Monday, November 09, 2009

The Dust Settleth Hither, Thither, and Yon...

Well, for once WMassP&I is happy at least some of its endorsements made it into office.  In fact, where the ward races are concerned, of the 6 races we formally endorsed, all but one won.  Of the ward races that had preliminaries in September those in Wards 2, 7, and 8 actually saw the candidate in second place win in the November general.  It should be noted that in none of those of the preliminary races, excluding ward 7, did the first place contender capture more than 45% of the vote.  As the preliminary's turnout was lower than even the general's embarrassing turnout, its results could not be taken a foregone conclusion for November.    Still an analysis of the upsets is in order.  Complete election results from Springfield's first ward elections can be found here.

Working backwards in Ward 8, winner John Lysak came up from behind Orland Ramos, largely feared to be an establishment-building candidate.  However, notably, again, Ramos captured only the plurality, and Lysak had a lot of room to move up.  While WMassP&I is not aware of any endorsement of by third place candidate Gloria DeFillipo, she may have seen better fortunes for Springfield in a Councilor Lysak.  Both Lysak and DeFillipo ran at-large campaigns two years ago and lost.  Perhaps they developed some camaraderie along the way.

In Ward 7, Tim Allen, who did win the preliminary with more than 50% of the vote and went on to win the general deserves some notice.  His November opponent, School Committee member Mike Rodgers made a terrible mistake by not having a website.  As said before, Ward 7, possibly the city's most solidly affluent ward, has many young families that are more connected and digital than their parents might have been.  Whether this actually got Tim Allen to victory, it certainly must have helped.

In Ward 6, victor Keith Wright and his opponent Amaad Rivera barely scrounged together 50% of the vote September.  Ward 6, the city's political heart, had a crowded field.  Rivera edged out Wright by a percentage point, again leaving a great deal of room for Wright to pick up some speed.  Complicating a victory, however, was the draft Tom Walsh campaign.  In the end, however, it did not have much impact.  Eighty write-in votes were recorded by the City Elections office.  Even if everyone went to Walsh, it clearly shows there was little enthusiasm for Walsh's candidacy.  Write-in campaigns are near-impossible on their best day and Walsh already said he would not campaign as part of this draft Walsh effort.  Most Ward 6 voters were probably either nonplussed or deeply concerned about Rivera's leftward leaning candidacy.  While this city is liberal, if in an old urban way, it is also deeply conservative especially in its political heart from whence both its political sinners and saints have come.  They voted for Wright.  As about 6 percentage points separated Wright from Rivera and only 3 can be accounted for under the write-in category, some 3% of ward 6 ballots cast voted for nobody.  Even if you strip those out, Wright beat Rivera by 4 percentage points.

In Ward 2, Michael Fenton beat Thomas Sullivan in what was arguably an upset.  Again while the preliminary proved nothing conclusive as there, too, was a crowded field, Fenton's win highlights how political fortunes can change.  Perhaps Sullivan read too much into his victory in September; perhaps voters were more impressed with Fenton's broader, more interactive, and indeed energetic campaign.  Again Fenton had a website; Sullivan did not.  One thing may be said with more certainty, Sullivan ran yesterday's campaign in Ward 2.  Twenty, maybe ten years ago, it would have won him the race.  Not so much today.  Fenton went after every vote he could, perhaps conscious of the ground he would need to make up.  It worked.

Finally Domenic Sarno won himself another term as Springfield's mayor.  In perhaps a political novelty, much of the political commentary appartus, from blogs to the Republican's editorial page did an about face from two years ago when they endorsed Sarno's then-opponent former mayor Charles Ryan.  Many such groups and forums decided that Sarno, while wishy-washy at times, was not all that bad and above all Bud Williams was not the right man for the job.  Still the race did not energize voters and really only a competitive mayor's race can drive real turnout in Springfield.  Turnout was a solid 25% in the city, lower than the boosters of Ward representation had hoped.  However, the mayoral race, which while fierce, was not a barn burner.  Sarno outspent Williams by quite a bit and many probably assumed, rightly time would prove, that the incumbent would win.

Of related interest was the mayor term extension.  Approved by voters, beginning with the victor of the 2011 election, the mayor of Springfield will serve for four years.  As it would isolate the mayor from campaigning so quickly after election, especially as campaign season seems to start earlier all the time, the decision was right.  However, supporters of ward representation should not be surprised when turnout drops even lower, during the mid-term mayoral elections, unless the at-large folks can stir up a storm.  We'll wait and see.  Like we said before the true test of Ward Representation is not this election, but the next one.

