Appointment Blizzard

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It’s been a veritable blizzard of appointments by Bob Duffy.

One of them was hardly unexpected – but still leads to a rather pointed question.

Darryl Porter was named an assistant to the mayor, and will likely be involved in coordinating school-related issues for the Duffy administration. Porter is currently the Rochester City School Board president. And during the course of the year, Porter ran for reelection to the City School Board.

In fact, you may remember that for a time Porter was considering his own run for mayor. But he decided against it, then Duffy announced and Porter got behind him early on.

Now, per Duffy’s wishes, Porter will have to step down from an elected position he won’t have even started. Then the City School Board will have to appoint a person to fill his seat. That new appointed school board member will have to run in a special election in November.

Of course voters could have had the option to choose a school board member this past November if Porter simply would have decided not to seek reelection.

So what does Porter now say to those who cast a vote for him to stay on the school board a few months ago?

That he can do even more for school children, for the community, as an assistant to the mayor.

"They know that I’ve given 100 percent, 110 percent to that job… and that I’ll keep doing that in this new job. I’m not going anywhere," Porter said.

Porter said that he plans to make his choice for a replacement known to all. We’ll see how the voters of the city accept this person in the coming months.

The changes have been vast at City Hall, a rather predictable eventuality. And Duffy makes clear that he hears the critics of his transition. Some have complained (including outgoing Mayor Bill Johnson) that he’s letting too much experience go out the door. So Duffy makes clear to point out the history of his appointees, and their experience in the community.

Like when he announced Tom Richards as corporation council. Richards was the former CEO of RG&E and back in 2003 was considered a potential candidate for county executive. Duffy lumped Richards together with incoming deputy mayor Patty Malgieri when he spoke about people who have a long history in the community.

The Richards appointment may have been the biggest surprise of the week for most.

Those who work at WXXI may have been equally interested in the appointment of a new communications director – Gary Walker. 

For the last three plus years, Walker was my boss at the station. When he called, I had to respond. Now… when I call (or anyone else from the local fourth estate calls) he (or his staff) that must reply. Things do shift in strange ways, don’t they?

That reminds me a photograph in Walker’s office. It’s one that was taken fairly recently at some television awards ceremony. He’s standing next to Jeanine Pirro.

Back then she was the apple of the Republican Party’s eye and the presumed next opponent for Hillary Clinton.

Who would have figured that months after the photo was taken both Walker and Pirro would be looking at two very new jobs. The only difference is that Walker’s shift is far more congenial than Pirro’s.

Hints, Winks and Nods

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The season of transition has had many silly moments.

None more funny than during Mayor Bill Johnson’s press conference last week announcing the financial plan to keep the Rochester ferry service alive.

Questions came at Johnson about whether his successor, Bob Duffy, supported the idea of city-backed borrowing to the tune of as much as $11.5 million for the ferry service.

"I don’t want to put words in his mouth," said Johnson about Duffy. Then he pointed to the back of the room and said that one of Duffy’s "staff workers" was there – and that we could pose the question to her.

The woman in the back of the room was Patty Malgieri, sitting on a folding chair in the atrium of City Hall behind the reporters, a sheaf of papers on her lap.

I turned around and asked: "You’re a staffer?" "No, no," she said with a smile. "I’m just an observer."

A day later, Bob Duffy held a press conference of his own to announce a new appointment – Patty Malgieri as deputy mayor.

Hey, who can argue against the inevitable appointees acting coy until the new boss makes it official. Molly Clifford, the former Democratic Party chair and manager of Duffy’s campaign, has been long rumored to be getting some kind of high-level appointment. Ask her about it and the best she’ll give you is: "I don’t know the answer."

And I know that Mayor Bill Johnson has been lamenting the fact that Duffy hasn’t worked fast enough and that he hasn’t kept on more of his appointees.

