Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

For More on the 4th District Race for Syracuse Common Council

A good, short piece on this race by Tim Knauss today in the Post-Standard.  If you'd like to hear more from the candidates directly in a substantive and lively half-hour conversation, see their recent appearance on the Campbell Conversations, which you can find here.  This is probably the most interesting and competitive race at the Common Council district level.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Three Syracuse Common Council Surprises

I had the pleasure of moderating the Syracuse Common Council candidate forum last night (Tuesday 10/25) at Nottingham High School, sponsored by Parents for Public Schools, the League of Women Voters, La Liga, and Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse (ACTS).  Many of the Council candidates participated--11 in all. 

I was surprised at least three times during the evening.

First, I was surprised by something several of the candidates told me after the event--that there have not been any similar all-candidate, city-wide forums.  Some individual district candidates have done their own events, but generally, the public has had very little opportunity to hear from the candidates directly.

Second, and made more surprising by the first surprise, it appears that this forum will not get coverage in the Post-Standard.  The photographer was there, but I did not see a reporter, and an email today to one reporter suggests that it will not get covered.  Hopefully I'm wrong about that.

Third, and perhaps most surprising of all, was the response I got to an extemporaneous question I posed to those candidates who had opponents. 

Noting that elections were about choices for the voters, I asked them, when it comes to education policy, what the most important difference was between them and their opponents. 

Most of them really struggled to answer this, and in four cases, the response was that they didn't know enough about their opponent's positions to draw a contrast.  They wanted to talk about their own general qualifications instead.  I have to admit, I've been in this business for 30 years and I was stunned.  If you  don't know enough about what you and your opponent stand for to make a distinction, how do you run?  Do you leave this essential contrast to the voter to figure out without any information?  On election day you can only pull one lever (or in the at-large race, two out of four).

As it turned out, the one candidate who was most eager to answer the question had no opponent and volunteered something about his recent visits with education groups.  Another incumbent highlighted that she had prior experience on the council.  Ok, but that's still not the contrasting information I need as a voter trying to sort this out.

The two candidates who were willing and able to talk about their differences, civilly I would add, were Howie Hawkins and Khalid Bey, the candidates for the fourth district seat.  On that note, I'd encourage readers interested in city elections to check out their Campbell Conversations "debate" on WRVO, which you can find here, and where they develop these differences at greater length.

Of course, when it comes to incomplete information things can get worse, and they did not too long ago in my own voting district East of Syracuse, when, in a school board election, there were only as many candidates as spots to fill and there was ABSOLUTELY NO policy-relevant information provided about the candidates.  And according to the school district, there were no public forums. 

(Voters sigh here.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Strange and Intriguing Political Death Spiral of Ann Marie Buerkle and Dan Maffei

Despite getting increasingly disgusted with some of the political rhetoric I've been hearing and reading (see earlier posts on this), I still love the way that politics creates strange ironies and paradoxes.

Here's one I've been pondering a bit recently:  Given likely redistricting outcomes, Dan Maffei and Ann Marie Buerkle desperately need each other. 

Why is this a paradox?  Because, based on watching the two of them debate and listening to what they have said publicly about each other--and not said--I'm going to go out on a limb and assert that they are not the best of pals.

But in considering possible redistricting schemes here in this area, their best--and perhaps only--chance of winning back or keeping a congressional seat in 2012 is if they can run against each other.

New York must give up two congressional districts, and pundits have identified the Syracuse area as ripe for getting carved up and merged into other existing districts, at the same time that those other districts are re-shaped.  There are several political reasons that this is the likely outcome--the subject for another blog perhaps.

But if this carving up were to happen, Ann Marie Buerkle would most likely be pitted against incumbent Richard Hanna in a Republican primary.  Hard to see her winning that match-up.  Hanna is a well-liked, bona fide moderate Republican.  Moderate Republican still fits this regional area well--just ask Joanie Mahoney for instance. 

The other scenarios have her running against a series of incumbent western Democrats, and given the politics of geography, those would be tough races for her (assuming she got the nomination).  The final more remote possibility is that she would take on Democrat Bill Owens, and in that race she'd have both geography and ideological positioning working against her.  Owens has established himself as a more moderate Democrat.

Dan Maffei has a similar problem, perhaps an even more severe version of it.  It's very hard to imagine him beating any of the aforementioned Democrats in a primary--and in some cases I doubt he'd even be likely to challenge them.  He'd be facing the same tough geographic politics, for one thing. 

In addition, despite the fact that he has run as a self-styled moderate, and also that he has some votes and positions to bolster that claim, I do not think he is solidly perceived to be particularly moderate, and perception is what counts in an election.  That would hurt him in a primary race against Bill Owens, for example.

But where that problem would really hurt him is in a general election against Richard Hanna.  Just like Buerkle, he'd be running against a well-liked bona fide moderate, and again, it's hard to imagine him winning that match-up if he's carrying any liberal baggage.

Of course, things can rapidly change in politics.  But the way it seems to be shaping up, the best hope either of them has is a re-match with the other.

Finally, A Political "Debate" That Worked

If you have any interest in the city of Syracuse, you might want to check out my recent Campbell Conversation program with Howie Hawkins and Khalid Bey, available on WRVO's website or through the Campbell Institute's website.

Perhaps the most intriguing local race this November is the match-up in the fourth City Council district between Democrat and Working Families Party candidate Bey and Green Party candidate Hawkins.  Hawkins has run for many seats in the past, including governor and U.S. Senator, and not come close to winning, but the last time he ran for city council he garnered about 40 percent of the vote.  This race may be his best shot.  The seat is typically held by a Democrat.  In this lively conversation, the two candidates describe the specific new initiatives they would propose to the Council, the most important differences between them, and the biggest challenges facing the city.  In individual questions, Hawkins addresses how he’d try to be effective as a third party member on a Council dominated by Democrats, and Bey explains what phrases on his personal website like “Egyptian and Taoist alchemy” mean for his own personal development, and how he’d try to work in a bi-partisan manner if elected. 

[update:  The personal website providing that information appears to have been taken down since the interview.]

It's tough to get at meaningful substance in a short debate with political candidates, but in this conversation, I think the listener can walk away with a pretty good read on what each of them would emphasize in office, and what the most important differences are between them.  You can also begin to get a more general sense of how they think and who they are. 

One thing that helped the effort is that it seemed clear to me that these two candidates had some measure of respect for each other, and may even like each other.  This seemed to contribute to their general lack of defensiveness and caution and the absence of silly caricatures of what their opponent stood for.

Give it a listen and see what you think.