Friday, November 30, 2007

What You Get from a Monopoly

ottenchester, proprietor of The Fighting 29th blog, has begun a series examining problems with the Democrat and Chronicle:

I'm going to look at the "Gannett Way" of running a newspaper, and I'll try to understand why it's bad for the public and bad for business.
His analyses are right on the money and deserve your attention.   Check out the first three in the series:

Nothing To Be Smug About

Gannett, the D&C and "You"

The Smugtown Gazette on the Internet

Earlier this month we commented on what we call the D&C's cognitive dissonance:   the lack of discernible internal logic in their editorial positions taken as a whole.   This judgement has nothing to do with whether you like their editorials or don't like them.   You can look at New York Times editorials as a body of work and discern a coherent philosophical outlook.  Same with The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and, in our experience of them, many other newspapers.   But look at the body of work comprised of Democrat and Chronicle editorials over time and you find a chaotic patchwork of internal contradictions.  You can read our take on it here.

We've also commented recently on a breathtaking breach of ethics by the D&C, that you can read about here.

Cheers to Rottenchester for initiating this discussion, to which we look forward to contributing.


Monday, November 26, 2007

The Almanac of Monroe County Politics 2007 -- Part III

Mustard Street's Analysis of the 2007 Elections

PART III:   County-Wide Races

Our look at the significant County-wide races concludes our analysis of this year's elections.

County Executive

County Executive Maggie Brooks is the poster girl for our theory that, absent an overriding issue, it's the quality of the candidate that made the difference in the 2007 local elections. Brooks is so formidable a candidate that Democrats couldn't find anyone to oppose her. That has to do with the candidate, not the money.

Unions and the Working Families Party ponied up enough to finance full campaigns in county legislative races they considered winnable. And Democrats fielded credible candidates against Brooks's predecessor Jack Doyle even though the disparity in campaign accounts between the Democratic and Republican candidates for County Executive was as great then as it was this year. The Democrats' problem in 2007 was that Brooks's popularity is so high they couldn't find anyone to take her on. So here's our candidate, candidate, candidate theory at its extreme: a candidate so good that nobody would take the other party's nomination.

An interesting aspect of this race was that the FAIR plan arose as an issue only after it became too late for Democrats to nominate a candidate. In the election, a no-name candidate on the Working Families line was able to get 26% of the vote against Brooks. This reflects two factors. One is the absolute hard center of the core Democratic vote: the voters who will vote for any candidate on any party line who opposes the Republican. The other factor is that Brooks made a conscious decision to spend some of her political capital on the FAIR plan. So she spent it, and got 74% against a cipher instead of 94%. That's what political capital is there to be used for.

When one of the two major parties doesn't field a candidate, the ordinary voter sees it as an uncontested race. The lower total vote in the race for executive, as compared to the higher total vote for the other county-wide offices, reflects that perception.

Family Court Judge

This race pitted Republican-turned-Democrat Sid Farber, Penfield Town Justice, against Republican attorney Joseph Nesser.

Voters typically demonstrate a strong preference for a sitting judge. Nesser's impressive strengths as a candidate obliterated that preference. As a candidate for public office, he delivered a virtuoso performance. It was apparent in each key aspect of this campaign:   qualifications, work and message.

1.     Qualifications.        Nesser capitalized on the fact that there are judges ... and then there are judges. Farber is a judge in a Town Court, where (as a Nesser commercial pointed out so effectively late in the campaign) most of the docket consists of traffic tickets. The distinction between a (mostly) traffic court judge like Farber and an attorney like Nesser, who has practiced for 21 years in Family Court, was recognized early in the campaign by the Monroe County Bar Association and the Greater Rochester Association of Women Attorneys. Both rated Nesser alone as "Highly Qualified." Nesser had received earlier professional awards for excellence as a lawyer in Family Court. Farber could show nothing similar, much less anything similar that related to Family Court.

In addition, Nesser has a long-standing relationship with many of the unions that usually support the Democratic candidate. In this race they all endorsed Republican Nesser, not Democrat Farber.

2.     Work.        In Republican circles Nesser acquired the nickname "Robo-candidate."   Stated simply, for 6 months he wouldn't sit down. From May to November, at any public event with an appreciable number of people you'd see Nesser. Not limiting himself to the usual dance card of parades, summer picnics and community events, Nesser would go anywhere he could meet more people. If there wasn't a traditional campaign event on a given night, he'd perch at the turnstiles at Frontier Field or the entrance to the War Memorial, to shake hands with everybody going in. If there were no sports matches or concerts, Nesser would check movie times and show up at theaters to shake hands with everyone in the ticket line. On weekends he'd start about six-thirty in the morning at the Public Market and go right through the day until the last event ended, often late in the evening. One observer described him as "almost inhuman" in his discipline and drive:   "The ultimate campaigning machine."

Farber was conspicuously absent from even traditional campaign opportunities until the latter part of the campaign.

3.     Message.       "I'm running for Family Court to protect children."  Cut and roll credits. Repeat a hundred times a day for 6 months. That was the Nesser campaign, his stated reason for running and his mantra. He never deviated from the core message. That, plus his "highly qualified" ranking plus his 21 years in Family Court. Over and over. And over. At every appearance and in every commercial. No deviation. An amazingly disciplined performance.