The speed issue could be something to quibble with. But its hard to take the outgoing mayor as seriously on the idea of keeping on veteran managers. Some of the people that Duffy is letting leave have been around since the Tom Ryan years. The change was necessary.

But enough of the serious stuff. I’m sure we will have more of these silly, awkward moments in the waning days of this transition time.

The Ferry Pop Quiz

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All right class – time for a pop quiz. The topic, of course, the fast ferry of Rochester.

1) True or False – After a rough second year in 2005, Mayor Bill Johnson said last week that the new business plan for the ferry service is based on "conservative estimates." True

2) True or False – After a rough first year… and leading up to a purchase of the ferry in 2005, Mayor Bill Johnson said the (at the time) new business plan was based on "conservative projections." True.

3) City Councilman Ben Douglas, also the president of the ferry’s governing board, said last week that he would like which governmental entity to come up with an additional infusion of financial help for the ferry in the coming year.

a) the county government

b) the state government

c) the federal government

Answer is b)

4) True or false – A State Comptroller audit of financial practices by the original owners of the ferry – Canadian American Transportation Systems – is complete. And CATS was found to have no shady dealings. False, although State Comptroller Alan Hevesi said back in the summer that the investigation into the $14 million in state grants and loans would take "a couple of months" the status is that the investigation continues.

5) True or false – When Johnson talked about the city buying the boat a year ago – he said if the ferry business plan doesn’t work "we can get out of the business very quickly" and that "the boat can be sold in the open marketplace and most of the debt can be paid off." True.

6) True or false – Last week Councilman Douglas said as a way of justifying a new business plan after the lousy 2005 season: "if you stop operations, you still have a $40 million debt. You would have to sell the boat, and no one knows at this moment what the market might be for selling that boat and how much money they would see." True

7) In February 2005 two appraisals for the ferry vessel were given. The boat was found to be worth between:

a) $25 and $30 million

b) $30 and $35 million

c) $35 and $40 million

Answer is a)

8) The city’s winning bid for the ferry vessel was:

a) $22.5 million

b) $27 million

c) $32 million

Answer is c) – the city actually backed $40 million in borrowing through bonds. The rest of the money was a reserve for the ferry service – which is now gone.

9) The amount last week that Ben Douglas thought the city could get for the boat if it were sold:

a) $25 million

b) $32 million

c) $35 million

Answer is a)

10) Finally, please add the following: $40 million + $11.5 million.

That last answer, class, is the amount of money the city would back in total borrowing for the ferry project.

Those Awkward Transitions

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Transitions are so uncomfortable. They come when you’re leaving a job or selling a house, when you’re breaking up a marriage or graduating from school. Birth is the ultimate transition.

How about that first date… who really enjoys it? The small talk. The nervous giggles. The checking and rechecking of every comment. Exhilarating and painful at turns.

Transitions mark endings and new beginnings – and these moments in time are fraught with danger. So people watch what they do, how they act, what they say.

It’s understandable, then, that Bob Duffy sounds reserved in the days after his landslide election and before he assumes office. He talks about following protocol and reminds us that Bill Johnson still holds the mayor’s office. He does this as he assembles his own staff and prepares for the job.

But for now, he sounds like something of a bystander. Of course, the problem for transitions in government is that the government business keeps chugging along. Sometimes, the most crucial of decisions get made during this time.

Two years ago County Clerk Maggie Brooks had just vanquished the same Bill Johnson to become county executive. Republican Jack Doyle still had a few more weeks left on the job. The offices of the county clerk and county executive were on either side of the county office building’s entrance – separated by about 25 feet. But it could have been a mile with the way Brooks talked during that month of transition.

The twist was that Monroe County’s government leaders were in the midst of a tough budget negotiation. Legislators had received a budget from Doyle that called for cuts to services, and an idea to raise the county’s share of the sales tax. It was a watershed budget – and it was necessary to close a multi-million deficit.

