The Clifford Question

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Want a reason for Molly Clifford’s departure as head of the Monroe County Democratic Party?

Look no further than a letter sent on behalf of Republican State Sen. Joseph Robach last October.

It was titled "Democrats for Robach." It was signed by a number of Democrats including Mayor Bill Johnson. It was signed by former Democratic Party Chairs Fran Weisberg, Nathan Robfogel, Rob Brown.

All this while the Democratic Party, chaired by Molly Clifford, had a candidate running against Robach, Bob Ertischek.

Back then the notebook called the "Democrats for Robach" letter refreshing – a bipartisan reach across the aisle.

But take it from Clifford’s point of view.

She was in the position of supporting and backing a challenger against Robach.

And some of the biggest leaders in her own party were openly supporting the Republican opponent.

"It undermines the party," Clifford said just prior to her resignation Monday. "As a (Democratic) public official, supporting a Republican sends the message that we don’t care about our Democrat candidates."

Clifford said some who signed that letter did so for "noble reasons," mentioning Mayor Johnson. But she added that they didn’t "think about the impact it would have on the party."

Others, she said, should have known the position it would put her in (meaning the former party chairs).

Of course the more publicized reason for Clifford departure is the inter-party battles that have risen up largely because of Assemblyman David Gantt. You saw them last year – Gantt-sponsored challenges to Democratic committee members, the clash over the school board special seat.

Clifford wrote in resignation letter that some Democratic elected officials put power before the party.

When asked at her announcement if she meant David Gantt, her reply was the quickest "yes" ever uttered.

Gantt insists that he has not tried to take over the party. He says he took action because African-Americans haven’t gotten a fair voice in places like the 21st Legislative District Committee. He says that Clifford could have gotten more involved.

"I play by the rules and do my job. That’s it," Gantt said.

Clifford supporters say that too little attention was given by the media on the Gantt actions – and on the ultimate defeats of those Gantt-sponsored candidates.

Bottom line is that Clifford’s resignation doesn’t put an end to the squabbling in the party.

Instead the Clifford resignation is a very loud question posed to the top Democratic officials of Monroe County – to those like Gantt and Mayor Johnson; to mayoral candidate Wade Norwood and, possibly, Bob Duffy.

The question: What do Democrats want their county committee to be?

Do you want it to be the central organizing influence that helps build a cadre of committed people with like ideals? Is it the place to air differences and find common ground?

Or is the label "Democrat" just a name?

The Republican Party in this town has had more than its share of infighting and disagreements. But at the end of the day, they use the party structure to hammer out the problems and continue pushing the agenda forward. There is structure.

There’s little structure in the Democratic Party, where everyone seems to be casting about like free agents during baseball’s off-season.

Clifford wanted to turn it around. It didn’t happen. She wasn’t allowed to do it. The arguments will rage about this. But one thing is clear with this resignation – a most important local election year has now become absolutely critical for a party in search of its moorings.

What’s in a Poll?

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You’ve heard about the poll commissioned by those who want Bob Duffy to run for mayor. It’s the one that has him up in a head to head contest with Wade Norwood by as many as 30 percentage points.

You’ve probably also heard that the full poll was posted on a website by the Duffy for Mayor group.

Do yourself a favor – take the poll with a pound of salt. It’s done too early in a race where no one (not even Norwood) calls himself or herself an official candidate.

But there are some fun elements of this poll. One segment is quite a sales pitch for Duffy. There are no less than seven Duffy selling points dressed up as questions in it ("If elected, Robert Duffy would make creating jobs his top priority…"). The respondents are supposed to say whether these are credible claims. There isn’t a similar set of questions for Norwood or any other candidate.

Then there are the negative questions. Those are done for both Duffy and Norwood. People are asked whether these statements would cast doubt on the candidate. They include:

–Duffy hasn’t done enough to reduce crime.

–He has done enough, but he doesn’t have experience to be mayor.

–Duffy switched parties, moving from the Republican Party in 1991

–Norwood would be too beholden to Albany because he was a staffer for Assemblyman David Gantt.