Running against the Stepford candidate, Farber grew increasingly nervous as the season proceeded, finally showing up regularly at public events. He resorted to a negative ad late in the week before the election. This only gave Nesser the opening he needed to respond, hitting hard on the theme that he had spent 21 years in Family Court while Judge Farber did most of his judging on traffic cases.

In a rare loss for a sitting judge, it was Nesser over Farber 52% to 48%.

District Attorney

District Attorney Mike Green is one of the most politically interesting public figures in Monroe County. Green is a Republican who had to take the Democratic line to get elected four years ago, after the Conservative Party insisted that Republicans nominate someone else. For Monroe County Republicans, he remains their most painful lost opportunity.

Like Joseph Nesser, he demonstrates a single-minded zeal for his chosen office.

The Democratic line gets Green the City vote and his "really a Republican" status wins him the suburban Republican vote, especially in the east side towns. (Green's wife is a Republican member of the Pittsford Town Council). So he entered this year's race a presumptive favorite even before factoring in his high popularity and job approval ratings.

Republican challenger Cara Briggs was a good candidate by any measure. But she found it impossible to get traction against Green, whose sober and focused demeanor only emphasizes his obvious dedication to his office. Briggs tried to demonstrate shortcomings in Green's handling of certain categories of prosecutions, but she could never break out of the "he said-she said" stage.

Yet even if she had, the overall impression of Green as an effective and focused DA would have been sufficient to render the charges harmless. Again we revert to the qualities the candidate brings to the campaign:   if Mike Green were an actor, he's the guy they'd cast to play a serious, dedicated and competent District Attorney. That he appears to uphold those standards in real life makes him a formidable candidate. Formidable enough to turn back a credible challenger like Briggs by 69% to 31%.

It's a measure of Briggs's strength as a candidate that she broke 30% against an incumbent like Green.


As we noted at the beginning of this series, the single most prominent theme to emerge from the recent elections is that the better candidate wins, unless something else grabs voters' attention.

The other big theme to emerge is this:   Republican error.

Republican error in choosing the wrong legislative candidate in Webster cost them that seat.  Republican complacency in Greece in the last weeks cost them an additional legislative seat.

Error by East Rochester Republicans in not detecting (or acting on) a powerful sentiment against the town administration elected Napoleon Dynamite and Pedro as Mayor and Village Trustee.   Chili Republicans lost the Supervisor's seat by renominating an incumbent whose "issues" had to have been known within the town Republican party.   Error by Mendon Republicans in tolerating clueless candidates cost them control of the Town Board.

Most of these errors involved continued party support for incumbents.   So maybe the most consequential lesson of the 2007 campaign is for Republicans across Monroe County:  scrutinize your incumbents as scrupulously as you evaluate new candidates.   As the 2007 vote shows, incumbency won't compensate for a candidate's inadequacies.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving's Eternal Lesson

Human nature.   A constant through the ages.  As in the timeless lesson of the first Thanksgiving.

Happy Turkey Day, everybody!


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Almanac of Monroe County Politics 2007 -- Part II

Mustard Street's Analysis of the 2007 Elections

PART II:   Town Elections

The issue of candidate quality and performance, the decisive factor in nearly every county legislative race, is clearly evident in the Towns.   The significant Town races, which we discuss here, also demonstrate the decisive impact of compelling local issues, and how such issues can trump candidate competitiveness in determining who wins.


One of our team overheard election night's best line, from one senior Republican hack to another:   "We all knew Tracy's personality would catch up with her one day.   Today was the day."

That's all you need in order to understand the result in Chili, where incumbent Supervisor Tracy Logel lost to first-time Democratic candidate David Dunning. Logel's reputation for being difficult is legendary. She alienated her own Town Board -- all members of her own party. Word from Chili is that her campaigning was minimal.

Dunning gained public attention as head of a citizens' group opposed to a new shopping center near Paul Road, which Logel had supported. He succeeded in stopping the development and on election day succeeded in beating Logel 54% - 46%

There was no larger trend. Chili still likes Republicans. Republican Town Board members Virginia Ignatowski and Mike Slattery won re-election easily, taking 63% of the vote between them, versus 37% for their two Democratic challengers.

Often with difficult personalities, part of the problem is,  "It's all about me."  Chili residents finally conceded that it really was all about Tracy, and voted accordingly.

East Rochester

East Rochester provided the big shock of 2007. It showed how an overriding issue of public concern can put into office even the worst of candidates.

The incumbent Republican Mayor and two incumbent Republican Village Trustees were up for re-election.

David Bonacchi has been the (apparently) popular mayor for 8 years. Lifelong East Rochester resident and former Chief of Police, Bonacchi is said to be unusually gifted in one-on-one campaigning.

His Democratic opponent was Jason Koon, 30, son of the Assemblyman, who has lived in ER for about four years. Comments by insiders in both parties might be understood by some as expressing skepticism about his capacity to serve in public office. He is said to have campaigned door-to-door with running mates Andrew Serrano, 27 and Herman Parson, 28, with Parson doing all or most of the talking.

How did such a mayoral candidate beat a skilled and experienced incumbent?   How did two twenty-something candidates for Village Trustee, like their running-mate with limited community ties, no community involvement and running for the first time, beat an incumbent and come within 11 votes of beating another?

What inspired one prominent Democrat, at the party's election fest at the Hyatt, to quip incredulously about electing the "village idiot" as Mayor?