The Republican-controlled county legislature amended the budget plan and raised property taxes by the highest amount seen in a decade. It did away with any notion of a sales tax hike and it included service reductions. In this one action – the legislature reversed a long standing policy position by the Doyle administration – to keep the amount raised by property taxes frozen.

Even before the county executive’s election was done public opinion-makers, like those at our daily newspaper, urged a close relationship between Doyle and whoever won the race.

And let’s not forget that the winner, Maggie Brooks, had campaigned vigorously that she would continue the property tax standard championed by Doyle. But then – as county lawmakers of her own party voted for this budget with tax hikes, and as Doyle contemplated a veto – Brooks went oddly silent. Instead she talked about how it "wasn’t her job to go across the hall."

Some saw that as being deferential to Doyle. Others, largely in the opposition Democratic Party, saw this as a way for Brooks to have her cake and eat it too. She didn’t raise the taxes, the county legislature did. And a year later, that’s what we heard.

But, in fairness to Brooks and anyone else in this position, her term didn’t really start the morning after her election. It’s truly an odd time.

Look at Bob Duffy. While he waits for Johnson to move out of the mayor’s office, the city government has allowed some big changes to a very public, government-sponsored project – the Fast Ferry.

The decision to shorten its schedule was made during the transition period. And now a decision to borrow another $10 million to shore up the ferry appears likely to happen before the first of the year.

Duffy’s stance? Well, during the campaign he tacitly supported the project (he was not nearly as well defined in his approach to the ferry as, say, Tim Mains).

And since his election, Duffy said that he’s been briefed twice on the ferry – once for 90 minutes by the mayor and once by the city council (before the election concluded).

In a recent interview, Duffy sounded very comfortable with that fairly removed position: "I’m very cognizant of protocol. There’s one mayor and one mayor only through December 31."

We can appreciate this posture. But a transition should be more involved than this. One would expect Duffy to be almost like a trusted advisor to Johnson on matters such as this. Sure, Johnson still calls the shots. But Duffy ought to articulate if he likes what he’s hearing… if he will continue on with the policy enacted before he took office… if he might change it after January 2.

Just as with the Doyle-Brooks changeover – we’re talking about two people from the same political party, so there shouldn’t be the hurdle of partisan politics.

It’s not a matter of stepping on toes. It’s about a smooth handoff.

I remember from my days running track in high school that a relay race requires the two runners to stay with each other for a time before the baton is passed. Sounds reasonable with issues like the ferry.

But that’s easy to say, coming from a guy who had more of his share of lousy first dates.

Minority Report

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The post-election season usually involves political shifting. That includes new people sometimes jockeying for leadership posts.

time the political sands shifted for minority leadership positions.
Stephanie Aldersley morphs into Carla Palumbo as the new head of the
Democratic minority caucus on the Monroe County Legislature.

Charlie Nesbitt fades away for Jim Tedesco as leader of the Republican minority on the New York State Assembly.

with these changes is one truth: These minority leadership jobs are
some of the toughest political tasks. Minority parties rarely impact on
policy through the legislative process. Sadly, the majorities in any
legislature are quick to bat down or table proposals from the minority
side. So the minority must represent the alternative voice. This can
happen in floor speeches. Or it can happen through the press.

other job for the minority leader is, quite simply, to marshal the
forces needed to increase the ranks and get closer to the majority. In
other words, this person is far more of a political leader.

heard two explanations for Palumbo for Aldersley swap for Monroe County
legislative Democrats. First, that a change is needed to keep the blood
flowing. Aldersley had the job for three and a half years, and, as
Palumbo explained, any organization worth its salt needs a fresh
approach now and again. Second, this change sets up better continuity
for the Democratic caucus because Aldersley – an eight year incumbent –
has only two more years before term limits force her out. Palumbo first
took her legislative seat after the 2001 elections.

