The Art of Going for Broke

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Eliot Spitzer has clearly broken the spine on the book of running way ahead. With poll numbers like he’s enjoyed – it surely makes sense to act like a pacesetter.

He avoids all talk about his primary challenger Tom Suozzi (as documented earlier in this space thanks to Karen DeWitt).

And he doesn’t exactly go out on the stump during these early days and talk about anything radically provocative. After all, how controversial is it to appoint a person who will "depoliticize" investment in science-related business and who calls for investing in the next Erie Canal.

Then you listen to another gubernatorial candidate – and you know he’s been flipping through the pages of book on running from the back of the pack.

Randy Daniels is articulate, direct and eager to speak out. He’s also running third in a three person race for the nomination of the Republican Party, which itself is running behind the Democrats and Spitzer.

Daniels does fighting from behind very well. During an interview on WXXI’s Need to Know program… he exhibited a number of the classic moves of the candidate trailing the field….

I’M BOLD, THEY’RE NOT – "There’s been a lot of tinkering around the edges. Well-meaning programs designed to help foster economic development to attract investment and create jobs. But tinkering around the edges will not solve New York’s problem. That’s what makes me different from everybody who’s running…on both sides of the aisle."

PROMISES BEYOND THE SAFE ONES – "I’m the only one that’s called for a freeze of the budget for three years at its current spending level."

SAYING NO – WHEN IT MIGHT BE UNPOPULAR – When asked about exempting Upstate New York from certain laws, such as the Wicks Law or the Scaffold Law (which have been deemed by business as hindering job growth)… he said, "It does not make sense to carve out regions for special programs. Special programs aren’t going to get us where we need to be."

SAYING YES – WHEN IT MIGHT BE UNPOPULAR – On merging or consolidating local governments, he said: "You have to be able to pay for it every good Republican ought to believe in sound, fiscal policy first and foremost. I believe that the solutions to most problems lie closest to where people are. But we have governments at the local level in New York that cannot be sustained by the tax base that they have."

GUNNING FOR NUMBER ONE, AS IN MR. SPITZER – "You don’t have to destroy a company in order to save it. You don’t have to erode shareholder value because you want press coverage as opposed to negotiating the solution that solves the problem and saves jobs. You don’t kill companies. You don’t kill jobs. You don’t kill dreams to build up your political career. And I believe that has been a byproduct of what he has done. Enforcing the law is not issue. It is enforcing the law and trying to politically benefit from it – that’s the problem."

Hey, what does Daniels have to lose at this point? And surely you have seen some candidates rise from nowhere to compete – because they have been free-wheeling and straight-shooting. (Hello Paul Tsongas… you too John McCain).

But it always seems to change when the back of the pack folks gain ground. Suddenly they throw out the old book and pick up the frontrunner’s copy.

Here’s to hoping that ALL candidates this year decide to go for broke a bit more. A down and out New York could use it.

The Un-Dog

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This gets somewhere soon, trust me on this.

But this week I was able to see the play Inherit the Wind at Geva Theatre. It’s a solid performance by all who performed in the production based on the Scopes monkey trial. The lead characters are, of course, largely based on two giants in American history – Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan.

Bryan’s legacy reached far beyond the courtroom, into politics. He was what would now appear to be an odd mixture of liberalism, populism – and religious adherence. Bryan was known as a titanic orator. And in politics he has a record that includes being the only person (best known person) to lose an election for president three times (see the helpful historical hint from Joe Morelle in the comments section, one that set me on the straight and narrow).

Interesting fellow, that Bryan. And I thought of him as New York City attorney and political veteran Mark Green pulled into town on Thursday. He was here to make official what was already known – that he will run for state attorney general.

Green knows about losing himself. The evidence came as supporters rose in a meeting room at the Hyatt Regency Rochester.

There was Bob Cook, the former Monroe County Democratic Party chair. He told the press about first getting to know Green in 1986 when the latter was running for the U.S. Senate. This was during the primary race, when Green ultimately beat John Dyson, a businessman who was formerly chairman of the State Power Authority. Green’s quest ended at the brick wall that was that Pataki mentor – Alfonse D’Amato. The Republican trounced Green in the general election.

"He was fond of saying he’s not the underdog," Cook said. "He said he was the un-dog."