People of both parties in East Rochester appear to agree on at least one cause of the November surprise:  public dissatisfaction with the current Village Administrator.

The ER Administrator is appointed by the Mayor, subject to approval of the Village Board. It's a full-time position. This means that people who go to town hall with a question or problem ordinarily see the Administrator. Apparently the current Administrator needs to upgrade his skills in customer relations, because he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. It became a particular problem last year, when many came in to inquire, or complain, about the 2006 property reassessment. Many residents came away with an unsatisfactory experience at town hall. Many then began to question the salary paid to the Administrator and whether this one was worth it.

Residents can't vote to replace the Village Administrator. So they replaced the Mayor who appointed him.

The resulting drag on the Republican ticket pulled down incumbent Trustee Barbara Marr. The survival of incumbent Trustee Mark Florack merely reinforces the importance of a strong candidate. Florack, who won by 11 votes, has a towering reputation in East Rochester. A lifelong resident, he won recognition as a student athlete. He has served the community for decades as a sports coach and youth advocate. ER insiders point to an irony of the election, that the only Democrat to lose, Herman Parson, was the most able and smartest of the three Democratic candidates. He lost because of unfortunate ballot position opposite the hugely popular Florack.

While there have been gradual changes in some parts of East Rochester that could favor Democrats, the 2007 vote was a protest of something specific, not a party realignment.

Republicans retain the majority on the Village Board. How they fare in elections two years from now will depend in part on how successfully they deal with the situation, should the Mayor turn out actually to be functionally incompetent. In that case they would face the exquisitely tricky problem of dealing with the Mayor, while protecting the interests of Village residents, without coming across publicly as negatively partisan.


Democrats won across the board in Irondequoit because Irondequoit is now Democratic.

Voting trends have pointed this way for some time. Among other factors, people leaving the city for Irondequoit in recent years have brought their Democratic voting habits with them. Incumbent Democratic Supervisor Mary Ellen Heyman helped things along by introducing in September a feel-good budget that cut town taxes.

Republicans entered November with two incumbents on the Town Board. One, Jim Turner, chose to challenge Heyman, leaving an open seat for which Republicans nominated Mark Scuderi. Incumbent Lydia Dzus sought re-election.

The Democratic sweep of all Town Board seats was a triumph of two factors working simultaneously for Democrats in Irondequoit. We've already discussed the town's political realignment. In addition, Democrats ran strong candidates. Term-limited County Legislator Stephanie Aldersley has been one of Irondequoit's most consistently popular political figures and one of its top vote-getters. She made a formidable candidate for Town Board. Aldersley's running mate, John Perticone, is a well-known local union leader.

Of the realignment in Irondequoit there's no clearer indicator than this:   for years Republican Lydia Dzus was the top vote-getter in Town Board elections. This year she campaigned hard and well. On November 6th, voters gave her the lowest vote of all four candidates.

Republican Town Justice Vincent DiNolfo was re-elected easily, leaving him as the sole Republican elected official in what's now a solidly Democratic town.


Republicans have a 2 - 1 registration advantage in Mendon.   This year those Republicans showed they're happy to vote for Democrats who will give them what they want.

Incumbent Democratic Supervisor Moe Bickwheat is retiring after 4 years in office, leaving an open seat. Republican Jeff Babcock is a lawyer and real estate broker. Democratic candidate Ian McNabb ran a nursery business for many years and has been active civically, most recently as member of the Honeoye Falls Conservation Board. He's a former president of the Honeoye Falls - Mendon Chamber of Commerce.

Mendon's library is aging. Each of the two Democratic candidates for Town Board is a trustee of the Mendon Library. Each supported resolving the issue of whether to build a new library, intimating that they favored it. McNabb took the same position. The incumbent Town Board Republicans weren't so sure. Supervisor candidate Babcock dismissed the need to come to a decision about a new library.

In a singularly regrettable admission for a member of a learned profession, Babcock said that he "rarely uses" the library.   Ouch.   An admission made not over the bar at Ye Olde Mendon, but to the editorial Board of the Democrat and Chronicle.   OUCH!

Is anyone surprised that McNabb took it with 60%?

Shari Stottler and Mark Cottle, Democratic candidates for Town Board, matched McNabb's margin and easily swept aside Republican incumbents Marv Vahue and Pat Freeman, giving Democrats a majority of the Town Board in this 2 - 1 Republican town.

All three Democratic candidates are said to have run a thorough door-to-door campaign, in contrast to their complacent Republican counterparts.

In looking at factors that contributed to Republicans' loss of the Town Board, let's not forget the inexcusably shabby treatment Republican Board members accorded Supervisor Moe Bickwheat back when he took office, not even including him in the Town's swearing-in ceremonies. The two remaining Republicans on Town Board would be well-advised to remember this and not repeat it. They'd be well-advised also to (a) pay attention to issues their constituents consider important, and (b) actually campaign when they run for re-election.

They'd know this already if they spent more time in the library.


These are the most noteworthy of the 2007 Town races.   Each in its own way illustrates the deciding influence of candidate quality and, in a way not seen in the legislative contests, of issues specific to each town.   Thus:

•     in Chili, an incumbent's unpopularity flips the Supervisor's office from R to D;

•     in East Rochester a compelling local issue works against the three superior candidates, taking down two of them;

•     in Irondequoit voters consummate a realignment;

•     in Mendon a compelling local issue works in favor of the superior candidates, boosting them to a comfortable win.