But it
leaves out the political equation. During this year’s election,
Democrats county legislature maintained 12 seats on the 29-person
legislative body. But there was no increase of numbers. In fact, the
Democrats never got close to taking control under Aldersley’s
three-and-a-half year run as leader. Some will choose to blame
Aldersley. I would say that the Democratic Party in general has been in
such disarray over the last few years that no one would have been able
to make a difference.

But that political component becomes
part of the job. And the minority leader is sometimes like the coach of
a rebuilding football team that isn’t making any promise. The blame may
or may not lie with the coaching decisions, but the axe always comes
down on the coach’s neck first.

It is worth noting that
Democrats have found new hope after November. And it’s because of wins
in town and county legislative races in Irondequoit – a town that is as
much Aldersley country as it is O’Brien’s or new town supervisor Mary
Ellen Heyman’s.

But, in the end, the numbers of the caucus
needed to go up. And now it’s Carla Palumbo who will have the
responsibility for pushing them up.

Charlie Nesbitt, the Albion-based state assemblyman, can relate.

– who represents a portion of northwestern Monroe County – also held
the position of Republican Assembly minority leader. One supposes that
he could only look on with envy at Republican Senate Majority Leader
Joe Bruno, who wielded power and became known as one of the three men
in the room.

Nesbitt’s caucus was dwarfed by the Democrats
(lead by Sheldon Silver). The noise that he could make during, say,
budget season was puny. And Nesbitt had no luck in building up the
minority’s numbers and, in fact, was seeing the caucus lose seats
(right now Democrats have 105 seats to the Republicans’ 42).

came to a head earlier this year when Assemblyman Dan Burling announced
he would challenge Nesbitt for the caucus leadership. He told Karen
Dewitt, "We’ve got members that don’t feel this conference is taking
any direction."

Nesbitt withstood the Burling challenge. But
you had to wonder how much longer Nesbitt was going to hold on. For, in
the end, Nesbitt took the blame for the numbers even though the
Republican dilemma was as much a problem of redistricting, a process
that ensured the comfort of incumbents. As Nesbitt must know all too
well, when your team has far fewer incumbents, those incumbent
protection redistricting maps are really no help at all (something he
can thank Joe Bruno for as much as Sheldon Silver).

Nesbitt no longer has to worry about the growth of the minority now
that Gov. George Pataki has appointed him head of the tax appeals

Now Assemblyman Jim Tedesco of Schenectady must shoulder the leadership yoke. Just like Carla Palumbo will. 

Sounds like a rather thankless job, doesn’t it?

Tallying Up the Score (or… When Do I Eat the Humble Pie?)

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This space allows me the chance to make a few predictions.

With 2005 coming to a close, it only seems fair to make an accounting of whether these "prophecies" came to pass.

Doubt still remains about one proclamation I made at the start of 2005: That New York would see the death of the "moderate Republican." Last January I wrote that with the departure of Rep. Amo Houghton, we will no longer see this type of Republican representative in these parts.

But the Republican Party hasn’t made that decision yet… although it’s coming soon. In the next few weeks, New York GOP Chairman Steve Minarik (also the Monroe County chief) plans to have the county chairman vote on who they would support for governor in 2006.

If Minarik gets his way, they will back the very definition of "moderate" in the Republican ranks – former Massachusetts governor William Weld. But there is dissention in the ranks, which has emboldened more conservative voices in the party to run – former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso and former Secretary of State Randy Daniels chief among them. Faso and Daniels will have to sell themselves as true conservatives.

My bet (perhaps I shouldn’t be making a prediction in a column devoted to deconstructing previous predictions.. but what the hell) is that Weld will get the nod.

And then Tom Golisano will be waiting for a primary challenge. And tell me the New Yorker that would call him a rock-ribbed conservative.

I also predicted at the start of 05 (probably under the influence of a champagne hangover) that the mayoral candidates would trip over themselves to sell the city voters that they could work well with County Executive Maggie Brooks. I proclaimed this as though it would be a campaign centerpiece.

In reality, a Brooks accord was far from the core of the campaign. The violence in the city, the relationship with the City School District and the competence of the candidates took the rightful places as top issues during that campaign.