Cook quickly said Green is not in the same position during this run for attorney general.

Next to speak at the Hyatt was City Councilman Adam McFadden, who recalled getting to first know Green in 1998. This was Green’s second run for U.S. Senate (I remember McFadden striding down Main Street with Green early that year at an event where Mayor Bill Johnson came out extraordinarily early for Green’s candidacy). Green never made it out of the primary race in 1998, losing to Chuck Schumer – who is now a nationally known thorn in the Bush administration’s side.

Add to those Green losses the one he endured in 2001. It was during a sad and tumultuous time in New York City history because of the Twin Towers attacks. But there was also a mayoral campaign. Green beat a field that included Bronx Borough Pres Fernando Ferrer in the Democratic primary. But then, an early lead over Republican Mike Bloomberg evaporated, and he wound up losing.

Green doesn’t shy away from that record.

"I haven’t always won. But I have won major elections," he said, behind signs that called him the "people lawyer". In fact he can claim wins while others running for attorney general – such as Andrew Cuomo and Denise O’Donnell – can not. In addition to winning Democratic primaries, he was elected the city’s public advocate. (Check out the field here)

But get Green outside of the city limits and he’s been less successful. And now, with his third statewide shot, can the liberal from New York City win over the Upstate Democratic faithful? If they pay attention to record, rather than zip codes, Green said. If he gets by the Democrats (no given here, by the way)… can he beat a Republican in November in places north of the New York City metro area?

Green’s hoping that this third statewide run is a charm. Because… Green may aspire for Bryan’s passion on the podium… and maybe Bryan’s populist appeal. But there’s no way he wants something approaching Bryan’s political track record.

p.s. – A colleague of mine just read this over my shoulder… and thought… geez… that’s kind of a stretch. What do you think?

The Art of Frontrunning

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Karen DeWitt – WXXI’s Albany correspondent – has provided us with an audio clip that displays a textbook case for all frontrunners.

DeWitt explained that she and a gang of other Capitol reporters had surrounded Eliot Spitzer after he spoke Monday at the annual New York State Conference of Mayors event in Albany. Spitzer, New York’s AG, is viewed as the man to beat for the Democratic nomination (and, right now, the odds-on-favorite to be New York’s next governor).

But this day comes just after a weekend when Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi announced that he would challenge Spitzer for the Democratic Party line.

Listen in as Spitzer holds on tightly to the frontrunner language – to focus on himself and the issues – even as reporters are pushing him to address the Suozzi challenge.

Careful with that Dream Team

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So Mayor Bob Duffy adds Carlos Carballada to his administration. Put that name next to Tom Richards and Patty Malgieri.

Duffy says that sews up an impressive line-up – what he has no problem calling his "dream team."

That’s a sports analogy. The original derivation of "Dream Team" comes from the first summer Olympic Games that allowed professionals. The year was 1992. The sport was basketball. The U.S. put a team on the court with players like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. They beat teams by an average of 44 points a game. They lived up to the hype.

The term "Dream Team" continued as a moniker for the U.S. basketball team in subsequent Olympic Games. But by 2004 and the Athens Olympics – the star-studded lineup wasn’t blowing away the opposition. In fact, they lost three games and took home a Bronze Medal. The performance failed to measure up to the talent on paper.

Looking great on paper has been the downfall of a great many sports teams hyped as "dream teams." Look at the Yankees over the past few years – trotting out big names like Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Randy Johnson. They haven’t won it all in six years. I’m a New York Mets fan. I remember in 2002, the Mets brought big name players such as Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn and Tom Glavine to a team that had been slumping. This was a going to be a big boost. Instead they were a bust. Some of these players were hurt. Some had seemingly lost their skills. Some had lost a desire.

So when Mayor Duffy tells us that he’s assembled a "dream team" for Rochester. That’s a better analogy than he might have thought.

On paper – the names look great. But Rochester has a great many hurdles to overcome. The city has to make tough choices and sell them. The city has to take some chances – and be smart enough to know which risks are worth the gamble. 

It’s great to look at a locker room full of proven stars before the game starts.

Of course, what matters is what they do on the field. That’s where "Dream Teams" live up to the billing – or become nightmares.

The Slow Struggle for Women as Leaders

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It seems like one step forward and one step back for women ascending to places of political power.

