We get press and web releases almost every day from the local congressional campaigns of John Faso and Zephyr Teachout, usually from surrogates attacking the other side. Sometimes I wonder whether we’re voting for the flacks and spinners. There’s nothing like live, face-to-face action to bring out real bile.
Sitting cheek to cheek at their first “debate” last week at a WAMC-sponsored event in Albany, Republican Faso and Democrat Teachout got in some good digs, however familiar those digs may have sounded. Unless someone commits some egregious gaffe, like forgetting the names of cities in Syria, seldom do winners and losers emerge from these kinds of events.
At the least, both candidates showed they could take a punch as they sat only a few feet apart. From the battle-tested Faso one would expect as much. That Teachout in her first live confrontation with Faso — she was never able to run down the elusive Andrew Cuomo in their 2014 primary — stood up well speaks to fiber, resolve and toughness. In those respects, Faso, tested in the crucible of the Assembly minority gulag, is no pushover.
The candidates also showed clever footwork so common to the trade. Associated Press reporters covering the event complained that both ducked direct questions to rehash campaign slogans, but everybody does that. It is the duty of media to bore in for answers to legitimate questions. Hopefully, upcoming presidential debates will produce more light than heat.
The congressional foes will face off at the Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce breakfast on September 29 at Best Western Hotel. Chamber rules of engagement discourage rude behavior, though the occasional hostile question from plants in the audience can throw candidates off message. Time constraints limit the program to but a few subjects and even fewer questions.
Campaign watchers eagerly await the first Siena Institute congressional poll, due out, sources suggest, around the first week in October. Siena, most will recall, nailed the local primaries in June.
Assuming Teachout gets a nice bump from the Bernie Sanders rally and its attendant massive publicity, I’m predicting she’ll poll four or five points ahead, about the same as a late-August poll taken by the national Democratic campaign committee. An internal Faso poll in early August showed him up five points. In both cases, we should consider the source.
A second Siena poll, probably in mid to late October, should be more definitive.
McGinty by the numbers
Since absentee ballot counts typically mirror machine results, it is very likely Sara McGinty’s unofficial 273-vote win over Sharon Graff in the Democratic primary for county surrogate’s court judge will survive the 658 ballots the elections board was scheduled to canvas on Wednesday. Official results could take a day or two, assuming the courts don’t get involved. Graff would have to take over 70 percent of the absentees to win, compared to her 46 percent on machines.
Election-night machine tallies were the product of returns from 81 polling places spread throughout the county and posted that night on the county website. For that we are grateful. But the elections board insists it cannot release returns from individual polling places at the same time. It’s all unofficial, they say. Of course, so are the collective tallies they do post. Many voters like to know the next day (or sooner) how their candidate fared in their town.
That seems of little concern to the board. Fortunately, there are other sources.
The election-night tally, as released, showed McGinty with 53.4 percent of the vote in extremely light voting. A primary usually turns out about 15 percent of party members, sometimes 20. Bernie and Hillary Clinton lit it up in last April’s presidential primary with almost half.
The largely ignored surrogate court primary attracted fewer than 10 percent of eligible voters. Taking Kingston, where about 500 votes were cast, out of the mix, fully staffed and publicly financed polling places in the county averaged fewer than 50 customers each. In many places, poll workers resembled Maytag repairmen.
Rosendale, home to both candidates, might have been a wash, except that McGinty has lived there for decades, Graff for only a few years. At ground level, those things matter. McGinty was twice elected town justice and practices law in the former village. Her husband Tony is a two-term family court judge. Rosendalians like to vote for McGintys. Her 97-vote win at the Main Street polling place came as no surprise.
In Kingston, Graff took off to a strong initial lead in part because city returns came in early. With 40 percent of the vote posted online, she had a 100-vote advantage. A well-known Kingston attorney, she ended up carrying the city by an underwhelming 52 votes out of more than 500 cast.
Some hinterlands were McGinty country. New Paltz gave the winner a 72-vote margin, though almost nobody voted on campus. Gardiner added 12 more. Lloyd went for Graff by 19. Saugerties, in light voting, backed Graff, 82-71. Woodstock, with about half Kingston’s registered Democrats, turned out 326 voters to give Graff a 46-vote edge.
The race wasn’t decided in the Rondout Valley, but it got testy. It seems Graff had represented a local property owner in a long-running land dispute with the Mohonk Preserve. That she was only doing her job as an attorney was apparently lost on an aroused electorate, some of whom considered her “anti-Mohonk.” Unofficial returns from Marbletown gave McGinty an 83-vote win, with more than 300 ballots cast.
Going forward, Graff hasn’t said whether she will actively campaign on the three lines she still carries: Working Families, Green Party and Women’s Equality. It probably won’t matter, as those three lines will be easily offset by Republican Peter Matera’s Conservative, Independence and Reform Party lines.
At 45 and with a credible campaign behind her — she showed impressive organizational talent and work ethic — Graff would seem to have a bright future ahead of her. Acting as spoiler in a race Democrats don’t take for granted but believe they should win with their 12,000 enrolment advantage, will not stand her in good stead.
The unsinkable Sara lost her party’s nomination at convention in June and bucked the party for a convincing primary win. If nothing else, the dismal turnout expressed widespread aversion to politics.
People will not rush to the polls this November to vote for surrogate judge, in any event. They have bigger fish to fry.
“He played the Garden to thousands a few months ago, and now he’s playing The Chance,” observed an attendee after the Bernie Sanders-Zephyr Teachout rally in New Paltz last week. The remark reinforced the notion that this, the largest local political rally in living memory, was more about the candidate that was than the one that is, even if they be ideological twins.
The Garden is of course Madison Square, the big time. The Chance is a 500-seat venue in midtown Poughkeepsie where musical careers are either born or die.
By consensus crowd count, some 1,300 placard-waving, cheering believers attended the late-morning New Paltz rally under sunny skies. Most, I suspect, were there to see Sanders in the flesh. “Bernie! Bernie!” they yelled, even if the rally was meant to convert some of that latent enthusiasm into “Zephyr! Zephyr!”
Sanders, who has helped raise substantial sums for Teachout, made every effort to redirect former supporters to the congressional campaign now entering its final stages. If it works, Teachout can cruise.
By an odd coincidence, reminiscent of Richard Nixon being in Dallas the day of the assassination, Republican foe John Faso was visiting a New Paltz firehouse that morning. With Teachout fist-pumping 1,300 zealots, Faso was soberly discussing issues with a handful of firemen less than a mile away.
While Faso bravely attempted to spin the event as one left-winger rallying for another, the enthusiastic turnout has to give pause. I rather doubt that John Faso can find anybody, short of Donald Trump, to attract a thousand people to a backwater rally. Maybe he doesn’t have to.
That the ghost of Bernie Sanders yet lingers was evidenced by the almost two-to-one victory of Sanders presidential delegate Kelleigh McKenzie of Rosendale over Karen Markisensis of Kingston for a state Democratic committee post. Though the Cahill Assembly district comprises about two-thirds of the county, McKenzie polled 140 more votes than Graff did running countywide. For McKenzie, it was an amazing win. For the county committee that endorsed Markisensis, it was an embarrassment.