–Norwood hasn’t done anything to solve Rochester’s problems while serving 15 years as a city councilman

–Norwood is against the Fast Ferry takeover by the city.

This is an amusing poll. Just don’t take it too seriously.

Brooks Sobers up State of the County

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Monroe County Executive Brooks deserves credit for a few things.

One is putting sanity back in the State of the County address, which had taken a strange path from being an end-of-year wrap up to being a middle of the year extravaganza.

Former County Executive Jack Doyle took to holding them in May. He made them into traveling road shows that would be held in corporate office building lobbies and factories.

Brooks has put a little sanity back in the process. She held hers in (gasp) January… as if the previous year had actually just ended. She did it in the Monroe County Legislative chambers.

And Brooks is getting her kudos for being more willing to reach across the aisle. Even the speech seemed to suggest this conciliatory tone. During the talk, she surprised the audience by embracing a law that would mandate 48-hour notification for commercial pesticide spraying. This is a decidedly anti-Republican proposal.

Too bad that Brooks, couldn’t also make mention that Democratic County Legislator Lynda Garner Goldstein had long been a proponent of this plan, and had submitted legislation in years past that had been summarily ignored by the GOP legislature.

That would have really been a bipartisan bridge-mender.

But at least we heard the words at the beginning of the year, and in a place where government is conducted.

Minarik would love Pirro candidacy

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Don’t take this the wrong way, but reporters up in the Rochester area still have the edge over the New York City media gang when it comes to covering Minarik.

Eventually they’ll get to know Minarik. And they will soon lap us upstaters.

But for now, the media here has the advantage.

For example, stories came out this week about Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro mulling a run for state Attorney General.

Press reports there stated that Pirro is close with Pataki. And that relationship would drive the new GOP chairman Minarik to support Pirro’s candidacy.

In truth, Minarik would salivate over the prospect of running Pirro.

He has long pushed the Republican Party in Monroe County to run women in key races. That history includes: running former County Clerk Margaret DeFrancisco in the mid-1990’s against Assemblyman David Koon when he still thought he could win that seat (that didn’t work). In 2003, the top of the Monroe County ticket was Maggie Brooks for county executive and Ann Marie Taddeo for district attorney (he was one for two there).

I wouldn’t be shocked to see him pushing County Executive Brooks for Lt. Governor in 2006.

Jeanine Pirro is a downstater with upstate roots. She grew up in Elmira and went to college in Buffalo and Albany. She would be right up Minarik’s alley, even with the baggage that her husband’s legal entanglements bring.

The press gaggle in NYC will figure him out soon enough.

Steve Wants Rudy?

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Steve Minarik wants Rudy Giuliani to run against Sen. Hillary?

This news, as reported by the New York City press, has to make you chuckle. Minarik – the Monroe County GOP chairman and newly christened state party chair – hasn’t always been so amorous of the former New York City mayor as Republican standard-bearer.

When Giuliani was running against Clinton in 2000, Minarik could barely conceal his indifference. Giuliani was (and still is) a classic "moderate Republican," the kind that the more conservative Minarik doesn’t exactly embrace.

There was also Giuliani’s tendency to go off the reservation – and to do his own thing. This is also not something Minarik appreciates.

In 2000, Giuliani blew off a GOP event in Rochester to attend opening day for the Yankees that year. Minarik was openly miffed.

When Giuliani bowed out, Minarik embraced the more conservative Rep. Rick Lazio as a Clinton foe.

But here’s the thing; Minarik is a practical politico. And he prizes, above all else, the win. So Minarik probably sees Giuliani as a guy who has the instant stature, who could raise money and could compete against Clinton.

So on that level I suppose it makes perfect sense. It’s still rather amusing, though.


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A New York Democrat would seemingly do well to emulate Mario Cuomo.

Cuomo was a politician who had his share of electoral setbacks. He wasn’t the party favorite in 1982 for the nomination as governor (Ed Koch was).