COMING UP -- Final Installment:   The Significant County-Wide Races


Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Almanac of Monroe County Politics 2007

Mustard Street's Analysis of the 2007 Elections

A single factor dominated in the 2007 Monroe County elections.

No, it wasn't Gov. Spitzer's drivers license plan (actually, voting registration plan) for illegal aliens. Democrats Dick Beebe wouldn't have won and Carmen Gumina might not have won, if it had been.

Nor was it Maggie Brooks's FAIR plan. Republicans Mike Barker and Tony LaFountain wouldn't be raising their right hands and taking the oath in January if it were.

To be sure, each of these factors had some significance, but we don't believe either, alone, to have decided any race. For reasons we'll discuss, we believe they largely offset each other in the scales of partisan advantage.

We all know the three most important things in real estate:   location, location, location. Tuesday's election underscores the three most important things in politics:   the candidate, the candidate, the candidate. In nearly every instance, candidate selection and candidate performance explain the outcome. The role of Spitzer, FAIR and money become clear only in relation to that factor. None of them was as important.

In this segment we'll look at the races for County Legislature, which is what seemed to fascinate the local politerati. Then we'll take a look at the county-wide and notable town races.

District 1
Yolevich (R) vs. Dunn (D)

In Todd Dunn, Democrats found a candidate of high caliber. Dartmouth graduate, RIT professor, professional engineer, deep roots in the community, with an attractive family, the personable and well-spoken Dunn campaigned diligently door-to-door.

Republicans held on easily to the Parma Town Board, so the presumed Democratic surge we thought we saw last year, when Democrat Joe Rittler came within 2 votes of taking a seat on the board, seems to have receded. This suggests that Democrats came within 183 votes of taking this seat because Dunn was their candidate.

Incumbent Republican Dick Yolevich is a well-known figure around Hilton, where he operated a donut shop for many years. Yolevich campaigned hard and well, fighting off Dunn's challenge for the Independence Party line in the September primary. The Independence line was important for him, as it was for other Republican candidates who had it:   looking at the Republican and Democratic lines only, Dunn beat Yolevich 2421 - 2266. We see this in other close races. This may be a reflection of public doubts about the FAIR plan, or at least confusion over it. The Independence vote alone was less than the margin of victory, but those votes, together with votes on the Conservative line, gave Yolevich four more years.

District 6
Beebe (D) vs. DiRaddo (R)

This is the district in Greece where voter registration trends Democratic. In 2005, the Democratic vote split between Pat Amato, wife of long-time incumbent Fred Amato, and Chris Hilderbrant, running on the Working Families and Green party lines. Ray DiRaddo, running for the seat for the first time on '05, beat Amato easily. But he had only a 65-vote edge over the combined votes of Amato and Hilderbrant.

This year, looking strictly, again, at attributes of electability, DiRaddo was the better candidate by a long shot. A former Town Justice, with a law practice in Greece for many years, he is well known and well liked. He is said to have worked hard door-to-door. He brought to the race all the advantages of incumbency.

Democrat Dick Beebe moved to Greece only recently. In 2005 he ran for Town Board in Penfield. Beebe campaigned diligently door-to-door, but against an incumbent like DiRaddo, he shouldn't have stood a chance.

What changed Beebe's prospects was the infusion of cash and manpower by the Working Families Party in the final two weeks of the race. The WFP called Democratic Chairman Joe Morelle, offered $40,000 and workers and asked Morelle where to put it. Morelle chose Greece. The money paid for an unprecedented 8 mailings in the last two weeks, hammering DiRaddo over Brooks's budget plan. Campaign helpers were transported from Albany and Syracuse to canvass the district completely, on foot and through phone banks. The political equivalent of carpet-bombing, it pulled Beebe across the finish line by 283 votes.

The Sixth District race was exceptional in several ways. First is that the more electable candidate wasn't elected. Second is that, in an inexplicable lapse from their usual thoroughness, Republicans didn't see this coming, which means they were asleep at the switch during the final weeks of this campaign. Third is that it's the only race in which the FAIR plan appeared to make a difference in the outcome. It gave the Working Families Party the hammer to knock DiRaddo from office.

District 8
Gumina (D) vs. Malta (R)

Candidate, candidate, candidate.   In no race was there starker contrast between the electability factors of the two than in this. For the Eighth District, in Webster, Democrats picked a candidate with every hallmark of what it takes to win; Republicans picked a candidate having none.

Even more so than First District candidate Todd Dunn, with whom he shares many appealing qualities, Democratic challenger Carmen Gumina came straight out of central casting as exactly the kind of person a party wants to run. Gumina is a well-spoken, educated professional, pleasantly presentable, possessing a broad community base gained from years as a teacher and school principal. Incumbent Dave Malta is none of the above. Webster sources tell us Gumina ran an all-out door-to-door campaign and that Malta's campaigning was minimal.

The controversy over a negative campaign mailer from Malta, which Democrats skillfully turned against him, was irrelevant. Had it never occured, Gumina would have won anyway. Interestingly, the race in which the incident became relevant was the Beebe-DiRaddo race in Greece. By the time the Working Families Party knocked at Joe Morelle's door with ready money and busloads of trade unionists from Albany, Joe knew he didn't need to make the rubble bounce in Webster. It went to Greece and unseated DiRaddo.

