Tim Bunn wrote in to endorse the legitimacy of the negative ad Dan Maffei aired regarding Ann Marie Buerkle’s property taxes (see “Check My Math”). His comment was substantial, and with his agreement I’m running it here as a guest post, slightly edited for length—but like all the others, note that these are solely the author’s views. Tim was a newspaper editor for 33 years before retiring in 2007 from The Post Standard. He makes many good points, but I still wonder whether the ad itself backfired. We’d need to spend some money on well-designed focus groups to figure that one out. But here’s what Tim writes:
Maffei was well within the bounds of reasonable political debate in bringing up Buerkle’s tax delinquency. Paying property taxes isn’t a private matter. It’s a public one. Tax payment is a public record for a good reason. It’s a public act. Buerkle’s tax record was fair game in the campaign on a number of counts. For one, any person who wants my vote to represent me in Congress – a pretty high public office – ought to live up to the first rule of leadership – set the example. Then, of course, she should do what any responsible, ordinary citizen is expected to do – pay her taxes when they're due. I have to – and I do. I bet you do too and so do the readers of your blog. Why shouldn’t our congressional representative, if she wants our vote for that office? Also, she tried to mislead voters by trying to lay off her responsibility on her tenants. As an editor, I have more experience than I ever dreamed I'd get with triple-net leases, which is the type she had with her tenants. I negotiated plenty of them when we leased news bureau office space throughout Central New York. In commercial real estate, the so-called triple net lease is pretty much standard fare. They usually have a clause requiring tenants to pay the landlord – Buerkle, in this case – a pro rata share of taxes on the property in addition to other rents. That’s fine. Landlords don’t know what taxes will be year to year, and with a triple-net lease they're covered if taxes soar. Tenants benefit too if taxes go down. OK. But here's the rub: Buerkle claimed her tenants failed to pay her the money for the taxes and that’s why she didn't pay them. Come on! She’s still the property owner. She's still the one with the responsibility to pay the taxes. The county doesn’t care – nor should it – about what lease provisions she has with her tenants. The county's got no skin in that game. If, as she said, she wanted to help her tenants because she's just that kind of swell person, fine. Let her work out a time-payment plan with them to pay her what they owe her. God bless her. But what’s that got to do with her obligations to the county? What’s that got to do with other taxpayers like you and me, who she’s asking, in essence, to front her tax money while she’s waiting around for her tenants to pay her? Buerkle was giving voters the old head-fake by laying the blame on her tenants. Why shouldn't all that be a matter for public discussion in a political campaign? What’s between Buerkle and her tenants is their business. What’s between Buerkle and the county is public business. That’s what Maffei was getting at, and he’s right.