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Independence, Amodeo, and the Power of Money

Stefan Mychalijw is running for Erie County Comptroller on the Republican, Conservative, and Independence Party lines, against David Shenk, who was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Mark Poloncarz earlier this year and is running on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines. Mychalijw pulled the rug out from under Shenk when he took the Conservative endorsement, which Shenk had assured the Democrats on the Erie County Legislature who voted to appoint him to the vacancy was his for the taking. Indeed, he offered it as a credential, arguing that his ties to the Conservative Party made him more electable in a countywide race than the other Democrats who applied for the job.

In return, it seems that Shenk’s campaign tried to steal the Independence Party line from Mychalijw by the use of a proxy candidate named Megan Lavin. Lavin’s nominating petitions for the IP primary (which Mychalijw won anyway) were carried not by IP members but by a host of Democrats associated with party headquarters, including Jeremy Zellner, who was voted in as the party’s new chairman two weeks ago, and Lavin’s brother, Shawn Lavin, who is a paid worker on Shenk’s campaign.

Someone campaigned for Lavin—there were robocalls, direct mail, literature—but curiously she has not registered a campaign committee with the New York State Board of Elections through which to accept and spend money. So who paid for her campaign?

The Independence Party is famous for being a tool that major party candidates manipulate to drain their opponents of resources and votes. Similar chicanery attended the successful effort by incumbent State Senator Mark Grisanti, a Republican, to win the IP line in the 60th District. Grisanti’s nominating petitions were circulated not by IP members but by Republicans, many of them from out of the region.

All this is of no consequence now, but it begs the question: Given the way major parties use the IP as their playground, what exactly is the Independence Party? And what’s “independent” about it?

• “Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions,” wrote Henry Adams, “has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.” If that is so, then what is one to make of the new Siena poll that shows Mark Grisanti leading his two principal opponents in the 60th District, Democrat Mike Amodeo and Conservative Chuck Swanick, by 47 percent to 23 percent and 17 percent, respectively?

(Gregory Davis, on the Working Families Party line, polled at six percent. Davis, we are told, was meant to give up the line to Amodeo, who won the WFP endorsement last week, but refused to do so. So he occupies the line, siphoning Democratic-leaning voters from Amodeo.)

Voters in the district, where Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one, don’t hate Amodeo; they just don’t know him. Fifty-seven percent of those polled, including 47 percent of the Democrats, had no opinion, favorable or unfavorable, of the candidate. The problem for Amodeo is that it takes money to introduce yourself to voters in a district as big as the 60th, which stretches from Riverside to Hamburg. Because Governor Andrew Cuomo has given his tacit support to Grisanti, Democratic donors are shying away from the Amodeo campaign. He has a couple big fundraisers coming soon, which he hopes will allow him to air some TV commercials in the finals weeks of the campaign, but as of last week he had just $8,000 on hand and had given up trying to touch big donors in Albany and New York City. The State Senate Democrats’ campaign committee has not yet committed resources.

Grisanti, on the other hand, is flush, with $50,000 on hand as of last week and plenty more available to him from downstate, where more than 90 percent of his donors live. Grisanti’s campaign has spent more than $870,000 since he took office to make sure that voters know him, and that figure doesn’t include taxpayer-funded mailings of the sort he chastised his predecessor, Antoine Thompson, for using as a campaign tool. Grisanti’s favorables are high—59 percent to the good, 30 percent to the bad, and only 10 percent undecided. Voters, both Democrats and Republicans, generally like Grisanti. The question is how well they really know him.

An example: Grisanti is campaigning on having passed the UB 2020 legislation, but that’s a deception: There is no UB 2020 legislation anymore. It died. A far less ambitious bill, NYSUNY 2020, was passed in its stead. Another example: Grisanti, the chair of the committee that addresses environmental issues, has refused to take a public position on hydrofracking, the state’s number one environmental issue. (Amodeo, who opposes fracking, on Wednesday called Grisanti’s endorsement by Unshackle Upstate, a lobbying group that supports the practice, evidence that Grisanti, too, is pro-fracking.) How does one judge a candidate whose self-portrait includes misrepresentations and dodges?

Practical politics consists of ignoring facts”—Henry Adams wrote that, too. So far Grisanti’s financial advantage has allowed him not only to ignore facts but to conceal them, while Amodeo struggles to make himself heard.

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