Moving beyond Springfield we go to New Jersey where conservatives and Republicans are basking in their victory over incumbent Jon Corzine.  While Corzine's defeat stings, anybody who knows about New Jersey and its colorful, graft-ridden politicians would see this as anything, but a surprise.  Corzine was hardly the state's most corrupt governor, but failed mightily to reign it in.  He had his share of patronage and cronyism and a well-publicized relationship with the New Jersey head of the Communication Workers of America, the largest union among State employees.  However, it was New Jersey's epic property taxes and the bad economy that did Corzine in.  His opponent in the race, former NJ US Attorney Chris Christie racked up numerous indictments again crooked New Jersey officials, especially in the state's medical and dentistry University.  Depressed voter turnout in the state's Democratic strongholds and a wave of independents breaking for Christie won the day for the former US Attorney.

Former Governor/Current Senate President Richard Codey might have been able to defeat Christie, but Corzine remained in the race and had the money and clout to see to it the party did not dump him.  In fact Codey, who served as Acting governor for a little over a year after former Governor James McGreevy left office, had thought about running for real in 2005, but Corzine again had the money and the backing.  Corzine, a multi-millionaire, largely funded his own campaigns for governor and his successful 2000 campaign for US Senate.

New Jersey politics have been festering for a long time in a stew of corruption that spans both parties in a way that almost makes us feel good about Massachusetts.  Codey, for his part seemed to shed some light on the corruption and graft that his predecessor left behind.  It is because of that incompetence and greed that McGreevy resigned, the authors of The Soprano State suggest, not because he was gay.  However, Codey, who could keep his Senate presidency while governor ensuring a great deal of power, never won his own term at the state's top spot.  Independent and non-cronyistic voters knew these things and knew Christie had a real reputation for rooting out corruption.  Just as important, Christie downplayed the social agenda.  That was why he won; not because New Jersey among the nation's bluer states, is upset with President Barack Obama, Obamacare, and other Communist agendas the right claim Obama and his administration are pushing.  Obama campaigned for Corzine, but voters did not oust him because of the president.

Even so, the authors of the Soprano State (which I highly recommend), in their update section of their website say Christie did not run a great campaign.  This is stunning as the authors largely painted him as a knight in shining armor.  Although, having covered politics in NJ for many years, the authors' caution is not surprising.  Wikipedia records criticism against the Bush  II appointed-Christie for handing out deferred prosecution agreements with near-indicted New Jersey institutions.  Under those agreements a monitor was paid thousands of dollars (by New Jersey taxpayers) to shake out all the dirt.  Often the monitors were well-connected Republicans.  The monitors often did their jobs admirably leaving only the appearance of impropriety, but still.  Christie will have his work cut out for him and if successful it will benefit all Jersey taxpayers above all, but the political parties as well.

In Virginia we will spend even less time.  Old Dominion governors cannot serve terms consecutively leaving the current governor, Tim Kaine, out.  The Democratic party seemed to have a tough time scrounging up a candidate.  Creigh Deeds, whom Robert McDonnell, Virginia's next governor, defeated for Attorney General in 2005, was the nominee.  Although Deeds lost by a hair in 2005, running for AG is a lot different than governor.  Not to mention, Deeds ran for AG (and lost) at a time when anti-GOP sentiment was higher than it was when Obama was elected.  An attack on Social Security had just been repelled and bureaucracy and cronyism drowned New Orleans more than Lake Pontchatrain had.  This year, an off-election year, diehards who love Obama stayed home.  Not to mention, independents that voted for Obama showed why they were independents.  They don't vote party lines.  These folks could just as easily be disaffected or still trusting of Obama and still voted McDonnell for governor.

Finally, there is the New York 23rd election.  Bill Owens beat the Conservative Party standard bearer Doug Hoffman.  The Republican candidate Dierdre Scozzafava dropped out shortly before the election and endorsed Owens.  Supposedly, the powers that be were unhappy his Scozzafava's conservative credentials and decided to back Hoffman instead.  The election reminded America that the GOP can only regain its credibility (it will remain relevant unless it goes the way of the Whigs somehow) if it becomes more inclusive and less rightward.  The GOP candidate felt alienated because she was insufficiently conservative.  Conservatives both Republicans and not felt they needed a more extreme candidate.  Sometime you have no choice like Scott Brown's campaign for Ted Kennedy's seat.  He's the only one they can get to run.  Other times, the party actively shoots down anybody to the left of the Pat Robertson. 

In any event, Owens won in a district that had been held by a Republican.  Voters there would be more likely than in Virginia and certainly New Jersey to stick to Obama by voting for the conservative candidate.  They did not, however, blowing to hell any notion that this election was a referendum on Obama.  That is what next year is for.  However, this election does show how important it is that Obama and the Democrats succeed--legislatively--in this next year.  It is not a wake-up call so much as a reminder, again, of how quickly political fortunes change.

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