District 9
LaFountain (R) vs. Levin (D)

In this race the strengths of incumbent Tony LaFountain and weaknesses of challenger Doreen Brady Levin had both parties' headquarters thinking from the beginning that LaFountain would win. However, each party supported its candidate with a full program of campaign mailings.

LaFountain has a long history of public involvement in Penfield, for many years as member of Town council and more recently as county legislator. His personal skills in relating to voters are said to be matchless. He's another candidate, like Dunn and Gumina, who present an array of qualities, as well as the background, that political parties want in a candidate.

Doreen Brady Levin, a real estate agent, entered the contest relatively late, at the point where it was looking like Penfield Democrats couldn't find an opponent to LaFountain. She does not appear to have a record of public involvement before this campaign. Her claim to fame is being married to local schlock-radio personality Brother Wease

LaFountain campaigned hard, door-to-door. Levin didn't. LaFountain won by 61% to 39%.

For someone analyzing elections, it's convenient to have such a case-study straight out of Politics 101. Candidate A has had a public profile for years and campaigned hard and well. Candidate B has no prior public involvement and didn't campaign. Absent overriding issues, Candidate A wins.

Whatever opposition to the FAIR plan there may be, or even just confusion over it, it wasn't enough to elect Levin or even to deprive LaFountain of a landslide win. This is notwithstanding the fact that Democrats hammered LaFountain over FAIR in successive mailings. This race and the Eleventh District race are two of the strongest indicators we have that candidate selection and performance are what carried the day in last Tuesday's elections, not FAIR or licensing illegals.

District 10
Daniele (R) vs. Nixon (D)

This was the hottest race:   an open seat, with equally matched candidates. If District 8 presented the greatest disparity between candidates in terms of qualities that make a good campaigner, the race in District 10 between Anthony Daniele and Ted Nixon offered the most closely-matched pair. Both are intelligent, educated, articulate men who by every account made a terrific impression on people. Both have been successful businessmen. Both have attractive families and present well.

Daniele has lived in Pittsford all his life. Owning a popular restaurant in Pittsford has brought him face-to-face with thousands over the years. Nixon has lived in Pittsford for 27 years. He had name recognition and other advantages from having run in the same district just 2 years ago. Apparently he enjoys a uniquely close relationship with news editors at the Democratic and Chronicle.

Both Nixon and Daniele worked relentlessly at door-to-door since early summer. Nixon had an enviably motivated and disciplined corps of volunteers from around Monroe County, courtesy of the DFA Rochester advocacy group. Daniele assembled an equally tenacious and dedicated team from the Republican Committees in Pittsford and East Rochester. No element of a successful campaign was omitted or neglected by either candidate.

Republicans believed all along they'd win. Nixon's core group from DFA were similarly confident;   Democratic headquarters was never so sure. Daniele took it by 225 votes. The close result may be attributed partly to Democratic hammering of the FAIR plan (Daniele told the press he was hearing confusion and concern over FAIR at the door), but mostly it was a consequence of the Republican meltdown in East Rochester. The ER surprise deprived Daniele of the healthy margin the town had reliably delivered to the Republican candidate until last Tuesday. We'll discuss the ER result when we analyze town races, but it involved town issues highly specific to East Rochester. If FAIR were the issue, it would have clobbered Daniele in both towns. But Pittsford put Daniele over the top.

To illustrate that East Rochester was the factor here, shift to Daniele enough Nixon votes to give him the same margin Republicans had in East Rochester in 2005. That would shift 206 votes from Nixon to Daniele, giving Daniele a total margin of 431 votes. That would be a 55% - 45% win for Daniele -- the same margin by which incumbent Bill Smith beat Nixon 2 years ago. Daniele most likely wouldn't have garnered the same vote in ER as Smith, who ran as an incumbent. But even making allowances for that, it would still bring Daniele within striking distance of Smith's margin. Given the FAIR plan controversy, this is little short of remarkable for Daniele as a first-time candidate. It shows his strength as a candidate and, simultaneously, the underlying resilience of Republicans in this district.

Nothing we've learned tells us whether Spitzer's driving license disaster hurt Nixon. Clearly it worried him. He devoted a mailing to it, stating flatly that he opposed the Governor's plan. Nixon did robo-calls with the same message the weekend before the election.

But even if the Spitzer debacle influenced this race, the effects of FAIR must be offset against it to get a clear picture of the party dynamics in this district. Democrats have had Pittsford in their crosshairs for at least two years. They couldn't have found a better candidate than the exemplary Nixon. In campaign mailings they matched Republicans not only in quantity, but in quality and sophistication as well. They had a corps of volunteers surpassed only by the extraordinary Working Families effort in Greece. They had an election night gift in the Republican collapse in East Rochester.

Yet with every star in alignment for Democrats to pull it off, they didn't. We're likely to look back on this race as the Democrats' high tide in Pittsford.

District 11

Barker (R) vs. Davis (D)

We could almost take our discussion of the LaFountain - Levin race in District 9, change the names, and present it as our analysis of District 11. The dynamics were nearly identical.

Incumbent Mike Barker is a popular middle school teacher in Perinton. He served as Fairport Village Trustee before becoming county legislator for this Perinton district that includes the east side of East Rochester.

