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Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

Republicans gathered at the Hyatt Regency to cheer on Carl Paladino, who stumbled badly in the campaign's last month.

Quel Paladino effect?

In every place where politics are hashed up, including this column, the speculators suggested that the Republican candidate for governor, Carl Paladino, would draw Western New Yorkers—and possibly even disgruntled folks elsewhere in the state—to the polls in record numbers. After all, turnout in September’s Republican primary was astonishingly high in this part of the state.

Not so. While early reports from polling places seemed to suggest a higher-than-usual turnout, in fact many thousands fewer Erie County residents went to the polls on Tuesday compared to the 2006 gubernatorial election, when Democrat Eliot Spitzer was a shoo-in.

With 93 percent of the vote counted, Paladino trounced Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in Erie County, adding about 100,000 votes to the 50,000 he took in Erie County in his Republican primary victory. He won 1.4 million votes statewide, or 34 percent, far better than the 2006 Republican nominee, John Faso. But Cuomo had about 2.5 million votes, or 61 percent.

The rent just got higher

If there was a Paladino effect statewide, perhaps the beneficiary with Jimmy McMillan of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party: McMillan won a little over 13,000 votes in 2006; on Tuesday, he pulled in 57,000.

Grisanti holds slim lead over Thompson

The race between State Senator Antoine Thompson and his Republican challenger, attorney Mark Grisanti, is a squeaker: At press time, Grisanti leads by about 500 votes.

On Tuesday evening, Thompson led by 258 votes with two election districts left to count. Those two election districts were in Grand Island, where Thompson lost two his two Democratic primary opponents by a margin greater than four to one. Grisanti, too, cleaned Thompson’s clock on Grand Island, beating him by more than 600 votes.

The final result will depend on absentee ballots and a recount, in anticipation of which both sides have already girded themselves in lawyers. That may take a couple weeks. There are about 2,500 absentee ballots to be counted, according to the Grisanti campaign, which believes they’ll break in favor of the Republican.

There’s little evidence that Paladino’s name on the ballot drew out votes for Grisanti. In fact, the pool of voters who turned out in the 60th State Senate District is smaller than the pool of voters who elected Antoine Thompson in 2006, and Thompson appears to have lost about 4,700 supporters in the intervening years. The close race in the 60th has more to do with dissatisfaction with Thompson and ethnic voting patterns—African Americans for Thompson, whites and especially Italians for Grisanti—than with some new pool of voters drawn to the polls by Paladino.

Mr. Kennedy goes to Albany

As we move to the suburbs, however, the number of voters does begin to climb: In the 58th State Senate District, there were about 6,000 more voters than there were in 2006, and a lot of those broke for Republican Jack Quinn. In 2006, the incumbent Bill Stachowski, got almost 60,000 votes. On Tuesday, Stachowski—who hung around stubbornly on the ballot as the Independence and Working Families candidate—and Tim Kennedy, who beat Stachowski in the Democratic primary, combined for about 56,000 votes. Those defectors and the new voters all lined up for Quinn, who made it a close race. The unofficial tally shows Kennedy winning by about 2,000 votes.

The New York State Senate was a good place to be a Democrat for maybe about a year, before bad behavior and ineptitude brought an end to the salad days of the Democratic majority. (Let’s call the leadership coup of 2009 the beginning of the end, and Inspector General Joseph Fisch’s account of the scandalous AEG/Aqueduct affair, released 10 days before election day, the coup de grace.)

Alas for Tim Kennedy, who worked very hard and spent a lot of money to wrest the 58th District seat from a fellow Democrat. We may not know for several days whether Democrats have retained the majority: At press time there were three State Senate races that hang on 500 votes or fewer, including the Thompson/Grisanti race, which may prove to be pivotal.

Republican Minority Leader Dean Skelos is convinced that Grisanti has won, and that Republicans will pick up at least one fo the two other close races.

Even if the Democrats hang on, Kennedy will be a rookie in a legislature that treats rookies poorly.

If the Republicans take control, it’ll be even harder for Kennedy to shine—and it may mean trouble for Kennedy’s powerful sponsor, Congressman Brian Higgins, too. Higgins won handily on Tuesday against Len Roberto. But Western New York’s dwindling population is going to cost the region a Congressional seat, and the redistricting based on the 2010 Census is controlled by the state legislature. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who will have much to say about redistricting, is no friend to Higgins and is not likely to do him any favors as Western New York’s Congressional districts are redrawn. Neither will a Republican-controlled State Senate. In two years, Higgins may be running for re-election in a district that is far more rural and conservative.

