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Seven Days: Hochul Represents, Speaking of Redistricting, Antoine Rides Again!

Hochul beats Corwin, eliciting cheers from mainstream Democrats, defensive posturing from Republicans, and a resounding "meh" from progressives. (photo by Alan Bedenko /

Hochul Represents

Some thoughts, in the aftermath of Democrat Kathy Hochul’s win over Republican Jane Corwin in Tuesday’s special election to fill the 26th District Congressional seat, on what that victory means:

Nick Langworthy, Erie County’s GOP chairman, had his hands all over Corwin’s campaign. So did Chris Grant, chief of staff for Erie County Executive Chris Collins. They will no doubt try to cast blame for Corwin’s unlikely loss on Jack Davis, who sucked more votes away from Corwin than he did from Hochul votes, and on Corwin’s treatment by that old bugbear, the “liberal media.” (Isn’t it funny that liberals, who, after all, should know their own tribe, tend to consider the mainstream media conservative?) We’re betting that Republicans, locally and especially statewide, have grown tired of Collins’ imperial manner and his and his allies’ political failures—consider the chaos and bad blood created by the failed candidacy of Carl Paladino, who is allied with Collins and endorsed Corwin—and so will not be satisfied with those deflections.

Collins’ office protects him but Langworthy is vulnerable. If local Republicans begin to wonder whether Langworthy is capable of being their chairman, keep an eye on A. J. Baynes, chief of staff for State Senator Patrick Gallivan, the Republican who succeeded Dale Volker last year—a seat for which Langworthy had supported his predecessor, Jim Domagalski.

• Credit for Hochul’s disciplined, well considered campaign goes first to her campaign manager, Fabien Levy, but it reflects well on Len Lenihan, Erie County’s Democratic Party chairman, too. Lenihan seems poised to score another political victory in the Erie County Legislature, which has lately been controlled by a coalition of six Republicans loyal to Collins and three rogue Democrats, including the legislature’s chairwoman, Barbara Miller-Williams. Next week, legislators will vote to adopt one of two competing redistricting plans that reduce the legislature from 15 to 11 seats. Both plans stink: The Republican plan, based on a map presented two weeks ago by Hodgson Russ attorney Adam Perry and presented by Miller-Williams, dilutes city influence, bends reason and rectitude to protect incumbents, and shamelessly divides communities for transparent political considerations. The plan submitted by Democrats this week is not much better—the district it prescribes for Miller-Williams is clearly punitive—especially considering the much more equitable alternatives designed by Democrats on the reapportionment advisory commission, which was dissolved after Perry, who was appointed by Miller-Williams to chair the commission, called a surprise vote to adopt his plan after last Wednesday’s public hearing.

All that aside, Lenihan has used the fight over reapportionment to draw one rogue Democrat, Tim Whalen of South Buffalo, back into the fold, at least for now. There’s a better than even chance that another, Tina Bove of West Seneca, will also join the Democratic caucus. That would make eight votes against seven. If Collins chooses to veto the Democrats’ redistricting plan, he’ll be cast in the unenviable position of delaying the downsizing of the legislature that he championed and voters approved by referendum, for clearly political reasons. And if Bove and Whalen stick with the Democratic caucus and abandon Miller-Williams—a political ally of Mayor Byron Brown, who has made common cause with Collins and is at odds with Lenihan—then the Democratic chairman will have had a very good week indeed.

Joel Giambra, the former Erie County executive turned lobbyist, is no friend of Chris Collins. Maybe that’s why he happily called the race for Hochul early last night on Channel 4’s newscast. Giambra also argued, correctly, that Davis’s nine percent of the vote was not necessarily the difference in the race. While Davis, who created a Tea Party line to run on, certainly attracted conservative voters, many of those might have stayed home had he not been in the race, or voted for the rich, conservative, suburban Democrat instead of the even richer, conservative, suburban Republican.

In any case, Giambra harbors a grudge against Collins, who has weeded out Giambra’s hires from the county payroll. Giambra claims far too much credit for Mark Grisanti’s upset of the incumbent, Antoine Thompson, in the 60th State Senate District, but he and State Senator George Maziarz—another Republican whose power base is independent of Collins—certainly played a role in that race, and will try to play a role in whatever realignment occurs among local Republicans as a result of Corwin’s loss.

• The only county that Corwin won big was Orleans, which she took by 931 votes. She won in four other counties, too, but by margins of 200-400 votes—not nearly enough to counterbalance Hochul’s wins in Erie (5,479 votes) and Niagara (1,436 votes) counties.

• Who will succeed Hochul as county clerk? Governor Andrew Cuomo can appoint an interim, but with an election less than six months way, he may allow Erie County voters to fill the vacancy. One potential candidate is Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, who considered running against Collins this fall. That challenge has been undertaken instead by Collins’ constant goad, Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz, and the Democrats will not brook a primary, having learned from the catastrophe of 2007, when Jim Keane, Paul Clark, and Jimmy Griffin tore each other apart while Collins watched gleefully from the sidelines. If Gabryszak is appointed or elected county clerk, then his Assembly seat would be open. A prime candidate for that seat is Erie County Legislator Tom Mazur.

• What happens next? New York State is going to lose two congressional districts this year, as a result of the new Census. The state legislators who control redistricting had been working on a deal whereby Democrats would sacrifice one district downstate and Republicans one district upstate. Hochul’s win makes that tricky, as does the fact that Louise Slaughter’s and Brian Higgins’ district both must gain people to offset their population loss. Will the 26th District disappear? Will Hochul be drawn into a district with a fellow Democrat, like Higgins (not a favorite of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver) or Slaughter (hard to imagine her losing a redistricting fight, but she is 82 years old), or with freshman Republican Tom King?

Speaking of Redistricting

We’ve been having a difficult time finding out what happened to a redistricting proposal for Buffalo drawn up by community activist Terry Robinson and UB demographer Rusty Weaver. Weaver and Robinson say they submitted the proposal last week to the city clerk’s office so that city legislators could review and discuss it, but the proposal has never resurfaced: It has not appeared on the agenda of any Common Council meeting regarding redistricting.

Weaver and Robinson’s proposal is dramatically different from the proposal made by a citizens advisory commission, on which Weaver served. The commission’s proposal is being tweaked by city legislators, who hope to approve it and send it to the mayor’s office for his signature before petitioning for candidates begins on June 6. All nine members of the Common Council are up for re-election this fall.

Antoine Rides Again

There is a rumor afoot that Antoine Thompson, whose loss to Republican Mark Grisanti last November is now, as of Tuesday evening, the second-biggest upset in recent local politics, is considering a run for city comptroller this fall. That may be so, and there’s case to be made for the candidacy, if not for the candidate himself. In crowded field that may include Erie County Legislator Maria Whyte, businessman Aaron Siegel, and Assemblyman Mark Schroeder, a candidate who can consolidate the African-American vote might win.

But would Democrats welcome the return of Thompson, who lost a solidly Democratic district to Grisanti? Last Saturday, Thompson was given the cold shoulder by fellow Democrats at a Kathy Hochul campaign event at Amherst’s UAW Hall. The event featured appearances by Senator Kristen Gillibrand and Congressman Brian Higgins. Thompson arrived alone, according to one account, and when he tried to mount the stage to stand behind the podium, a barricade of people stopped him.

geoff kelly

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