You know things have hit a low point when the loudest cheers of the night at your election night event are rained upon your District Attorney, who had four lines on the ballot and no opposition.
And so it went this past Tuesday, as the traditional gathering of Democrats in the lobby of Ellicott Square turned out to be a somber affair. The Democrats needed every bit of mojo and moxie to pull of a win in SD-60 and take the seat away from Senator Mark Grisanti. The Democrats could have safely held on to the Erie County Comptroller’s position, in a county with a huge Democratic enrollment advantage and a rare special election in a Presidential year, when turnout of friendly voters would be robust. The Democrats needed a comfortable cushion in the Erie County portion of the 27th Congressional, to offset what would become a huge disadvantage in the GLOW counties. Upstarts such as Christina Abt in the 147th Assembly, or Justin Rooney in the 61st Senate, could have used something. Hell anything, in terms of material support or guidance from their headquarters to aid their efforts.
None of it happened.
And with the election now over, Democrats are in spin mode, and in finger pointing mode, and some of the fingers are being pointed eastward towards the Town of Cheektowaga and their Town Chair Frank Max. Right here on these pages at Artvoice, shots are being taken at Max, his pending lawsuit to overturn the allegedly rigged election for County Chair is being cited as the prime reason for the Tuesday meltdown. “This is what unity must look like in the Max universe”. “If only the party wouldn’t have been distracted by petty lawsuits, we could have been working to elect our candidates instead.”
It is all nonsense.
The failure of the Democratic Party lays squarely on the shoulders of the newly
elected installed Chair, Jeremy Zellner, and his two main handlers, Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward and County Executive Mark Poloncarz. Admittedly, it’s easy being Monday Morning Quarterback and looking at what was and what could have been. But even as events unfolded throughout 2012, it was clear to many pundits that the decisions of the ECDems and the behind the scenes prodding of Zellner were leading the Democrats towards the abyss.
State Senate 60
Mark Grisanti was stepping into a re-election campaign with a huge disadvantage. He was facing a daunting enrollment disparity, he was fresh off a scandal regarding a bar fight at Seneca Niagara Casino from which there are still unanswered questions. He was the center of a couple of hot button issues, none more controversial than hydrofracking. Nonetheless, with all these things happening, unseating Grisanti would be a heavy lift. It would take a unified effort put behind an attractive and telegenic candidate with a good shot of resonating with the electorate.
So… there was Chuck Swanick. But keep in mind the basic tenet which guides the ECDems: “Bile. Hatred. Retribution”. It is at the core of their Machiavellian beliefs, and somewhere in the deep dark past Swanick had parted ways with the ECDems apparatus, and whatever his sins were, real or perceived, they were unforgivable.
Moving on, there was Marc Panepinto. If you know Panepinto then you know the guy is a street fighter and a seasoned pol. He had the backing of the Niagara district Dems and plenty of campaign experience. The guy would have given Grisanti a real run for his money. Heck he could have won. But the ECDems apparatus shooed him away. Bad move.
Instead they turned to Mike Amodeo. Here was a candidate who had just gotten beaten badly the previous year in a run for Assembly, only demonstrating too clearly that he could not get traction with voters. The securing of the valuable Working Families second line was bungled badly, a wild and wooly Primary on several lines proved to be a huge distraction, and when the dust settled, the Democrats were saddled with a damaged candidate who had little traction, no money and zero chance of winning. The scenario was so predictable, and so avoidable. But in the usual ECDems vein, bad decisions cost them, and cost them dearly.
Erie County Comptroller
When Mark Poloncarz served as our Comptroller, he shouted from the rooftops for the absolute need for an independent voice in that important position. Poloncarz was right, and because he did his job so well, he often clashed with the Executive and Legislative branches of the county. He argued for the control of county borrowing, correctly pointing out that the Fiscal Stability Authority will be with us as an entity for the next three decades if they assume the function. He battled to keep the functionality of his office intact when the former County Executive slashed staff audit positions. Some of Poloncarz’ audits were petty (the refusal to pay a bill for a $400 refrigerator for the 16th floor kitchenette a true low point), but overall gets high marks for his stewardship during his time in that office.