Democratic challenger Sue Davis chairs the Perinton Democratic Committee, but appears to have had little public visibility before becoming a candidate, for the first time, in this race. Both Barker and Davis were supported by ample campaign mailings.

Like Doreen Levin in District 9, Davis appears to possess the personal qualities to make a good impression at the door. Also like Levin, it didn't matter, because she campaigned barely or not at all. Barker, by contrast, maintained a full door-to-door schedule from the summer through November. He beat Davis 60% - 40%.

From this race we derive the same lesson we took away from District 9:   if opposition to the FAIR plan were the prevailing issue, Barker wouldn't have won, much less by landslide proportions. Once more, the lesson of this election:   candidate, candidate, candidate.

District 16
Esposito (D) vs. Kelderhouse (R)

As the seat being vacated by term-limited Stephanie Aldersley, this was one of only two open seats in play. On paper, Republican Peter Kelderhouse appears the stronger candidate. Ex-Marine, former president of the Rochester Downtown Rotary, current President of Irondequoit's Chamber of Commerce, and someone who campaigned diligently, Kelderhouse was the better candidate. By all usual measures, he should have won.

But his opponent was an unusual candidate. Vincent Esposito is an employee of the State Assembly, in Joe Morelle's office. Morelle took a personal interest in this race, twisting every arm he could find to secure advantage for Esposito, from getting him the Conservative Party endorsement in the spring (the only Democratic legislative candidate so endorsed) to securing him the Independence Party line in the summer, to getting him the endorsements of the Rochester Business Alliance and Democrat and Chronicle in the fall.

As a State employee reporting directly to Morelle, Esposito had only one day job since June: campaign door to door. He did it. Esposito is polished enough and pleasant-looking enough to have made a credible showing at the door, presenting himself as someone with experience in state government and therefore able to help the county work successfully with the state. No secret was made of his role as main squeeze of Channel 10 news reader Jennifer Johnson, lending such superficial patina of glamour to his candidacy as that may impart. Consequently, with a little help from his friends -- or, in this case, one influential friend -- Esposito was able to compensate for the resume-level advantages Kelderhouse brought to the race.

Add to it the clear voting trend toward Democrats in Irondequoit, evident so unmistakably in the town races, and you get the result last Tuesday:   Esposito over Kelderhouse by 62% to 38%.

District 17
O'Brien (D) vs. White (R)

Representing a town that appeared more politically competitive until last Tuesday, Legislator Ted O'Brien is the Pandora Boxx of local politics:   the most skilled Republican impersonator in the Democratic stable.   Only Ted Nixon comes close.

An orthodox liberal when the public isn't watching -- as on the internet message board of the left-wing-on-steroids DFA group -- O'Brien is indistinguishable from an unthreatening suburban Republican in his campaign mailings. This was true completely in 2005, and partially in 2007, only because of anti-Republican mailings on his behalf criticizing the FAIR plan.

This is a formidable quality in a Democratic candidate with a suburban district. O'Brien enhanced it by being one of only three Democrats in the county legislature to vote for the Republican motion in October to withhold county funds from implementing Spitzer's drivers licensing plan. Like Clinton signing Welfare Reform in 1996, it's a distasteful price you pay to get re-elected.

O'Brien deserves his reputation as one of the brightest members of the county legislature. He's clearly a star on the Democratic side. He has a reputation also for working diligently as a candidate. He justified it again this year. By every account affable and kind, O'Brien is a candidate who does well at the door. He gained name recognition earlier in his career as County Democratic Chairman. He's often the go-to guy when broadcast media need a Democratic talking head. Professional, presentable, smart and concerned, Ted O'Brien is another effective candidate.

His opponent, Dan White, has a record of substantial involvement in the community. A member of the East Irondequoit School Board, White has served as President of the Irondequoit Kiwanis Club and president of the town's youth sports association. Republican sources tell us that White campaigned hard. A few years ago, and especially, perhaps, in a race for an open seat, Dan White's community involvement and hard work might have put him over the top. But not against a skilled incumbent in what's now as solidly Democratic a town as Brighton.

O'Brien won it with 65%.   He can come out of the political closet.

The forces and influences that shaped the outcome of legislative elections become even more apparent in the significant Town races.

COMING NEXT: Town and County-Wide Races


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Thank You, Cheryl DiNolfo

Praise is due to Monroe County Clerk Cheryl DiNolfo for showing the courage and character to stand up to the plan to license illegals and register them to vote.   Her courage, and that of other similarly minded county clerks, is one of the factors that carried the tide, according to this morning's New York Times:

[Spitzer] came to believe the proposal would ultimately be blocked, he said, either by legal challenges, a vote by the Legislature to deny financing for the Department of Motor Vehicles or a refusal by upstate county clerks to carry it out.
Let's also remember, and thank, the Monroe County legislators who voted to withhold county funds from implementing the plan:

Dave Malta (R)-- author of the legislation
Jeff Adair (R)
Stephanie Aldersley (D)
Mike Barker (R)
Mark J. Cassetti (R)
Robert J. Colby (R)
Ray DiRaddo (R)
Douglas B. Dobson (R)
Jack Driscoll (R)
C. Stephen Eckel (D)
Ciaran Hanna (R)
Tony LaFountain (R)
Jeffery L. McCann (R)
Ted O’Brien (D)
Dan Quatro (R)
Bill Smith (R)
Steve Tucciarello (R)
Mary A. Valerio (R)
Richard Yolevich (R)
Wayne Zyra (R)


Tuesday, November 13, 2007


The Governor, following our recent advice, drops the plan to license illegals . . . TOMORROW !


