Say what you will about retiring the Republican state senators John Bonacic and Bill Larkin, but they brought home the bacon. According to an article in this week’s Times Herald-Record, the deep-dipping duo funneled some $15 million across 166 grants since 2013. This was only for the main former-member-item program established five years ago to replace the grants dispensed at the discretion of leadership in the state Senate and the Assembly, used to keep members in line in Albany and to make sure they’re re-elected back home.
Senate Republicans give it to all their members, along with a handful of breakaway Democrats (recently reunited with the mothership). Not a dime went to rank-and-file Democratic senators. It was like those legislators represented a different state.
I’m reminded of the time former state senator Dick Schermerhorn, under felony federal indictment for mail fraud, money laundering and the like, lost to an unknown undertaker from Port Jervis. “He won’t get a spoonful of blacktop,” declared the soon-to-be-convicted senior senator. Indeed. Art Gray, the only Democrat to represent the district in modern times, didn’t even get a district office for six months, or re-elected.
Assembly Democrats allow $100,000 to Republican minority members. The rest they disperse among themselves.
The $15 million over five years for the departing senators is nowhere near the real total. For instance, Bonacic helped secure hundreds of millions of dollars for SUNY New Paltz construction over that period. This secretive, clandestine process directly or indirectly preserves majority members. With Larkin and Bonacic headed for the exits come January, what will happen next? It won’t be the Billy and John Show, decades of service in and for the majority, but it may not be so bad.
Democrats can’t control the state Senate unless they take more upstate seats. Most vulnerable are the ones being vacated by veteran Republicans. Lots of grants are likely to be directed toward those swing districts.
Blue on blue
That blue wave which Democratic candidates are counting on to sweep them into state and federal offices this year hit a minor sea wall in last month’s special election for Pete Lopez’s old Assembly seat. A Republican narrowly won.
Democrats will say that Schoharie’s Chris Tague’s 161-vote victory in a heavily Republican district over Greene County’s Aidan O’Connor was almost too close to call; politicians can spin election results in myriad directions. In this case, they’ll conveniently overlook the 1,913 votes independent Wes Laraway, an enrolled Schoharie Republican, polled. Without Laraway, a good percentage of those votes would have gone to Tague or stayed home. For upland Republicans, voting for a Democrat would have been akin to voting for Jefferson Davis.
Strange things can happen in multiple-candidate races. We will no doubt rediscover this in the Democratic congressional primary on June 26.
Saugerties, with more than 15 percent of the 102nd Assembly District’s population, is the most populous town in the sprawling north-by-northwest district. Given a choice among three unknowns (to them) from somewhere over the rainbow in a rare special election on April 24, 83 percent of Sawyers did not vote, according to the board of elections. Overall turnout in the district was five points higher, which says something about Republican sustenance.
The 17 percent in Saugerties was about average for a primary, but in this special election every enrolled voter was eligible to cast a ballot. With Democrats accounting for some 55 percent of major-party enrolled voters in Saugerties, O’Connor buried Tague by 602 votes, 1,381 to 779. Laraway got just 19 votes.
The blue wave crested in Saugerties, but Tague prevailed in the rest of the district.
There are parallels here that the congressional candidates should consider. A candidate can win handily in Democrat-dominated Ulster — like O’Connor in Saugerties — but lose the election in the rest of the district. It happened that way in the congressional contest between Zephyr Teachout and John Faso in 2016. But that was a different era.
These political realities speak to campaign strategies. What good in the long run does it do a Democrat to veer too far left in a primary and therefore lose credibility with a more moderate if conservative larger constituency in the general election?
That said, a Democrat doesn’t get to the general unless he or she embraces the progressive wing of the party. It’s a conundrum most Democratic candidates have been wrestling with for more than a year.
Meanwhile Chris Tague is committed to the general election. Given the special-election results, I would expect that he’ll face a familiar opponent with a more upstate focus.
Tague officially joined the Assembly minority after being certified last week. “It’s long past time we had someone who is one of us,” he said in a press release. How quickly Pete Lopez is forgotten. Former assemblyman Lopez was quintessentially and tirelessly a man of the people, “one of us,” in other words. He resigned in early October for a job with the EPA, which come to think of it, isn’t that long ago.
Sign of the Z
Remember Zorro, “that bold renegade” who carves a “Z” with his blade? Could it be that Z also stands for Zephyr?
Yes, Zephyr Teachout is back. After losing elections in 2014 and 2016, the downstate law professor who resides near Rhinebeck has thrown her well-worn hat in the ring for state attorney general, along with a phalanx of other Democratic hopefuls. Currently, Teachout is also campaign treasurer for gubernatorial hopeful Cynthia Nixon.
I find Teachout’s chances either very good or very bad. The Democratic-controlled state legislature will make the decision. There are 213 votes in play, all told, with at least 135 Democrats. Assembly Democrats hold about 100 seats. Game, set, match to the Assembly.
On paper, one would assume that Zephyr Teachout would be the last choice for any state Democrat, considering she’s taken on Andrew Cuomo twice in the last four years as a primary candidate and now as Nixon’s money manager.
Assembly Democrats by and large don’t like Cuomo, which is putting it mildly. Might they, in a mischievous mood, advance Teachout just to get in Cuomo’s thin-skinned face? Or will they consider Teachout an outlander better left in the wilderness? I doubt the former, but it is an option delicious to contemplate nonetheless.
Speaking of strange, Sean Patrick Mahoney, shoo-in congressman from Cold Spring, did one of the quickest about-faces recently seen in declaring for attorney general and then dropping out, all in about 48 hours. Mahoney offered no explanation for his sudden change of heart. I’d guess a few well-placed phone calls with Assembly leadership did it.
After Schneiderman, what?
Like the petals pink and white wafting from flowering trees, fallout continues from the now-infamous Eric Schneiderman appearance at a county Democratic women-sponsored spring brunch on May 6. Sponsors claimed 270 attendees. More than a few Democrats speculated that Schneiderman knew well the charges against him of physical abuse of at least four women being detailed in a New Yorker magazine article the next day. And yet he appeared at a women-sponsored function.
Coincidentally, Gov. Cuomo railed against “Republican hypocrisy” that morning at a blue-wave appearance in Kingston. A pox, I say, on all their houses.
As usual, Schneiderman singled out a few worthies in the audience for mention. Assembly primary candidate Abe Uchitelle was not one of them, even if it was his 30th birthday that Sunday.
“Did he sing happy birthday to you?” I asked the candidate, who was walking his dog in Kingston’s Stockade early Tuesday morning. “Thank God, no!” he responded.
I also asked the first-time candidate how many votes he expected to get at the party’s unofficial nominating convention this coming Monday at the Best Western in Kingston. “Why, all of them, of course,” he said. The dog remained silent.
I admire the young man’s bravura, but 10-term incumbent Kevin Cahill, 62, will not go quietly into the night.
Ulster County Republicans convene on May 30 at 7 p.m., also at the Best Western in Kingston.