We all know what happened. Cuomo won, and held the governor’s mansion for 12 years.

Heck, a Democrat like Bob Duffy would do well to follow his lead, right?

Problem is that Duffy hasn’t yet made his choice on whether to get in to the race to replace Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson.

And, to some, he is striking a Cuomo-like pose that remains Mario’s worst political legacy.

Who could forget Cuomo playing Hamlet when it came to the presidency – "To run or not to run?" In 1988 it almost looked certain that he was in… and then he backed off at the last minute, confounding those within the Democratic Party.

Now here is Police Chief Duffy. He wrote a letter to Democrats last month, not for support, but to ask them about issues that ought to be important to the next mayor. Kind of a Hillary Clinton listening tour by mail.

Last week he visited Democratic Party committees, although it was only to talk about crime issues as chief.

And there is that exploratory political committee that spent $15,000 on polling that showed Duffy would do well in a run for mayor.

Critics say that Duffy is having it both ways. He’s doing everything he can to prime a candidacy for mayor, but isn’t giving up the trapping of being police chief.

Duffy says that there are always going to be those who spin things. He said that if he were looking at another job in the private sector, no one would cast negatives motives to his careful deliberation. Duffy argues that he’s going to take his time for the right reasons – and he’s not going to use his job as chief for political gain.

"I’m very cautious with things we do in the police department," he said. "I would never, ever take advantage of my position."

But Duffy should understand something. The longer he takes, the more time he gives to political rivals who could say that, when it comes to making throwing the hat in the ring, he’s "Cuomo-esque."

Maybe in the end it won’t matter. But maybe it’s the kind of thing that could nick his candidacy.


It appears that mayoral candidate and City Councilman Wade Norwood isn’t too concerned with an endorsement from the current occupant of the mayor’s seat: Bill Johnson.

During a recent interview with Norwood on WXXI’s Need to Know, Norwood said that the city has not been able to turn big ideas into action. He was asked if there was something different in his personality from Mayor Johnson’s that would bring about action.

Norwood said: "I think that what we are seeing right now, and what we have lived with in this town for the last decade is a style and a concept of leadership that has not only created stark positions but also created bad relationships."

I asked if that included Mayor Johnson.

"Mayor Johnson’s included. Many other players are included. And I think what I offer to this community is a very different type of leadership, a leadership that’s based on the belief that … disagreement and debate are important parts of governing and (that) there is nothing wrong with finding compromise."

First of all, there had been a long history of contentiousness between the city and county when Johnson and County Executive Jack Doyle were at the helm. So the commentary would seem appropriate.

Except that in the last year Johnson and the new county executive, Maggie Brooks, have played much nicer.

Clearly Norwood isn’t that concerned much about whether or not Johnson will take issue with such a comment. (No word yet on what the current occupant of the office thinks).

Perhaps Norwood is simply trying to show that he is his own man.


A New York court ruling last month limits what the state legislature can do to alter the governor’s budget. They can shave money from a particular proposal or add money to it. They could get rid of a spending item.

But lawmakers can’t, as they have in years past, alter the substance of a proposal.

As Albany correspondent for NPR Karen Dewitt explained, in years past, the state legislature beat back Gov. George Pataki’s attempts to change the formula to fund education by altering the language in the budget bill. No more, thanks to the courts.

Lawmakers are fuming about the power storage. One assemblyman, Richard Brodsky of Westchester County, said this may force the legislature to hold the budget hostage.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong — but hasn’t the Albany government been "holding the budget hostage" for various reasons for the last 20 years? There is always an excuse for why the April 1 deadline can’t be met.

Now, it appears, some legislators have a new one.

But here is the irony.

The New York State Legislature exercised little power back in the days of Nelson Rockefeller. But toward the end of Rocky’s reign, the legislature began to assert itself more in the budget making process, and made that the accepted way of negotiating.

And in that time the Albany budget negotiations have been sluggish, contentious and dysfunctional.

One might say that, when it comes to calling for equal power, the state legislature squandered any high ground it might have had.