Can Buffalo Ever Come Back?

It's about the decline of Buffalo, but lots of lessons for Rochester in this piece by Harvard's Edward Glaeser.   There are important differences.   Let's hope it's not too late.


Who Do these People Think They Are?

Not 24 hours after the Democrat and Chronicle editorial we commended to you yesterday, comes another gratuitous racial slur from someone with absolutely no excuse.   This time, a politician referring to one of her own campaign volunteers by a name synonymous with derogatory racial stereotyping.

Once again we wonder, "Who do these people think they are?"

Another example of why conduct of this nature needs to be denounced right away.   The more of it we see and hear, the more people think they can get away with it.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Where's the Outrage?

Excellent editorial from the Democrat and Chronicle this morning criticizing Don Imus and a reality-show troglodyte, who try to get away with racist bullying by doing the media apology circuit:

"The repents have become so cookie-cutter, so public-relations drenched that it seems nearly impossible that they can be coming from a place of true regret or shame.  After all, there's no room for shame these days.  Just whatever it takes to make money.  Fake regret included."
It's another symptom of cultural decay that apart from our own take on the Imus disgrace, on October 16 and November 2, we've seen little else deploring Imus's return to broadcasting other than today's editorial.


Note to Readers

Feel free to e-mail us, at the address shown at the bottom of this page, when you're looking for more of a dialogue than the comments area offers.

COMING UP ON MUSTARD STREET:   Our analysis of last week's elections.

The four of us who put our heads together to create Mustard Street have spent much of the last five days talking to political types and others around Monroe County as part of our analysis of the results.   Look for it soon.


Friday, November 9, 2007

Don't Forget the Thank-You Note, Joe

State Controller Thomas DiNapoli released a report stating that school taxes rose more than twice as fast as inflation from 2002 to this year.  According to Gannett Albany Bureau Chief Jay Gallagher, the report said:

. . . on average the tax levy in school budgets outside New York City went up between 7.6 percent and 8.1 percent between 2002 and 2005, 6.8 percent last year and 5.9 percent this year.
DiNapoli, of course, is Democratic Chairman Joe Morelle's old buddy from the State Assembly, elected by the Assembly over Governor Spitzer's objections.  Looks like Joe called in a favor.

Tremendously convenient timing for Monroe County Democrats that this report is issued the day after the election.   It's findings only emphasize the validity of Maggie Brooks's point that Monroe County's suburban school districts can afford to trim their budgets by 1-2%.  Which is all the Brooks budget plan requires them to do.

Instead, school districts will spend more money suing the county than the Brooks budget plan will cost them.

But people accustomed to the whole loaf think 98% of a loaf is starvation diet.


Another Dirty Trick They Didn't Report

How could we have left this one off the list?

•   Democratic Candidates for County Legislature send a series of campaign mailings claiming Maggie Brooks's budget plan eliminates a credit to taxpayers.   Brooks and legislative leaders point out that the credit stays, showing how and why.   Democrats perpetuate the falsehood through further mailings.   Numbers in the new county budget for 2008 confirm that the credit stays intact.   Amount of attention this gets from the media?   Bupkis.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Dirty Tricks They Didn't Report

The curious myopia of the Democrat and Chronicle and some broadcast media limits their perception of "dirty tricks" only to those they claim to be deeds of Republicans running for office.

Therefore, while recollections of the recent campaign are fresh, here's our own roster of dirty tricks the media didn't report.

•   The D&C itself  kicks off tricky season, giving over its front page to a contrived puff piece promoting the Democratic candidate in a competitive race.   The paper named him as a candidate previously, but never says so in its free front-page campaign ad.

•   In Webster candidate Carmen Gumina stage-manages a well-planned smear against Legislator Dave Malta, using intermediaries to claim that Malta criticized special needs students in a mailing.   The mailing contained no such statement.   Channel 10, then the D&C, eagerly give legs to the lie.

•   School Districts go partisan by firing off district-wide mailings just days before the vote, criticising the Brooks budget plan, in Parma and other districts deemed competitive.  A taxpayer-funded partisan mailing for Democrats.

•   Candidate Ted Nixon deploys his pal Brother Wease as surrogate to vilify Nixon's opponent on Wease's radio show each morning, and at length, in the days running up to the election.   Among other things, Wease and his entourage call Anthony Daniele "kid," "douchebag" and "liar."   And those were the nicer words.   Nixon then mails a campaign piece saying:   "Ted Nixon will never resort to negative campaigning.   You can count on it."   "Because words really do matter."   Right, Ted.   Especially words like "douchebag."   You have the next four years to look it up.

•   Assemblyman David Koon mails out a "constituent update" with the name "Koon" prominent, timed just before the election in East Rochester, where Koon's son, Jason Koon, is running for Mayor.

These are some dirty tricks that readers made us aware of during the recent election campaign.

Any more that you know about?


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

CooperVision - Part II

And CooperVision's planning to do it again tonight!


Abusing COMIDA Benefits

CooperVision is a company that on at least one occasion has received assistance from the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency (COMIDA).