But on another city issue I was dead-on. I wrote that taxpayers should prepare to be on the hook for the remainder of the life of the Rochester Fast Ferry.

There should have been no surprise when Mayor Bill Johnson said a few weeks back that it was a mistake to say the city-operated ferry would not need a government subsidy.

Of course it would. And of course it will continue to need an infusion of city cash for the foreseeable future. The question now will be whether the city should seek other government funders (the county, the region, the state)… and, more importantly, whether those entities would even broach the idea of helping to keep the ferry afloat.

And while I apparently have no trouble taking bows for the Ferry prediction, I ought to hide my head on the next one. I wrote (rather sniffily) on January 2, 2005 that the Democratic Party will be scrambling just to keep the 12 seats they already have on the Monroe County Legislature.

It seemed logical at the time. County Legislator Chris Wilmot had just flipped parties moving from Democrat to Republican (giving the GOP a 17 to 12 advantage before 2006 even began). Fred Amato, a Greece conservative Democrat, was being forced out and the party would have a problem in his district. In Irondequoit, Democratic incumbent Stephanie Aldersley barely survived her last challenge. And Ted O’Brien, who had been appointed to the other legislative seat, had never won a political race. Both could be had.

And the Democrats had far more incumbents being forced out by term limits than the GOP. Frankly, I thought the Republicans would get 20 seats on the 29 member county legislature and gain a veto-proof majority.

Well Amato did lose (his wife, that is)… but Democrats made gains by taking back Wilmot’s seat. Aldersley and O’Brien became part of the Irondequoit surge, both winning their races rather handily. The Democrats held serve.

Ah… you win some, you lose some, right?

Finally came this prediction at the dawn of the current year: That we would see New York State Legislators talking about reform, but not actually achieving substantive change.

They could have reopened the call for a constitutional convention or tried to give away the power of redrawing district lines. That didn’t happen.

But they did come up with a budget reform package that would have given more control to themselves… it would also impose a contingency budget if the lawmakers and the governor couldn’t agree by a new deadline of May 1.

This went before the voters. And before it did, the voices of opposition rang out loudly. And it went down to defeat.

This budget reform package, however, was really no reform at all. It would have split up power in a different way… but it wouldn’t have gotten to the core of the problem. The concentration of power in the hands of a few in Albany would not have changed. Nor would it alter the entrenched incumbent class in the legislature.

Creating a ray of hope that Albany would be responsive – that’s where reform begins. Of course that wasn’t on the ballot in 2005.

I suppose I got that one right. I wish I hadn’t.

The Endangered DemCon

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Have you heard they took the Yellowstone grizzly bear off the list of endangered species?

That’s good for the bear, you’d figure.

In Monroe County, however, it’s high time that a political animal go on the endangered list.

The Democrat endorsed by the Conservative Party.

In the 2005 election, the Monroe County Conservative Party boasted endorsements for 114 candidates. They may have well lifted the Republican Party slate and adopted it for their own. In only three instances did they back a Democrat. In Webster, DemCons William Saucke (Webster Supervisor) and Alexander Sienkiewicz (Webster Town Council) lost. In Irondequoit, Joe Genier, a DemCon town justice incumbent, won.

Other than that… the Conservatives backed Republicans (or in a few instances candidates who ran solely on the Conservative Party line and lost).

The last comparable local election year was 2001 when there were similar county races, town races and at least a number of county legislative slots open. In that year, the Tom Cook-led Conservatives endorsed Democrats such as Vinnie Faggiano for Sheriff (who lost), Fred Amato for County Legislature (who barely beat the Republican to keep his seat). They backed Democrat John Howland in Henrietta against Republican incumbent Jim Breese… and also supported two Henrietta Democrats (Tom Dietz and Ray Ottman) for town board against Republicans Janet Zinck and Michael Yudelson.

