Sunday, November 01, 2009
Local Elections III. Case Notes
LEXINGTON’s election can be of special interest to outsiders on account of an incident mentioned briefly in The Daily Mail (10/20, by Michael Ryan, a persistently lucid source of information about mountaintop matters). -----What does “to represent” mean? What is the duty of an elected official toward her constituents? A reason to ponder those questions was provided on the occasion of controversy over whether the erection of a big cell tower—of specified dimensions, in a certain place, under specified conditions—should be authorized by Lexington’s governing council. Dixie Lou Baldrey, the incumbent Supervisor (and a candidate for re-election this Tuesday) voted No. She did so, she said, despite a “personal” judgment that the tower project, on balance, would be good for Lexington. Since most of Lexington’s people evidently were opposed to the project, she said, her negative vote fulfilled her duty to represent the people. -----The episode deserves sustained classroom discussion. -----Ms Baldrey is being challenged for re-election by Republican Greg Cross, who lost the supervisor’s office to her in 2007 by 48 votes. -----Seats on Lexington’s Council are being contested by Democrats Maurice Nelson and Mary Cline, and by Republicans John Berger Jr and Glenn Howard, as well as Susan Jo Falke, on the Conservative line (along with Berger). In The Daily Mail’s “Election 2009” guide, only Ms Cline and Mr Howard are profiled (probably because the other candidates did not submit material). JEWETT on Tuesday could undergo, as journalist Michael Ryan says (Daily Mail, 10/30/09), a political “seismic shift.” Local Democrats refused at their August caucus to re-nominate long-serving Town Supervisor Michael Flaherty, their own chairman and a mountaintop party leader. So Mr Flaherty was forced, in effect, into retirement. His replacement as nominee for Supervisor, Georgette Kraus, falls short of the Republican nominee, Carol Muth, by every standard test of qualification. CAIRO is noteworthy in the 2010 election season for what is not happening, namely, conflict. Both occupants of the Town’s two seats in the legislature, Harry Lennon and William Lawrence, are standing for re-election, are unopposed and, while being Democratic/Inde-pendence and Republican standard-bearers, are both listed on the ballot on the Conservative line. As for the offices of supervisor, town justice, town council and tax collector, each is a one-candidate election, most of the candidates are incumbents, and all the candidates appear on the Republican and Conservative lines. -----The apparent political harmony is out of character. Cairo residents are seasoned political brawlers (intra-party, inter-party, extra-party). The absence of electoral competition this year can be traced mainly to a decision by the organized Democrats, under new chairman Mike Coyne, to pass up this year’s trials. That decision puzzled observers, and it caught Town Councilor Alice Tunison by surprise. Ms Tunison had announced her intention to not seek re-election, and had assumed that her fellow Democrats would endorse a replacement candidate. When she learned that there would be no Democratic candidate for Council, she opted back in, to the extent of launching a spirited write-in campaign. (See www.tunisonforcairo.com ) Mr Coyne’s puzzling decision to avoid the local fray in 2009 cannot be ascribed to a paucity of party spirit or combativeness. Mr Coyne is a veteran campaigner on the Democratic side, including salaried full-time operations. Stay tuned. DURHAM shares with Greenville and Catskill the distinction of hosting a super-heated November election battle. At the same time, Durham differs from all other GreeneLand towns in that, while six kinds of offices are to be filled on Tuesday, only one is subject to contest; and that one contest is three-cornered. -----Incumbent county legislator Sean Frey is standing for re-election while at the same time all the other elective local offices (now Republican-held) are uncontested. Mr Frey, as the Democratic and Independence Party nominee, is being challenged byElsie Allan, the Republican and Conservative standard-bearer, and by Leslie Armstrong, champion of the Grassroots of Durham Party. -----Mr Armstrong ran for the seat in 2006 as the Republican nominee (in a three-way contest), but was edged out by Mr Frey by 11 votes. He sought to be renominated by the local Republican committee for this campaign, but was edged out by Ms Allen. He then circulated petitions aimed at bringing about a Republican primary election contest in September. Republican Party chief Brent Bogardus challenged the validity those petitions, and won the case. Mr Armstrong then collected signatures, with all procedural requirements observed, to establish his Grassroots candidacy. ----Among features of recent campaigning is an unsigned mailer attacking Mr Frey’s “record of fiscal responsibility” chiefly by citing his own parlous personal finances. The Frey campaign responded with a recorded telephone message damning the mailer and ascribing it, more or less explicitly, to both of his rivals. Mr Armstrong in turn put out a message dissociating himself from the mailer, imputing it to Allen headquarters (its mailing permit number, he noted, was the same as the number on an earlier ‘positive’ Allen mailer), and damning the Frey camp for implicating him in “this smear piece.” -----For his part, Mr Armstrong has circulated a Durham Deserves Better tract that is most immediately an attack on the performance of recent Town Councils. The attack consists of drawing a contrast: “Durham taxes are higher and the services provided are lower then in comparable communities across New York State.” On behalf of that thesis, Mr Armstrong cites figures on local Durham taxes per capita relative to the “upstate New York small town average” and dollar outlays by Durham’s governors for various services (health, sanitation, recreation…) compared with averages for the other small towns. -----Durham’s dismal record, Mr Armstrong argues, discredits the Frey and Allen candidacies. Mr Frey “in 2007 actively campaigned for the Town Board members who have been doing this to us -- and now in 2009 his party failed to give us a single candidate to run for a Town Board seat to deal with this waste and greed.” Ms Allen “is the chair of the [Republican] party that is responsible” for the history of misgovernment. -----The figures cited in Durham Deserves Better are ascribed to the State Comptroller’s office, but they are not properly sourced and they can be faulted as indicators. What is more, making an incumbent county legislator and a local Republican chairman equally culpable for the alleged failures of local governance is a stretch. But the basic effort here—approaching candidates by looking at local government performance, looking at performance by comparing a community’s tax burdens per capita and services delivered per capita relative to other communities—surely is rare, and rational, and admirable. -----Mr Frey has been endorsed by Daily Mail management, on the basis of the grants for Durham projects that he helped to procure, along with “some good ideas and a pugnacious style.” -----Mr Amstrong’s presence on the ballot could prove to be Mr Frey’s political salvation.