After an election, political party leaders act like football coaches.. They look at what they did right to get votes and work to replicate those. The moves that don’t work, they try to alter or ditch entirely.
Election 2005 had a few reasons for the party leaders to go back to the playbook. And there were other results… more mixed… that might force those party leaders to figure out what it all meant.
TAXES/SPENDING – Let’s start with the area that sent the fuzziest of mixed messages.
Just look at two town supervisor races to get an understanding of the confusion fiscal issues seemingly created.
In Gates, Democratic challenger Sue Swanton worked to make Republican incumbent Ralph Esposito look like he had no handle on fiscal matters. The Esposito budget added fuel to that fire. Just weeks before Gates residents went to the polls, he authored a spending plan that would increase the property tax rate by nearly 14 percent.
Republicans here see property tax hikes as the third rail. Steve Minarik, the Republican chair, makes stable property taxes the party’s biggest selling point. So the Esposito budget flies in the face of the standard.
And even with Swanton pointing to Esposito’s fiscal irresponsibility, he still managed to win. It’s astounding if you think about it.
Meanwhile in Irondequoit, Democratic challenger Mary Ellen Heyman claimed Republican incumbent David Schantz was asleep at the fiscal wheel. Spending was out of sight, she said… town debt rose. She claimed she can do better.
She’ll get that shot. Heyman pulled off one of the few upsets in this election by unseating Schantz. And the Schantz budget was nearly as onerous as Esposito’s.
So what does this tell party strategists? It seems to say that trying to keep property taxes flat might not be the slam-dunk sales pitch it used to be.
CRIME – Bob Duffy was a police chief in the city. His opponents (Wade Norwood, John Parrinello, and Tim Mains) tried in different ways to say that he wasn’t effective.
The election results seem to say that Duffy’s opponents weren’t effective. But perhaps that would be a false read on the part of the Democratic Party and Duffy.
John Parrinello did hit a vein when he talked about aggressively attacking drug dealing on the streets, cracking down on gangs, making parents more accountable. The tough talk did get notice by city voters. The messenger, however, made it harder for people ultimately to vote for him.
In the next few years, Duffy will have to convince the people of Rochester that he’s done something to make the city safer. He’s going to have to prove to those who aren’t coming downtown, that it’s okay to set foot on those sidewalks. His will be a problem to deal with both on the streets… and in the minds of people in Monroe County.
Because if he doesn’t, the Republican Party will have a blueprint to go after him. And this time they might find a messenger who isn’t as abrasive as Parrinello.
UNITY – Republicans in Monroe County are not going the way of the national GOP. They still seem united; they still talk about the team. The GOP lost nothing they didn’t already lack in the city. And, with one grand exception, Republicans held their serve in the county and the towns.
But challenges lie ahead. That one exception, Irondequoit, should nag at GOP strategists to figure out what went wrong.
The County Legislature is still in the hands of the GOP, but they have a lot of new faces in the mix. Perhaps they will still have a common interest with County Executive Maggie Brooks’ administration… and they will let her take the lead. But maybe, if the budget situation remains bumpy, they will start breaking away.
Democrats, meanwhile, should be buoyed by the election. They got a town (Irondequoit) and seem to be finally building Democratic foot soldiers in places outside of Rochester.
It’s progress. But Democrats still have to craft a message that will work in places outside the city. And the mayor’s race picked at the scab of dissention among Democratic leaders. Should internal division linger over the next few years, and should the Duffy administration stagger out of the gate, well, that would make things far more difficult for the party in the coming years.
So now the political strategists huddle up for 2006. Let’s see what they break out come the new year.