Last night CooperVision played host to a left-wing group's get-out-the-vote phoning for Democratic county legislature candidates.   The very candidates who, if they won, have promised to attach such conditions to COMIDA aid for companies like CooperVision that they couldn't invest, do business or create jobs here.

For using taxpayer-subsidized facilities in this way, we demand that COMIDA repeal all benefits granted to CooperVision.


Monday, November 5, 2007

The Out of Towners

No, we're not speaking of the Neil Simon movie about an Ohio couple's misadventures in Manhattan.

Some folks commenting on a recent posting told us they're involved in Democratic campaigns in East Rochester and Pittsford.   Two of the three identified themselves, respectively, as Co-Campaign Manager, and Coordinator of Volunteers, for county legislature candidate Ted Nixon.

A Google search demonstrated to our satisfaction that all three honestly represented their campaign affiliations and activities.

The search revealed something else.

Nixon is running for office in District 10, consisting of Pittsford and East Rochester. And yet...

Thomas R. Janowski, Co-Campaign Manager for Nixon, lives in ...Gates!
He's a member of the Gates Democratic Committee.

Monica Gilligan, Volunteer Coordinator for Nixon, lives in ... Brighton!
She's been Secretary of the Brighton Democratic Committee.

Andrea DiGiorgio, who confirmed she's campaigning for Democratic candidates in East Rochester and Pittsford, lives in ... Henrietta!
She's a member of the Henrietta Democratic Committee.

People may volunteer for campaigns anywhere.   We admire that they do, including the three commenters on our posting.

But we wonder what East Rochester and Pittsford residents might think if they knew a candidate's campaign in their district must be run by people from other towns.

Ted Nixon is the candidate for county legislature found guilty of lying to voters by the Fair Election Practices Committee.   Together with Google, our three commenters reveal yet another false front to the regrettable Nixon.  If the Trickster's campaign is grassroots, it's only with people whose roots are ... elsewhere.

It tells you something about a candidate when he can't find people in his district -- not even his own town -- to run his campaign.


Cognitive Dissonance -- Part II

ur opinion of the news side of the Democrat and Chronicle was not improved by the uninspiring regulation-issue newspaper-biz platitudes deployed by Michael Kane, the paper's publisher, on Bob Smith's WXXI show last week.   But we no longer know what to think about the editorial side, of which we had thought better.

Our reservations are not related to any particular endorsement.  We think criticizing a newspaper for endorsing a candidate is a waste of effort.  It's a matter of opinion and they're entitled to endorse whom they want.   But the pattern of D&C endorsements emphasizes something curious:   there's no internal logic to what these people are saying, even from day to day.

This judgment is independent of whether you happen to agree with the paper's editorial positions or not.   Agree or not with the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, probably everyone can see a coherent internal logic to that paper's editorials over time, and in the aggregate. The same can be said for the editorial page of the New York Times.

Then there's the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. We'll use as an example the topic that seems to be of highest immediate interest in the local political world. If everyone followed precisely the paper's recommendations for Monroe County Legislature candidates, we'd end up with a continued majority of Republicans in that body. Yet over the past weekend the same editorial board tells us to vote against all candidates in whose district a particular mailing was sent out. Since this was a generic Republican piece, they're now telling us to vote against all the Republicans.

We think our criticism is of a related nature to criticism of the D&C editorial effort we've seen in some of the other blogs to which this page links.

Another example.   The D&C says the Taylor Law, or at least its binding arbitration provision, has to go.   Yet the paper consistently has endorsed incumbent state legislators who would not under any circumstances drop the Taylor Law and whose political patrons, the public employee unions, would drop them in an instant if they did.  As the sun will rise in the east, the paper will endorse every one of those same people in next year's state legislative races.

Go back to the county legislator endorsements.   The editorial board calls constantly for a county legislature that is, and individual legislators who are, "independent" of County Executive Maggie Brooks.  By every light they've given us to understand what they mean by "independent" they appear to mean "who will oppose" Brooks, at least for much of the time.  Then, as already noted, their pattern of endorsements is such that a majority of Republicans would be returned.   If there's any logic in this, we don't see it.

We give them credit in many instances for identifying particular problems that afflict our region and its economy.   Then they support people for public office whose careers are dedicated to perpetuating the precise causes of each of those problems.

We believe the phenomenon of one-newspaper towns or regions is a public evil.   Such a paper doesn't have a monopoly on the news, but it has a monopoly in a particular way of reporting news that, from historical tradition, gives it a position of prestige and credibility.

We've read that Craig's List is a dagger to the vitals of daily newspapers.   Here's the link to the Rochester Craig's List.   Not even a drop in the bucket, to be sure.   But you do what little you can.


Friday, November 2, 2007

Exploiting the Homeless?

From a correspondent in Penfield:

Going to and from work I see homeless people holding up Democratic campaign signs on street corners in Pittsford and East Rochester this week.   Why would they use homeless people for this?
Beats us.  Has anyone else seen this?

It could lead to a nasty escalation.   Republicans might counter with The Dispossessed.   Democrats then up the ante with The Disenfranchised.   Republicans respond with The Underserved.  And so on.


Unfortunately, Imus is Back

It's confirmed that Don Imus returns to the air on December 3.   For reasons we've discussed before, we think it's a disgrace.