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 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
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Mustard Street's Analysis of the 2007 Elections
Posted by Philbrick at 8:58 PM