Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Republicans Take the Bait


The recent call by Democrats for County Legislature President Wayne Zyra to resign got us thinking about something we hadn't noticed before.

Zyra's been president for 5 or 6 years, but only recently has he been in the news.  We don't recall seeing or hearing much about him before the controversy over the Public Defender earlier this year.

The acknowledged spokesman for Republicans in the County Legislature used to be the Majority Leader.  Bill Smith was Majority Leader through last year and seemed always to speak for the Republicans.   Before Smith, Shawn Hanna was Majority Leader; he similarly acted as spokesman.

It's like the U.S. Senate.   The spokesman's not President pro tem Robert Byrd, but Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Dan Quatro is now Majority Leader.   Yet the press, at least the Democrat and Chronicle, seems to be pushing Zyra as the go-to guy on the Republican side.   Why?

It can't be because Zyra's trying to assert himself, or usurp the Majority Leader's role.   His aversion to talking to the press is well-established.   We've commented on it before.

It can't be because Quatro lacks ability.   We've heard him on radio, and on TV news.   He holds his own as well as Smith and Hanna.

We think the answer is related to the legislative Democrats' recent call for Zyra's ouster, and the recent D&C editorial urgung the same.   If they were serious about booting him, holding a press conference, like editorial scolding, is the last way to do it.   In the political world, publicly seeking his ouster only causes the other side, reflexively, to circle the wagons.   We think that's exactly what they wanted Republicans to do.

The Republicans took the bait.

If Minority Leader Harry Bronson really had wanted to take out Zyra, he'd have approached Quatro privately, letting him know there are Democratic votes to remove Zyra, if Quatro's interested.

Given the substantial damage Zyra's caused his party through failure to speak out in either the Public Defender squabble, or the MCC presidential controversy (Zyra is the legislature's representative on the MCC board), a leader as astute as we consider Quatro might have welcomed such an opportunity.

We think the Democratic Party - Democrat and Chronicle Axis doesn't want Zyra out.

They want him to stay put, to make him into the public face of the Republican caucus going into next year's legislative elections.   This explains why the D&C puts forth Zyra, the holder of a ceremonial post, over Quatro, the Republican leader in both title and substance.

Zyra presents the weakest public face for the legislature's Republicans, because of his unwillingness to talk to the press.   The Democrats reinforce the image of Zyra as "leader" of the Republicans by insisting that it's Zyra who has to go.

The D&C gets a legitimate excuse to be even more partisan in its coverage:   in any story, they can present comment from Democratic leader Bronson, without having to add any Republican comment on the ground that "Republican Legislature President Wayne Zyra did not return repeated calls for comment," which inevitably will be the case.

Thus the paper can get in a double political hit each time:   printing only a Democratic comment, and putting Republicans even further behind by reminding readers that their "leader" is so hopeless he won't return phone calls.

When Democrats have controlled the County Legislature, the President has been whoever has the most power -- the genuine leader of the Democratic caucus.   At $54,000, the Legislative Presidency is the best job most of them will ever get near.

The Republicans, on the other hand, have jobs, in the private sector and in professions like teaching and law.   When they have the majority, the Presidency goes to whoever has time to do it, such as a retiree like Zyra.   Sometimes they get lucky with Presidents like John Auberger, or the late Dennis Pellitier.   Otherwise, it's whoever has the time.

Zyra's painfully conspicuous public withdrawal during the Public Defender struggle made the Democrats and their partners at the D&C aware of a weak link on the Republican side of the legislature.

What a mistake they'd been making for years!   Going to Hanna and later Smith for public comment, both effective spokesmen.   Now they're going to, and promoting, the weakest link.

Who mostly doesn't even speak at all.

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