Robach – A Most Wanted Senator

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(Ed. note – a CRX was made about four hours after original post to more accurately reflect what NY EdPac is advocating to do…. MC)

Joe Robach has made a "most wanted" list.

But I don’t think the state Senator from our neck of the woods is shaking in his boots over being targeted like this.

"If an outside group wants to work for something to drive money to New York City…. well, that’s fine," said Robach, about the effort by the New York City based group called NY EdPac.

NY EdPac is gunning for Republican state Senators who fail to embrace an Assembly bill that would increase spending for needier school districts around the state by around $8.6 billion (an amount to be phased in over four years). It’s a funding plan backed by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, yet another group in this mix. You may know this one because they filed the lawsuit against the state that argued that NYC schools were being shortchanged under the current Albany funding formula. The court agreed. The Assembly bill that came after the ruling tries to deal with revamping the education funding across the state to make sure that funding dollars are more equitably distributed.

But the thing is that the state government has failed to act since the court order, which is now under appeal. Gov. George Pataki has dragged his feet. The legislature hasn’t moved either.

So enter NY EdPac. This group – led by two political consultants who previously aided Senate Democrats in 2004 – went the publicity route in hopes of putting GOP state senators on the hot seat. The idea, said Jonathan Rosen, one of the consultants, is to get at the most vulnerable… or, as he put it, the political margins. Republicans in the Senate, led by Majority Leader Joe Bruno, are worried about their status as the majority party in that house. So NY EdPac strikes at senators in districts where the turf has a decided Democratic tinge.

Many of the targets are downstate Senators. And in this context, those senators could be vulnerable. Robach is among a group of upstate senators. This is harder to fathom.

It’s true that he’s in a district that has many Democratic-enrolled voters, so you would think that Robach might be nervous by the challenge. But remember a few things here – Robach is not your typical Republican. He’s the son of a former conservative Democrat Assemblyman, and a popular one, Roger Robach. He, himself, was a conservative Democrat Assemblyman who flipped parties back in 2002 and ran for the Senate as a Republican. And the last time that Robach ran for the Senate (against a Democrat named Bob Ertischek), he was supported by Democrats including then Mayor Bill Johnson and former Democratic Party Chairs Fran Weisberg and Nate Robfogel.

Rosen of NY EdPAC is clear… the organization will spend money on "educating the public" on the CFE school funding issue. And eventually it will spend money to directly challenge some of the targeted Senators. But not all. A viable challenger needs to emerge before the money gets funneled to a specific district. Talk to local Democrats now and they’ll say that they are still in the recruiting phase for this race. But ask them whether they see Robach as particularly vulnerable and they’ll say… not without some outside funding help. Will that change if there is NY EdPac money being dangled in front of them? It would have to be a lot.

Senate Republicans have already taken to dismissing the NY EdPac challenge, calling it partisan and political. They point to the involvement of Rosen and his partner, Valerie Berlin, who once ran Senate Democrat campaigns. Rosen points to the funder of NY EdPac, the Leeds family of Long Island. According to the website PoliticalMoneyLine – Daniel Leeds, the Chair of the League of Education Voters of America registered a new Section 527 organization, the League of Education Voters Political Account. The purpose is “Improving America’s educational system by participating in the political process.”

Rosen said that the Leeds family would target Democrats as well as Republicans to get the state Legislature to make good on the court order.

Opposition to the court order is loud as well. Just listen to John Faso, who is running for governor, talk about how he would defy the court order because the state simply doesn’t have the money.

And Robach said the Senate has already pushed an idea that would create more money for needy school districts around the state, not just New York City as the court order mandates. It’s called the LEARN act, proposed originally in 2004, which would need money from sources such as an expansion of video lottery terminals. This act got bogged down in the overall discussion about changing school funding. And those in the NY EdPac camp say that the solution is inadequate.

Robach said the problem with the court order – where is the money to pay for such a large increase in spending? Rosen points to the $2 billion surplus that New York leaders have announced.

As for Robach being a political target – well, without a real and credible candidate emerging… it’s easy to see him being chopped off that most wanted list. Not that it would matter to him one way or another.