One Step Up: Siena Research Institute reports in a poll this past week that nearly two-thirds of respondents believe the country is ready for a woman as president. (See the Siena Poll here)

One Step Back: A WNBC/Marist Poll reports that more than a quarter of respondents would not vote for a woman as president regardless of her political party. (See that poll here)

One Step Up: County Executive Maggie Brooks, Rep. Louise Slaughter, County Clerk Cheryl Dinolfo, Assembly Member Susan John.

One Step Back: 2005 candidates for mayor from either major party lacked a woman…. 2006 candidates for governor from either major party lacks a woman.

What gives? Nora Bredes, director of the Susan B. Anthony Center at the University of Rochester, said the progress can be slow… and halting at times. The increase in the number of women in legislative halls still doesn’t reflect the overall population breakdown. But, she said, those women can influence a change in the way that leadership is perceived so that domination gives up some ground to collaboration.

Hear more from Bredes on this by clicking here.

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.

John Faso: On Fiscal Promiscuity and Quoting Moynihan

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Former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso has a penchant for peppering his interviews with phrases like "fiscally promiscuous" and quoting Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan. (The Republican, Faso, is  next in a series of interviews for Rochester’s public television news magazine, Need to Know).

Faso joined Patrick Manning, a rival for the Republican and Conservative nod, on his willingness to exempt Upstate New York from laws that business leaders say are stifling business…. that’s the Wicks Law, the Scaffold Law and the like. This will make Rochester Business Alliance President Sandy Parker happy. But those who work in the building trades will be far less excited.

Faso bats away the idea that having two different sets of rules (one for upstate and one downstate) is problematic. I’ll leave that discussion for the broadcast interview.

But this site can plug you in to a number of audio excerpts from the Faso interview.

Click here to listen to Faso’s take on the the "fiscal promiscuity" of the state legislature … and on how much blame for runaway spending should be put on the governor’s lap.

Click here for his explanation on why he would defy a court order that would spend billions more for New York City schools.

And click here for how he’s dealing with opponents in the campaign, such as Manning and William Weld.

The rest (including Faso’s take on the Republican Party, Steve Minarik and the Conservative Party) will air on WXXI in Rochester on Friday night at 9.

The Taxing Last Resort

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County Executive Maggie Brooks said the county wanted help, and convened the full Monroe County Legislature for answers.

She got 39 answers. And in the politest of ways (for what is Brooks if not polite) she told the lawmakers the answers really didn’t add up to much.

It’s easy to see why. The answers were small potatoes. The Brooks administration found that they could apply only a fraction of what was proposed. Deputy Majority Leader Jeff McCann’s idea to "increase collaborations with other municipalities" might get as much as $2.5 million. Minority Leader Carla Palumbo had an interesting idea to vastly simplify the court system in Monroe County by merging various lower courts, such as County Court and Family Court. This would create a so-called "district court." It would maybe save as much as $2.5 million. You had other smaller ideas like sharing messenger services for departments or auditing utility costs. But as Brooks’ team so politely put it… even if you do these proposals, you’re still left with a nearly $100 million shortfall in the 2007 and 2008 budget years.

And, of course, that’s because the real answers mean real pain. Shutting down or scaling back services. And no elected leader wants feel the blow-back of the electorate after putting up ugly choices like cutting back on public park hours or shutting down public library branches… and the like. That would take a certain amount of political fortitude that just seems in short supply these days – from the local to the national level.

So what’s left? Well Brooks could follow behind Mayor Bob Duffy, holding out the large tin cup and banging it down loudly in Albany. But that only seems to work for the cities in our state. Counties never get the same size of direct contribution from the state.

So could the answer be the one that every elected official, Democrat or Republican, feels compelled to say is the "last resort?" Could it be a tax hike?

Property taxes? Not on your life. The only lasting promise Brooks made in her 2003 campaign was she would not raise property taxes. And certainly not after having essentially mutated the promise from not raising the amount gathered up in property taxes (which were precisely what she said during the ’03 campaign) to not raising the property tax rate.

Sales taxes? Well, it seems more likely now doesn’t it? It’s been done before to pull the county out of fiscal mire (you remember Bob King in the early 1990’s selling that tax hike like a used car).