This year? An Amato ran for county legislator, but it was Fred’s wife Pat because he couldn’t seek reelection due to term limits. The Conservative Party backed Republican Ray DiRaddo against Pat Amato. She lost. In Henrietta, Breese, Zinck and Yudelson all got the Conservative support. Hell, they gave their Conservative label to people like Ralph Esposito in Gates, the Republican incumbent supervisor who proposed a budget that hikes taxes 14 percent.

Time was when Conservative and Democrat could live with the same Rochester area candidate. Go back to the 1980s when Reagan reigned supreme: Roger Robach, Joe Robach, Ralph Quattrociocchi, Bob Stevenson, David Proud, Gary Proud, Bill Gillette, Phil Fedele, Jack Kelly, John Auberger, Amato, – these were all Democrats who won with Conservative backing. Many of them came from the west side of the region.

When Tom Cook wrested control of the Conservative Party from Leo Kesserling way back around the start of the Reagan era, he opened the door to the Dems – and even reached out to the party chairman, the liberal Larry Kirwin. I recall a few years ago Nathan Robfogel, a former Democratic County Chairman in the 1980s, saying that it didn’t make sense to run liberal Democrats west of the Genesee.

Now? No DemCons.

So what’s this mean? Well, it makes it harder to understand the comment that Democratic County Legislator-elect Paul Haney gave to Krestia DeGeorge in City Newspaper – that the next town Democrats could claim is Gates – a west side, traditionally conservative town. Maybe the demographics are changing.

It’s also harder to believe a statement (made, albeit, in an offhand way) from County Democratic Chairman Joe Morelle, who said that Joe Robach, now a Republican state senator, is the kind of politician who should be coming back to the Democratic Party.

Doesn’t this lack of Conservative labeling hurt the Democrats? Well, the party seems rather blasé about it. They can now get another line from places like the Working Families Party and the Independence Party. Maybe they think the Independence line allows them the ability to show they are moderate… and go after the so-called Reagan Democrats.

But that could be in jeopardy if the Independence Party can’t muster the 50,000 votes it needs in the next gubernatorial election (a real possibility with its benefactor, Tom Golisano, now a registered Republican).

And what does it mean for the Conservative Party. Under Tom Cook, that party created the illusion of being real powerbrokers. In part, that was because they could endorse either of the two major party candidates in a key election.

But now, it appears that Cook and the conservatives find themselves in the more traditional role of this party in New York State – being a check and a balance on the Republican Party. (Just look at the statewide GOP. Now some gubernatorial candidates from their own ranks say they will run on the Conservative line if they don’t get the Republican endorsement).

Or maybe Cook and the Conservatives simply don’t want to get involved with Democrats until they can show their mettle on the west side… clearly the Democrat organization there is weak.

Any way you slice, however, one thing is true – the DemCon is truly a vanishing breed.

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

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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.

Who Wants Mr. Smith Anyway?

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Good ol’ Mr. Smith is sure taking it on the chin these days.

You remember the citizen legislator from the black and white celluloid days. Jimmy Stewart played him – a kind of aw-shucks type who gained a seat in Congress. A man of the people, representing his constituents, bringing the legislative process to its knees until it responded to the will of the folks.

I wrote earlier about the proposal to shrink the Monroe County Legislature from 29 members to as few as 15.Republicans in control of that body, through the voice of President Wayne Zyra, said that it would diminish the local control of county government. He imagines 29 Mr. Smiths connecting with their local people, acting on their behalf.

And yet this idea of legislative might in government has gotten some bad press in recent days.

You may have read, heard and watched the parade of people who are coming out against a ballot measure in New York that would give more budget making authority to the state legislature.

Just listen to one of those in opposition – former Governor Mario Cuomo’s budget director: R. Wayne Diesel: "It’s better to have fiscal responsibility in the hands of one. Today, in the executive budget process, there is a focal point of accountability and that’s in the executive… To attempt to transfer accountability to 212 focal points simply can’t work. It dilutes accountability. It dilutes responsibility."

