In Rochester, New York, one Democrat is running to the right of the incumbent Republican. Base on the mood of the local paper, he may not be the only incumbent to face a serious electoral challenge. The results will be seen after all the votes are counted November 2. Will change, meaningful change, finally come to the government of New York State?
The government of New York States is similar to the government of the United States. There is a chief executive (Governor) with appointed department heads, a bicameral legislature (Senate and Assembly), and courts. In reality, for over a generation, the government of New York has been in the hand of three officeholders, the governor, the Senate majority leader and the Assembly majority leader.
State government has been in flux for about two years. Eliot Spitzer was forced to resign as Governor in March, 2008, after his relationships with prostitutes became public. His successor was David Patterson. Patterson, due to run for election in 2010, was enveloped in scandals of his own and chose not to run.
In June, 2009, the minority Republicans in the State Senate temporarily persuaded two disaffected Democratic senators from New York City to defect. This allowed the Republicans to regain a majority in the Senate but the takeover was never fully realized. Both defectors were returned to the Democratic fold after some negotiating.
This confusion, infighting and the scandal after scandal that surfaced has created a serious reelection issue for current members. In the Rochester area, the local newspaper, the Democrat & Chronicle, refused to endorse nearly all of the incumbents of both parties. Describing Assembly majority leader Sheldon Silver as a “power monger”, they went on to point out the incumbents who were too close to the leadership, and those that were too ineffective.
State Senator Jim Alesi is one of the longest tenured politicians in the Rochester area. That means pork. Much of his time in the Spring is spent going from event to event in his district with large cardboard checks made out to the group he was currently addressing for $10,000, $15,000 or more. These groups were often small fire or ambulance departments and the Alesi “grants” made a huge difference in their budgets.
His Democratic opponent in the 2010 election is Mary Wilmot. In a recent mailing, she described herself as a “real fiscal conservative”. Alesi may be vulnerable to accusations of being a big spender because of his support of the Republican Senate majority. He voted in vote after vote that raised New York taxes and increased New York budgets.
Quotes from Alesi’s website:
“Senator Alesi has helped secure tens of millions of dollars in state funding for the University of Rochester, the Rochester Institute of Technology, Nazareth College, Roberts Wesleyan College, Monroe Community College, and St. John Fisher College.”
“Senator Alesi has helped to ensure tens of millions of dollars for Strong Memorial Hospital, Highland Hospital and Rochester General Hospital… “
The Democrat & Chronicle endorsed Alesi’s opponent, saying:
“But voters also need a senator in these dire fiscal times to do much more than dole out state dollars that play a huge role in New York lawmakers having one of the highest re-election rates in the country. “
If change is coming to the Congress, will change also come to the New York legislature? Can voters overcome the image of big, fat checks being delivered by their local Senator or Assemblyman? November 2 will tell the tale.