The Eagle’s View: Legislative seats contested in Saugerties

Chris Allen and Mary Wawro.

Two years ago, Saugerties’ three incumbent county legislators ran without serious opposition.

Registered Conservative Mary Wawro was cross-endorsed by Republicans and unopposed. Democratic legislator Democrat Chris Allen won the Republican primary and breezed to victory. Republican Dean Fabiano (whose district also includes part of the Town of Ulster) was crossed-endorsed by the Democrats in his comfortable win.

This year each of the incumbents will face major-party opposition.


In Wawro’s first run in a new legislative district in 2011, she garnered 49 percent of the vote to her Democratic opponent’s 42 percent. An Independence Party candidate got the remaining nine percent of the tally, 183 votes. Had the Democrat won the Independence line, it’s possible the Democrats could have won the seat that year.

In 2013, Wawro captured the Independence line, with its 176 votes. Had her Democratic opponent that year gotten the Independence line, it would have been a close race.

Former school board member Michael MacIssac has thrown his hat into the ring this time around as the Democratic candidate against Wawro. Running for the school board is different than running for political office.

Most candidates need to go door-to-door and greet constituents. Wawro is a pro at that. Races for the school board are often devoid of issues. Political races challenging an incumbent’s record can require convincing voters to change their minds.

Newcomer Democrat Chris Allen shocked the local political world in 2013 by defeating a strong incumbent. Two years later, he secured his re-election by running in and winning the Republican primary contest, obtaining both major party lines.

Allen, who seems to be running for election almost every day, will face Joseph Maloney in November.  Maloney operates a liquor store in town and recently moved to the district.

Republican Dean Fabiano has run without opposition since 2011.  Democrats put up Ron Miller. We’ll have to see whether his is a serious campaign.


Primary concerns

The system of selecting delegates to our national presidential conventions is convoluted. Different factions with their own agendas and ideas on how candidates should be selected have given us a modern-day convention puzzle.

Historically, Republican and Democratic Party elites largely picked the presidential candidates. The term “smoke-filled rooms” was appropriate. After 1968, when Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic candidate without running in a single primary, significant changes were made. The major parties pressed for reforms to their delegate selection processes and convention rules.

Each state is allowed leeway on how it conducts its caucuses and primaries. Some allow open primaries, where voters not registered in the party holding the primary are allowed to vote in it.

Although delegate rules changes have made the process more democratic (that’s a small “d”), the influence of political party elites continues. At last year’s Democratic conventions, almost 15% of its delegates didn’t come out of the caucus-primary system. These superdelegates consisted of federal legislators, state party representatives and other Democratic leaders.

Republicans had a much lower number of superdelegates. Each state included three ranking state officials, who made up about seven percent of the GOP total delegate count. These Republican superdelegates had much less influence than their Democratic counterparts.  Republican superdelegates at the convention had to vote the way their state did in the presidential primary. Democratic superdelegates were free to vote their own mind, and often voted more for establishment-type candidates than outsiders.


Local primaries

Saugerties Conservative Party chairman George Heidcamp had an interesting take in a recent letter to the editor on county legislature candidates who wanted to get their name on the November ballot by collecting voter signatures to face off in a primary election in September. He said that candidates challenging in a primary were trying to “circumvent the political process” and “steal the endorsement away” from the candidates endorsed by “the Conservative Party.”

In this case, “the Conservative Party” to which he referred were the few superdelegates who made the decision to endorse certain candidates. Is letting the voters’ voices be heard directly rather than relying on decisions made in smoke-filled rooms circumventing the process? No, it’s opening the process up to greater participation, which election law legally encourages.

Republican Party chairman Joe Roberti Jr., in an unrelated letter, pointed out that the Republican town committee had voted in favor of switching selecting their town candidates from a caucus to a primary system to encourage more participation.  Way to go!

In my view, Democratic committee chairman Lanny Walter should consider the same for his party.