I’m sure that will swell with pride the chests of the 212 state Assembly and Senate members.

Heck the state Conservative Party released a statement that made legislators out to be much less like Mr. Smith do-gooders and much more like back-room wheelers and dealers.

On the county level, there have been complaints that the county executive’s office does far more policy setting for county government than do the lawmakers.

Carrie Andrews, a Democrat running for a legislative seat, said that there seems to be a kind of role reversal between the executive and the legislature. "According to the Monroe County Charter, the county legislature is supposed to be the appropriating, policy-determining body in Monroe County. What we have is actually the county executive who tends to set the policy course."

But another legislative candidate, Republican Alex Zapesochny, said perhaps people need to look at this in a slightly different way.

"If your belief is that we need strong leadership to adjust to the new kind of economy that we have right now, then maybe having a strong executive isn’t a bad thing," he said.

Maybe so. And maybe a budget drafted by an administration, rather than a deliberative body, is better.

But with everyone and their brother ripping down legislative bodies these days, it’s quite hard to hear comments by elected officials who say that local government is most responsive to the people.

No one seems to believe that nowadays.

So, You Wanna Debate or Something?

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It was such a simple idea.

Instead it made me feel in turns like the dweeb getting rejected for the prom and the ogre turning away people at the gate.

All we (meaning the Voice of the Voter effort) wanted to do was hold debates with candidates for the Monroe County Legislature. After all, there have been plenty of complaints that the Rochester press has paid much less attention to these kinds of races (City Council, County Legislature, Town Board) than for the Rochester mayor’s race.

So the thought was to pick a couple of districts – and the candidates would be thrilled to come.

Then the no’s came rolling in.
Dave Malta, the Republican incumbent in the 8th District, said he wanted to focus on going door-to-door. His opponent, Democrat Chris Gorman, seemed interested, but he would have had to shuffle his schedule around.

Travis Heider, the Democrat in the 14th District, said through a campaign manager that work would prevent him from coming (the taping for the program is Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m). Work also seemed to be the impediment for Phil Zuber, the Republican running in the 21st District.

Bill Smith, the Republican Majority Leader in the 10th District, said he was booked up.
Lydia Dzus, the Republican challenging in the 16th District, never responded to the four phone calls left on her voicemail. Republican Committee Executive Director Mike Barry ultimately let me down easy by saying that she was unlikely to make it.

Then I had to turn around and release those who planned on coming from showing up. Gorman didn’t have to figure out whether he needed to reschedule. Ted Nixon, the Democrat trying to beat Smith, voiced disappointment.

In the end, we opted to have a forum on the role of the county legislature with incumbent Democrat Stephanie Aldersley (Dzus’ opponent) and challengers Alex Zapesochny, a Republican, and Carrie Andrews, a Democrat, in the mix. (Heider and Zuber are their opponent respectively). We also included long-time Republcan legislator Michael Hanna, who will not be running because of term limits. The idea is to talk not just about the legislature’s role, but also about what the future challenges would be… and whether the new term limits for lawmakers are really working.

There is the desire to ascribe motives for why the naysayers wanted to stay away. Many thought that a week’s notice was too little. Maybe it was.

Barry told me that Republican political leaders stress to their candidates that door-to-door campaigning and mailers are key in these races. So maybe that’s a legitmate excuse.

It could have been more politically strategic. If a candidate thinks he or she has the race wrapped up, why chance a gaffe in debate. Or maybe those in closer races didn’t want a televised blunder to submarine their chances. Of course, no one would say that was the motive.

In my rejected heart I kept thinking… "but it’s less than a week before election… wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to put your views (and that of your politcal party caucus) before the voters?" But perhaps that’s just the lament of the spurned.

Don’t those pimply-faced teenage boys rationalize when they’re hosed by a prospective date?

It’s tough to have to relive those awkward high school years.