustration depicting Barack Obama in Middle eastern garb and his wife dressed as a terrorist), Ryan Lizza delivers a terrific profile of Obama’s determined entry into and savvy navigation of Chicago politics in the mid 1990s. Here he makes an interesting observation about the ascent in importance of fund-raising ability as a determinant of a candidate’s viability:
Gradually, Chicago caught up with the rest of the country and media-driven politics eclipsed machine-driven politics. “It became increasingly difficult to get into homes and apartments to talk about candidates,” Rose said. “High-rises were tough if not impossible to crack, and other parts of the city had become too dangerous to walk around in for hours at a time. And people didn’t want to answer their doors. Thus the increasing dependence on TV, radio, direct mail, phone-banking, robocalls, et cetera—all things that cost a hell of a lot more money than patronage workers, who were themselves in decline, anyway, because of anti-patronage court rulings.” Instead of a large army of ward heelers dragging people to the polls, candidates needed a small army of donors to pay for commercials. Money replaced bodies as the currency of Chicago politics. This new system became known as “pinstripe patronage,” because the key to winning was not rewarding voters with jobs but rewarding donors with government contracts.
Buffalo, of course, is not “the rest of the country,” though the new Democratic machine built by Mayor Byron Brown and his deputy mayor and chief political officer, Steve Casey, is doing its best to drag our politics into the heavily mediated modern world. In Buffalo, it’s still possible (and necessary) to build support by attending community gatherings, talking at block club meetings, and walking neighborhoods—and, just as importantly, to have folks walk the neighborhood for you. The Brown/Casey organization does that very well. Just ask Barbra Kavanaugh, the former councilmember-at-large who is running a primary challenge to Assemblyman Sam Hoyt: Without the help of Brown/Casey political operatives working out of City Hall to circulate her petitions, she might not have collected a quarter of the signatures she did. (Which, of course, would still have been enough to earn a spot on the ballot.)
Brown and Casey can move bodies, but they can also raise money, a fact in evidence from the moment Brown began his campaign for mayor and affirmed in July’s periodic campaign finance disclosure reports. The Brown for Buffalo committee raised $192,646.33 in the past six months, bringing its balance to $369,965.94. Brown’s other campaign fund, Mayor Brown’s Leadership Council, raised no money but maintained a balance of $239,521.95. It’s generally assumed that Brown would like to run for Congresswoman Louise Slaughter’s seat, if she should retire, but certainly he’d be raising money regardless of his specific ambitions.
So who’s giving Brown and Casey all this money and why? That’s my next post, but if you want a head start, have a look at the Brown for Buffalo disclosure statement for July and scan the donors for yourself.