So why is it that now that he is County Executive, that need for “independence” is all but forgotten?
The Democrats could and should have recruited the best and the brightest within its pool of potential suitors, and someone who had an arms length relationship with the County Executive and the Legislators just would have been frosting on the cake. Would Dan Ward have run for the slot? Possibly. George Hasiotis? He wanted to run and in fact circulated petitions. He would have been an outstanding candidate and a good Comptroller. But as for Hasiotis, and maybe even Dan Ward, let’s remind ourselves again as to the core tenet of our Faith – “Bile, Hatred and Retribution”.
Instead, Poloncarz, Zellner and the Democrats turned to David Shenk, Town Clerk of Boston, a man with a laudable record of service in the military, but whose only credentials on the bigger stage were to take his daily briefings from the 16th floor. The interview and appointment process to install Shenk was hyper political, and left even the most seasoned watchers over at the Erie County Legislature appalled. His appointment was by a 6-5 party line vote, while usually the “honor of the house” fills interim appointments to elected vacancies with bi partisan support. In one of Shenk’s first acts in office, he trivialized the expenditure of almost $1-million in extra interest for routine county borrowing, basically parroting the whims and positions of the County Executive who continues to battle the ECFSA for the control of the borrowing process.
Enter Stefan Mychajliw.
And make no mistake. If the Dems appoint a credible and experienced individual to the Comptrollers position, Mychajliw would have never entered the race. Let that sink in for a moment, because it is the absolute truth. And to speculate further, without Mychajliw as a candidate, ECGOP Chair Nick Langworthy might have punted and not even fielded a candidate and expended time and treasure on a one year seat, instead relying on the credible Democrat in that slot to do the right thing and serve the people of the County in an appropriate role.
So AV Daily commentator Alan Bedenko asks “What Now Stefan?”, in the aftermath of Mychajliw’s historic win this past Tuesday in the teeth of that huge Democratic turnout. I think I can answer that question for Stefan… just like another “civilian” who got thrust into a Comptroller’s role, City Comptroller Mark Schroeder, Mychajliw seeks and recruits the best and the brightest financial people available in the roles of his first deputies. He lets the talented pool of civil service auditors and accountants perform their jobs and continue the good work they do now. And he sets policy and answers to the people, and applies his skills as a political watcher and investigative journalist to do the role of the position of Comptroller as best he can.
Mychajliw will be an excellent Comptroller. And when he presents his first few months of tenure and incumbency to the voters in less than a year, he will be re-elected soundly. If the critics from the ECDems would like to feign their outrage about this entire situation and infer that the Comptrollers’ office will somehow be less than it was, they instead should vent that outrage towards the 16th floor, the budget process and the political handlers at ECDems who help shape those decisions. For curiously, one position was extricated from the Comptrollers office in the 2013 budget, and that is the job occupied by former EC Budget Director Greg Gach. Make no mistake, Gach is a guru when it comes to County financial matters and exceptionally skilled at what he does, and he also enjoys the trust and respect of his colleagues and bosses from both sides of the aisle. In sports parlance, Mychajliw losing Gach is like Coach Lindy Ruff losing Danny Briere to free agency.
So why is it that Gach is the one on the chopping block? To answer that question we have to once again go to the basic tenet of the ECDems Faith: “Bile. Hatred. Retribution”.
State Senate 63
So who was the big winner of the night? The one shining moment in what other wise was an apocalyptic night locally for the ECDems?
Yup, State Senator Tim Kennedy.
Kennedy was caught flat footed in the Primary, spending vast sums of money for television and direct mail, only to have to fend off a surprising challenge from Legislature Chair Betty Jean Grant, who rallied her base and deftly got the black vote energized. For Kennedy it was a humbling lesson and a continuing learning process as he embraces the demographics of his new district.
