Friday, March 18, 2011

Local Politics Notes

 Tuesday’s village elections in GreeneLand, and elsewhere, were noteworthy for the absence of contests, and of voters. Tannersville alone offered a choice between candidates.  That came about after a trio of newcomers pulled a surprise on the incumbent mayor and two trustees, by bringing a few friends to the local Democratic caucus and winning that party’s nominations.  Mayor Lee McGunnigle and one of the trustees, Gregory Landers, responded by rounding up signatures in support of putting them on the ballot as Watchful Eye Party candidates.  Mr McGunnigle then out-polled Jason Dugo in the mayoral race, 109-58 (according to The Daily Mail), while Mr Landers led the trustee candidates, with newcomer Christopher Hack winning the second board seat and Jeremiah Dixon finishing out of the running. 
In Catskill’s election, trustee Joseph Kozloski, a Democrat who was cross-endorsed by the Republican committee, won re-election without contest, as did village justice William Wooton, an enrolled Republican who was cross-endorsed by the Democratic committee.  Thirty-seven votes were cast.
In Hunter, similarly, mayor William Maley won re-election without contest, receiving 33 of the 36 votes that were cast.
In Coxsackie, 135 voters went through the motions, returning Mayor Mark Evans to office along with trustees (and fellow Republicans) Stephen Hanse and Paul Sutton.
In Athens, Mayor Andrea Smallwood coasted to unchallenged victory along with fellow Democrats Robert June (incumbent trustee) and Anthony Patsky (successor to Tom Sopris, who opted not to run for re-election).  Fifty-two votes, according to The Daily Mail, were cast.
ELSEWHERE in the mid-Hudson region (as reported in Daily Freeman and Times Union), contested elections also were the exception rather than the norm.  In Rhinebeck, Red Hook and Tivoli, among other Dutchess County villages, candidates for local office (mayor, trustee, and/or judge) gained office without opposition. To the south of us, in Saugerties, the incumbent mayor won re-election without opposition, while four candidates vied for three village trustee offices.  Over in Tivoli, again, the ballot paper offered voters one candidate for mayor and one each for two board seats. To the north, similarly, elections without choices between candidates occurred in Ballston Spa, Round Lake, Altamon, Voorheesville, Castleton East, Schaghticoke, Glens Falls….

CONSEQUENCES?  The absence of contests in Athens may be especially remarkable, given a recent history of inter-party and inter-personal clashes.  It evidently prompted a local resident to scold local Republicans for “not running any candidates to oppose the incumbent positions that are up for re-election” and to dilate broadly on the functions of electoral contestation.  “When both parties run candidates for a common position,” said this citizen (Daily Mail, 3/4/11, verbatim), “the voters can expresses his or her feelings by voting for the candidate of their choice, and the one that will represent them the best.” “Politicians may not always do what ever voters feels is in their best interest, this is why the voter should always have a choice of the candidates running that office.  This is also that voters way to keep the incumbent candidates in check which will be evident by the ratio between votes cast for each individual.”  The author did not say why he did not file his own candidacy.  Neither did he address the option of writing in a candidate’s name.

ANOMALY FILE.  Demonstrated in those village “races” was a quaint feature of election law in this State.  It is the requirement that in order to appear on the ballot, every candidate must pretend to be the nominee of a political party.  On the ballot, each candidate’s name appears not only in a column devoted to aspirants for a given office, but also on a horizontal party line.  Thus, in order to appear on the ballot, a would-be candidate (or his friends) must round up voters’ signatures on supportive petitions AND those petitions must brand her as prospective nominee of a supposed local aggregation of Democratic, Republican, Conservative, Working Families or other co-partisans.  Then, when several kinds of offices are to be filled (Governor, Treasurer, Judge, Assemblyman, Highway Superintendent, Coroner…), the ballot provides a column for each office (read down for each gubernatorial candidate) and a line (read across) for all Democratic candidates, another line for Republican candidates, and so on.  From this there is no escape.
     Some people, however, are unable or unwilling to run for office wearing the familiar party brands, Democratic and Republican.  In more than a few cases, especially at the local level, candidates want to avoid assumptions and stereotypes that are apt to be triggered in voters’ minds by those labels.  They solve the problem by gathering petitions that make them the nominees of elusive, nominal aggregations.  Thus, last Tuesday elections in mid-Hudson villages brought victories not only for some Democrats and some Republicans, but also for champions of the Vibrant Village, Citizens, NOP, Tivoli First, Rhinebeck First, Justice, New Vision, Home and Watchful Eye parties.The results, with those affiliations cited, were duly reported in the Press.  Readers were invited accordingly to impute meaning—ideological significance? policy orientations?—to those labels.
      Such misdirection can easily be forestalled.  The method consists simply of  eliminating party designations from the ballots.  
NEW FACE.  The seat in GreeneLand’s legislature that was vacated by the resignation in January of Durham representative Sean Frey has finally been filled. The new member is Patricia Handel, who operates, along with husband Roy, the Blackthorne Resort.  Ms Handel was nominated (after a lengthy delay) by members of the Republican Party committee of District 9, and then appointed by vote of the legislators.  In the best of worlds, the new appointee would have been the joint nominee of District 9 Democrats as well as Republicans. The incumbent legislators could have insisted on that process of selection, in light of the facts that Mr Frey was elected as a Democrat while enrolled Republicans are numerically preponderant in the district.  In that case, the appointment could not have been treated so readily, so reductively, as another stage of party-political warfare.  That treatment was exemplified in the Daily Mail story (Colin DeVries; 3/17/11) holding that Ms Handel’s selection “furthers the power of the county legislature’s Republican majority, which now has nine seats over the Democrats’ five.”

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