And there is Erie County as an example. They approved an increase of the sales tax… from 8.25 percent to 8.75 percent. They figure on pulling in $60 million in the initial year. Oh, I know… I know… we’re nowhere near as bad as Erie County, local Monroe County leaders will say. And yet, a Buffalo News story from last month (excerpted here by the, reported that 47 counties asked the state to extend sales tax rates higher than the local 3 percent base.

I’d say we’re closer than you might think.

And in the end, all these budget forums (there are citizen budget workshops coming up soon) may be setting the stage for something bigger. Maybe we will see some political resolve and watch savings come from far-reaching, but controversial cuts and consolidations.

But why does it seem like the answer will add up to another bite from the purchases you make. I’m just saying that in the politest possible way.

Manning: I won’t be the Conservative Party’s Andrew Cuomo

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Assemblyman Patrick Manning – who despite all the recent news – continues his quest for the Conservative Party line.

Here’s a guy who says that he’s "duty-bound" to run on the Conservative Party line, whether or not he gets the Republican Party nod. His chief rival for the Conservative slate – former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso – said that only a candidate that combines the Republican and Conservative lines has even a prayer of challenging an Eliot Spitzer. Talk about putting the Republicans and Steve Minarik in a box – when the guy you want (William Weld) is likely never going to get the Conservative stamp.

But getting back to Manning… he had an interesting analogy to make. He points to Andrew Cuomo’s 2002 gubernatorial run. Cuomo got the Liberal Party line and wound up dropping out of the race for the Democratic line. Manning said Cuomo’s dead stop on any further campaigning doomed the Liberal line. They lost ballot status… and now the party is essentially defunct. Manning brings this up as a warning – should Faso or Manning or Daniels get the Conservative nod, but not the Republican, they better continue an agressive campaign. Otherwise the Conservatives could be looking like the old Liberal Party faithful.

This kind of talk should be giving Steve Minarik visions of 1990 and Conservative Herb London nearly lapping Republican Pierre Rinfret.

You want to hear more from Manning? Click here to listen to an extended interview with the candidate (all the stuff that didn’t make it to WXXI’s Need to Know broadcast). That includes

–A discussion about social conservative issues and the Republican Party, including his pro-life stand.

—And his views on the way to convince the New York State Legislature to
give up the power of controlling legislative district lines.

Next up – John Faso.

Dilemma… or Not

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For as long as I can remember while doing this kind of work – there has always been a problem of just how public we get with someone’s personal life.

In 2000, we watched a U.S. Senate Race where the Republican candidate (for awhile at least), Rudy Giuliani, had to fend off stories about having a girlfriend while not yet divorced. Meanwhile the Rochester press had to deal with allegations that a County Court judge, Bill Bristol, failed to get a recommended ranking from the local bar association because of unspecified allegations of sexual misconduct.

Nothing fires up a newsroom argument quicker than what kind of play a story that involves such things as infidelity or sexual harrassment should receive.

That came up for us at WXXI and our television program Need to Know. But in a roundabout way.

Last Friday, we sat down for about 20 minutes with  Hudson Valley-area Assemblyman Patrick Manning. The interview ranged from his conservative positions to the state of the Republican Party. The plan was to excerpt the interview for air on WXXI-AM (our news station), then air a larger portion of the talk on Need to Know on Friday, Feb. 17. The rest of the discussion would be put up online at the station’s website.

This week, after the interview, came stories like this and this about the break-up of Manning’s marriage and the circumstances around it. The stories also included charges by Manning that it was the campaign of gubernatorial rival, John Faso, that leaked the news.

Now, I have no way of bringing Manning back into the studio for a follow-up. And when you do these kinds of interviews you run the risk of events cropping up between recording the discussion and airing it.

But the question is – had we known about his personal life, would we have asked him about it anyway? Would we have asked him about the charges he made that Faso campaign was behind the release of the information?

I know how we would answer that.

My brain gets hung up on something else…  the fact that jobs appear to be flying out of Rochester, the Finger Lakes Region and Upstate New York. I get rather myopic on comments by area leaders that our economy is "in trouble" and upstate is fast becoming "Appalachia" . You weigh that against someone’s marital difficulties and whether a campaign did or did not leak out such information… and you see it in a far different light.

The question becomes – How important are these personal issues really? How much time does your campaign plan to spend on this?

That’s our approach. What would be yours?