Vegas isn’t offering odds on this year’s unopposed Ulster County races, Republican Nina Postupack for county clerk and Democrat Elliott Auerbach for county comptroller. It’s no contest, of course, just bragging rights for who runs up the highest vote total.
To me, unopposed races represent a failure of our two-party system. At best, it rewards a stellar official with a free ride after long service. At worst, it’s a result of backdoor conniving between political leaders to deprive people of a choice.
Former congressman Maurice Hinchey wasn’t unopposed for reelection over 38 years. He liked nothing more than a good, old-fashioned political slugfest. Even a nobody with no money gets a third of the vote just for being on the ballot, he once told me. A third of a county voting pool is a lot of people who don’t get a chance to choose.
Four years ago Postupack had no opposition and polled 32,000 votes, but only 14,324 on the Republican line. Auerbach, running against an over-matched Linda McDonough, got 24,000 votes. Her Republican total was almost the same as Postupack’s, suggesting both a floor and a ceiling.
Recent reports on enrollment from the board of elections should give Republicans pause. Democrats increased their ranks by almost 7000, compared to the GOP’s 1000 and change. A near 7-1 Democratic growth since 2015 over Republicans indicates the Grand Old Party might be near-extinct in a generation unless it goes on a massive — and successful — recruitment drive. Down the years, that’s never been in the GOP DNA.
Seven thousand new Democrats doesn’t mean people are flocking to the county, tales of “Brooklyn north” migration notwithstanding. Ulster’s overall population has been just about flat since 9/11, according to census officials. A mid-census projection indicated a slight decrease in population.
So where are these new Democrats coming from? Better-staffed think tanks might poll non-enrollees — NOPs (Not Of Party), as they’re called. NOPs totaled 33,485 this month, down a few hundred from pre-presidential 2015. It would appear people are shifting from neutral to Democrat.
Getting out the vote
By the numbers (or is it buy the numbers?), Democrats have significant enrollment advantages over Republicans almost everywhere except for Republican strongholds in Shawangunk and Plattekill and in Greene, Delaware, Columbia and Schoharie counties. And no, there are no plans that I am aware of to change the name of Columbia to Indigenous Peoples County.
The problem for the Democrats is that they don’t turn out for off-year elections, and nothing is more off-year than local elections. It’s a paradox. Voters don’t seem to care much about the elected official who controls their property taxes or rezoning for a rendering plant across the street, but they really care about who runs for president.
The effect is to level the field between the major parties. I’ve talked to half a dozen Democratic candidates who say (almost exactly), “If we can get out our vote, we can win.”
This year, that might be more likely than in most years, a confluence of storms, as it were. Widespread discontent with Washington, especially among Democrats, could launch some off the couch on Election Day, if only to shake a fist at the feds.
As most folks are more inclined to vote against something than in favor, disgruntled Republicans might prefer to take an off day. The gap narrows.
We’ll be watching carefully on election night the race for state supreme court between Democrat Julian Schreibman of Ulster and Republican Peter Crummey of Colonie.
Schreibman, with a strong showing in Ulster and with a huge enrollment advantage in the capital district, should cruise. But Crummey is that Supreme Court anomaly, a capital-district Republican with deep roots in the community. He tells me his grandfather, an Irish immigrant, operated the Crummey Bakery (for real) in downtown Albany for years. With a name like that, it had to be good. His grandson is a town of Colonie justice.
My guess is that Washington backlash could wash out more than a few marginal Republicans this year. We’ll see.
Some people feel that if they voted for a losing candidate or proposition they’ve “wasted their vote.” Not me. Votes count, and politicians count them carefully. Defeat may be an orphan, but defeat can influence public policy.
I’m for a constitutional convention (Con-Con), and I’m not overly worried that we’ll lose vital environmental protections or pensions for state workers who had honorably earned them. The people who killed this proposition will have just as much influence if a convention were to be held. Besides, voters get the last word.
On the perverse side, it amuses me to see so-called “reformers” twisting in the wind as they oppose or remain neutral on what could be the biggest reset in state government in almost 80 years. For some, that’s the main issue.
Buried in a deluge of special-interest money, the proposition to hold a constitutional convention will go down on November 7. But mitigating factors might give the establishment pause. Turnout and margin matter. If a representative number of voters cast ballots — something more than half those eligible — and maybe 40 percent of those vote yes, the needle might move.
I’m not betting on it.
Here and there
What’s in a name? Plenty, for two Republicans named Maloney running in adjoining legislative districts in Ulster and Saugerties. Ulster’s Jim Maloney, a five-termer and town assessor, is the better known. Joe Maloney (sometimes called Jim in the papers) is a first-time challenger in a central Saugerties district currently represented by Democrat Chris Allen. Jim Maloney, facing hard-charging Democrat Laura Hartmann after several walkovers, has been forced onto the defensive. I haven’t seen such huge Maloney signs since he ran the first time. Allen usually tries to capture every line available, but was out-maneuvered when the other Maloney secured the GOP nomination at primary. As name recognition counts for much in politics, confusion over the two Maloneys can’t hurt either one.
Rich Parete, Republican-Democratic candidate for supervisor in Marbletown, says he never went to town-board meetings during 14 years as a county legislator. He said he couldn’t sit through boring stuff “like zoning and appointments.”
But town boards can be good theater, even for the occasional drop-ins.
At last week’s Ulster town-board meeting, disgruntled taxpayer Richard Graff of Stickles Terrace, complained about spending in the proposed 2018 budget. “I talk to my wife all the time, but she doesn’t listen,” he told the board as husbands in the audience exchanged knowing glances. The board listened, but could only offer sympathy.
Another member of the audience asked if “the cat law is dead,” referring to feral cat legislation. Helpless to resist an awful pun (as am I), supervisor Jim Quigley pooh-poohed the inquiry. “Let’s just say it’s been put in the litter box,” he said.
The West Point class of 1915 is called “the class the stars fell on,” owing to its extraordinary number of future generals: Ike, Van Fleet, Bradley, 59 among its 164 graduates.
Kingston High Class of 2000 also featured a few future luminaries. Graduates include Kingston mayor Steve Noble, congressional candidate Pat Ryan and aldermanic candidate Andrea Shaut. A correction on Shaut’s name: it’s not pronounced like “out,” it’s “taut,” as in a taut race with the unsinkable Deb Brown in Kingston’s Ninth Ward.
And finally. The Ulster town board’s decision to release the police dash cam on Kingston Legislator Jennifer Schwartz Berky’s traffic stop for speeding last May came too late for inclusion herein.
Having lived with behind-the-scenes maneuvering, gossip and innuendo for the better part of four months, I can offer only this for now: It was just a routine traffic stop. And Watergate was just a burglary. Details next week.