But it’s what happened after the Primary that was particularly repugnant. Charges of voting place fraud, ballot manipulation, a mysterious letter from the “KKK”, a Rod Watson column in the Buffalo News all but branding Kennedy as a racist. Say what you want about Kennedy, but he is anything but a racist. His resolute support for Marriage Equality in 2010 and 2011 speaks volume about the type of guy he is.
But Kennedy got through all this, and pulled over 76,000 votes on Election Day, despite a desperate write-in campaign from his opponent who, contrary to her regular persona, showed little of her usual charm and grace. A last minute mailer from the “Obama – Grant Democratic Team” was just another sad attempt to obfuscate and confuse voters. And lo and behold, it’s now the day after and the dust settled and Tim Kennedy is the State Senator from Buffalo/Cheektowaga/Lackawanna.
So why is that important? Because there is a strong and distinct possibility that the State Senate will revert to a Democratic majority. Right now the count stands at 31-30 for the Democrats. Two districts remain to be counted but in both seats Democrats are the presumptive winners. There is also the matter of an “independent caucus” of four Democrats and how they will line up. But make no mistake, if the planets align and the Dems do take over, Kennedy will be only one of two Democratic senators in that chamber from Upstate New York (the other being a freshman from Rochester). He will be able to exert enormous influence over government and policy and things that will benefit this region. It is a huge win for those of us here in Buffalo and we should applaud Kennedy’s success and get behind him, and offer him and his staff our ideas for what we want to see for the betterment of Western New York.
Will the leadership of the ECDems and the party apparatus recognize and embrace this rising star of local politics? Once again, let’s refer back to the core of our Faith – “Bile. Hatred. Retribution.”
And that gets us back to Frank Max…
The CheekDems held a massive rally this past Friday and it was a smashing success. Max feels like he was wronged in what he thinks was a rigged elections process for County Chair. He want his day and court and he will have it. But whatever the outcome, Max is not resting on his laurels. Max is doing what he does best, organizing people, energizing people, and getting people from the many disparate corners of the Democratic political family in this county to build a movement. He has a powerful political ally on his side in the name of Lt Governor Bob Duffy and that state political apparatus. Max is getting people motivated and involved, not at the end of the barrel of a gun or threats or intimidation, but via the type of grassroots organization and tenacity that have guided his rise in politics from his days as a young buck in Black Rock. Max is not going away, and he enjoys the confidence of a broad spectrum of Democrats and even the grudging respect of more than a few Republicans.
So what is Zellner to do? To his credit, he actually showed up to the CheekDems affair. He stood in one spot the entire evening and spoke to hardly anyone, and when introduced he was boo-ed by many of the over 300 in attendance. Many CheekDems peeps haven’t forgotten the damage he inflicted on their organization. He has a lot of fence mending to do out there and perhaps he can turn things around.
Next, the new Chairman really needs to get his own house in order with his executive board. His elections commissioner has been deceiving the voters for years as to his residency, and the deputy commissioner could be residing in Minsk, Belarus for all we know. His duly elected party Vice Chair (and senate candidate in SD-63) refuses to accept the results of the SD-63 certified primary and instead runs a nasty campaign against his party’s own nominee, and there is no consequence. The duly elected ECDems Sgt-At-Arms has bigger fish to fry, having to deal with more mundane things such as Visiting Day. (Type in Payne, Ivory).
2013 is just around the corner, and The Dems will have their plate full. They hold the EC Legislature by a slim 6-5 majority. The Comptrollers slot is now bullet proof and the Dems should just punt on this one and put this office in the same category as Erie County Clerk, where Chris Jacobs is untouchable. Sheriff? They got a shot. The Mayor? Byron Brown is actually doing a lot of good things of late and the city is in great financial shape. When he runs he will do just fine, with or without the ECDems support.
Tuesday night was a train wreck. And on the local Democratic scene, I’d hazard to guess that it’s the first of many train wrecks to come, unless things downtown change in a hurry. “Bile. Hatred. Retribution.” Discard that mantra for good and perhaps things will start to improve.