In a Democrat-controlled Senate, Kennedy might be able to help Higgins. If the Senate is a 31-31 split, of course, then let the games begin: In that situation, some sort of coalition—or a series of extemporaneous coalitions—would be required to get much of anything done. That makes seniority less important than the willingness to make a deal with legislators of all parites. Kennedy proved in the Erie County Legislature that he’s a dealmaker.

Pigeon tracks:

Speaking of those willing to make a deal: Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra was a big player in the campaign of Mark Grisanti. And in the final weeks, the local building trade unions switched their endorsements from the incumbent, Antoine Thompson, to Grisanti, and supplied him with legions of volunteers to help get out the vote on Tuesday.

But we’re also told that political apparatchik Steve Pigeon, who seemed largely invisible this campaign season, dipped his beak into the 60th District race in its last couple weeks. That’s surprising, because Thompson is nominally an ally to mayor Byron Brown, who Pigeon supports.When we find out why, we’ll let you know.

Still good to be an incumbent

It was supposed to be the year that we drained all the tired, polluted blood from the corrupted body politic in Albany. But the odds still favor the incumbent here in Western New York. If State Senator Antoine Thompson falls to Mark Grisanti, that makes just four state legislators dislodged. (The others were State Senators Bill Stachowski and Dale Volker, who resigned his seat unwillingly, and Assemblyowman Francine DelMonte. We’re not counting Assemblyman Jack Quinn, who voluntarily resigned his seat to run for Stachowski’s and lost to Tim Kennedy. Republican Kevin Smardz beat Democrat Brad Rybczynski in the race for Quinn’s seat.) Eight local incumbents were returned to their seats.

Succession questions

Who will replace Tim Kennedy in the Erie County Legislature? Here at AV, we don’t know the answer—maybe Buffalo School Board member Lou Petrucci?—but we know that whoever is appointed will be paying attention to how the Erie County Legislature districts are redrawn. Erie County voters overwhelmingly approved the downsizing of the Erie County Legislature from 15 seats to 11.

And who will hear housing cases now that City Court Judge Hank Nowak is moving up to New York State Supreme Court? Mayor Byron Brown gets to make the appointment, and we’re told that attorney John Elmore is at the top of the list. You may remember Elmore as a candidate for the Erie County Water Authority commissioner job that went to Steve Pigeon acolyte Jack O’Donnell.

If James MacLeod had won the Erie County Court seat he coveted on Tuesday, Brown would have had two City Court seats to fill. With just the one opening, the competition ofr Nowak’s seat will be stiff. But Ken Case took that seat decisively.

Finally, Joe Golombek finished third in the 144th Assembly District seat, trailing both Republican Brian Biggie, who picked up 27 percent of the vote, and the winner with 54 percent, incumbent Sam Hoyt. That’s got to be disappointing to two Golombek supporters who entertained hopes of succeeding him as the Buffalo Common Council’s North District representative. One of those was Riverside Review editor Richard Mack; the other was BMHA attorney Paul Wolf, who is unhappy with his job.

Howie Hawkins lassoed enough votes to win the New York StateGreen Party a line on the ballot for the next four years.

A greener New York

New York State’s Green Party won its own place on the ballot, having broken the 50,000-vote threshold that guarantees a line for its candidates for four years. (Otherwise, a party must circulate petitions for every one of its candidates.) Erie County did its part to make that happen, delivering 3,911 votes to Howie Hawkins and 10,019 to Julia Willebrand for state comptroller. That’s 1,411 votes more than the Green candidate for governor racked up in 2006, and 3,617 more votes for Willebrand, who ran for the same seat four years ago.

The Conservative and Libertarian parties also held on to their ballot lines.

A less green Supreme Court:

Attorney Cheryl Green resigned as Erie County Executive Chris Collins’ top lawyer to run for State Supreme Court on the Republican ticket. She lost, finishing second last. At press time, it looked like the five Democrats had finished on top, with a roughly 1,400-vote gap between the sixth-place finisher, Republican Deborah Chimes, and the fifth-place finisher, Democrat Mark Montour. So, Cheryl: Welcome back to the priovate sector.

—geoff kelly

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