There’s already much hand-wringing, finger-pointing and abject denials in the wake of Susan Zimet’s nominating petitions for state Assembly being rejected by the state Board of Elections last Friday. Losing is never easy.
Let’s examine the petition process. For all the declarations, announcements, nominations and acceptance speeches that lead up to it, a candidacy is not legal until sufficient signatures on nominating petitions have been certified. The process is quite specific, as it should be. A member of a political party can sign only one petition. It has to be dated and witnessed at the time of signature.
A common practice is to leave nominating petitions at places frequented by the public. Signatures are later “witnessed,” albeit illegally. There are horror stories about signatures being rejected for dots and crosses, nicknames and the like. By and large, however, it is the sincere intent of the signer that matters these days. The onus is on the challenger.
The petition process has evolved over time. When I was a young reporter, we would hear stories about “kitchen petitions,” whereby politicians of both parties would go over enrollment lists, usually in the privacy of their homes, and affix signatures. If the family cat could write, she got on the petition. Since both sides were willing to look the other way, nobody complained. Besides, went the logic, the voters will decide at election.
Of late, Republicans have been stricter on voter registration matters, Democrats more tolerant. As usual with politics, inclinations are determined by numbers. Republicans don’t have the numbers, so they challenge a lot. Democrats know a certain percentage of their new enrollees won’t show up at the polls, so they sign up more.
Zimet should have been grateful to her opponent, incumbent Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, and the state legislature for making the petition process even easier (though she won’t be). Until this election, petitioners had to secure at least 5 percent of the number of persons who had voted in the previous gubernatorial election in a particular district.
In Cahill’s district, which includes about 19,000 Rhinebeck and Red Hook residents, that magic number would have been over 2,000 signatures. “We made it a uniform 500 [regardless of gubernatorial turnout] to make it easier to get on the ballot,” Cahill explained, apparently with no thought of Zimet in mind at the time.
But even 500 (she collected about 640, and had 175 rejected) seemed for Zimet upon formal challenge a bridge too far.
Cahill, for the record, allowed others to carry his water on the petition challenge — Otia Lee of Shandaken, Judy Hakim of Marbletown and Working Families Party luminary Jen Fuentes in Kingston. But for Cahill to play the innocent bystander with his career on the line requires a willful suspension of disbelief. Or as Jack Nicholson said in A Few Good Men, “You’re damned right I called a Code Red!” Cahill remains the man behind a transparent fig leaf.
Zimet is now a candidate without a line and therefore officially toast. Cahill has the Working Families line, Republican Kevin Roberts has the Conservative. The Independence Party endorsed Cahill, but he lost it to challenges by former legislator Jack Hayes and former comptroller candidate Linda McDonough, among others. Indies will not fill that line, to Cahill’s relief.
Zimet, spurred on by her chief ally and major Cahill enemy Mike Hein, will not fade away. Does she ever? This is getting ahead of the curve, but could a county job be in the offing next year, perhaps as special assistant to the executive for state legislative affairs?
They don’t know Jack
The Cahill-Zimet finale reminds me of the advice golfer Jack Nicklaus said his father gave him as a boy. When you lose, he told the future champion — and even the great Nicklaus lost over 85 percent of the time — look your opponent in the eye, shake his hand, congratulate him and mean it.
That ain’t happening here, but at least sore losers make great copy.
“The people are getting exactly what they deserve!” one guy said.
“Damned media,” said a losing judicial candidate’s brother.
“I can’t believe I lost to the town clown,” whined a council hopeful. Ironically, the guy who said that actually looked like a clown, complete with Bozo nose.
Can’t say the numbers on nominating petitions rung up by candidates for Family Court came as a huge surprise, though the total signatures gathered by John Beisel, long-time court magistrate and eminently qualified, were disappointing. Beisel’s could be the classic case of bringing a knife to a gunfight. His opponents seem better at politics, which at this stage matters more than qualifications.
Off the petition process, it would seem a two-horse race for the Democratic nomination between Kevin Bryant, who totaled 1,176 signatures before declining the 62 he gathered on the Conservative line, and Gilda Riccardi, another Family Court denizen, who totaled 1009. Republican Keri Savona made a credible showing with 661 signers on her party line, 109 more than Beisel drew from Democrats.
In terms of political experience, Bryant, 45, is the newbie in the field. It shows. Why he sought endorsements from the diametrically and bitterly opposite Working Families Party and Conservative Party is anybody’s guess. He said he told Cons he appreciates their right-to-life position since he has a 19-year-old daughter and a seven-week-old grandchild. When WFPs asked about choice, he told them he would uphold the law as a sitting judge. Working Families seemed okay with that.
The Conservatives, lead by party Chairman Ed Gaddy, went all-out for Savona, 38 and the mother of four young children. She won that petition battle 104-62, even though the Conservative executive committee endorsed Bryant 6-2; his declination left the Conservative line to Savona.
Putting his best foot forward in what is now shaping up as a testy campaign, Bryant says the incident is evidence he will be open to all points of view as a judge.