I’m not sure which bad metaphor to use after state Senate candidate Cecilia Tkaczyk finally triumphed by a few votes over heavy favorite George Amedore last week: Cecilia, you’re breaking (his) heart, or C.C. Rider, see what you have done now.
Maybe C.C. is better since those who can pronounce neither her last nor first name use initials.
Tkaczyk, who led by about 135 votes when machine votes were counted, but then fell behind as absentee and affidavit ballots were counted, eventually won the battle of those ballots by taking about 80 percent of the last 91 ballots those judges allowed to be included. The final margin was 18. Key to her election in the five-county state Senate district was UlsterCounty, where Tkaczyk reversed an Amedore northern tsunami into the narrowest of victories.
No one, including Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo, a Democrat who politely refused to endorse Tkaczyk in mid-October because he was convinced Amedore was going to win, could have seen this one coming.
Consider — this district, the 46th, was created by Republicans under reapportionment last January in an attempt, widely believed to be abetted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to retain their majority in the legislature’s upper house. District lines favored three-term assemblyman Amedore, who had been handsomely reelected in a district with a Democratic enrollment. That Amedore’s candidacy was dictated to Republicans on the county level caused resentment outside the candidate’s home county of Montgomery.
Meanwhile, Democrats saw opportunity where Republicans anticipated a cakewalk. Adding to that misconception was that Tkaczyk failed to impress anyone by winning a three-way June primary in embarrassingly light voting.
Tkaczyk soldiered on, greeting 50 here, 100 there, even as Amedore was papering Ulster County with expensive flyers, two, three times a week. The Democrat was running on a shoestring, the Republican on a million-dollar check provided by the Republican Senate Campaign Committee.
Leaks from those in the know suggested polls showed Amedore with a 13-point lead on Oct. 1. But elections aren’t decided in early October.
Then came a $500,000 cash infusion to Tkaczyk from a murky super-PAC committed to campaign finance reform. An interesting irony, that a group opposing the state’s Wild-West campaign finance system was using it to its own advantage. But then Andrew Cuomo does the same thing.
They don’t call money the mother’s milk of politics for nothing. The Democrat was able to portray her opponent as a far-right ideologue, based on his five-year voting record in the Assembly, targeting a county with a heavy Democratic enrollment and a congressman who had voted pretty much the opposite of how Amedore had. Having the president’s ballot presence pulling Democrats out of the woodwork didn’t hurt, either. Even so, turning a double-digit deficit into something approaching percentage-wise what banks are paying on savings accounts these days was astonishing.
Going forward, Tkaczyk, sworn in this week, will be associated with that razor-thin victory. She will have to tread carefully between her own liberal philosophy and Amedore’s shadow. If Amedore had gotten 10 more votes out of more than 122,000 votes cast, he’d be the senator.
Tkaczyk enters a Senate that is itself a hotbed of political intrigue. Democrats took a 32-30 majority last November, but a five-member breakaway Democratic coalition teamed with Republicans to keep the GOP in power. Tkaczyk has said in published reports that she’d like to see a true Democratic majority — she’s their 33rd vote — but that may not be in the cards.
Not to go all homer here, but she should consider establishing a district office in the county that handed her the election. Retired congressman Maurice Hinchey’s old digs on Wall Street in Kingston might be available. And it might be convenient for the mayor to come up and kiss her ring now and then.
About Gallo: He thought he made the right call (in October) for his city. “I’ll have to work with Amedore,” he reportedly told Democrats who urged him to speak at a Tkaczyk rally in Kingston. Had the popular first-term mayor come out for his party’s candidate, she might have carried Kingston by another 300 votes or so, obviating most of the extended post-election angst we have just endured.
As a practical political matter, the hair’s-breadth senator may be in no position to alienate Gallo or anybody else. With Amedore pondering a rerun and with Republicans itching to reclaim the Senate in their own right without that pesky coalition of Democrats sharing power, she may face a difficult re-election.
Winners and losers
Say one thing about the senate Republican campaign committee, they sure know a Democratic vote in a sealed envelope when they suspect one. Of the 99 ballots opened last week at the board of elections in Kingston, 85 had been challenged by Republicans. The Democrat prevailed 69-15 (there were a few blanks and write-ins.) Republicans intuited that they were doomed when an appellate court ordered the ballots counted.
Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who represents six of eight towns (and the city) in Tkaczyk’s district, was an effective behind-the-scenes player in her Ulster landslide. Birds of a philosophical feather, the two will work closely together until they don’t.
Former mayor Jim Sottile, a Democrat, drove yet another nail into his political coffin as Amedore’s ex-officio campaign manager in Ulster. Son Jamie, who did the heavy lifting, may have learned something from a losing campaign.
First-term Ulster Democratic Chairman Frank Cardinale backed Tkaczyk early and often, thus establishing himself as a serious player. To the contrary, Republican Chairman Roger Rascoe and his brain trust merely went through the motions. It showed on Election Day when the GOP, for the first time in memory, didn’t hold an election night victory party. “We didn’t have a local candidate,” Rascoe explained. Democrats had no homegrown candidate, either, but still whooped it up, as always.
The Independence Party got on the Amedore bandwagon early but wasn’t able to wag the tail enough to make a difference. Major party leaders may be rethinking relationships with these erstwhile kingmakers who might now be seen as jokers.
Tkaczyk’s victory will not advance the cause of campaign reform beyond the talking stage, at least below the gubernatorial, statewide level. If anything, the candidate’s eleventh-hour cash transfusion demonstrated even more dramatically how much smartly spent money can mean in politics. (Amedore still outspent her by almost $400,000, according to published reports.)
The state’s toothless open-meetings laws, which exempt the state legislature, took another beating last week as Ulster election commissioners refused to allow video and recording equipment inside the room where the ballots were counted. A TV reporter from Albany loudly protested Republican Commissioner Tom Turco’s ruling based on a previous court order that no recording devices were allowed.
“This isn’t a courtroom,” the reporter asserted. “You are in violation of the Open Meetings Law.”
Turco, already 20 minutes past the 10 a.m. start date for counting, responded to what was becoming a circuitous exchange, “So sue us.” Democratic Commissioner Victor Work remained silent, though his opposition to Turco’s decision would not have made a difference, since commissioners have to agree.
To my lasting shame, I did not join in the TV reporter’s protest — nor did any of the dozen or so other media types — even though I found Turco’s argument specious and his final say on the matter insulting. Sad as it may be to say, the so-sue-us commissioner was only acting like many other officials when dealing with open-meeting issues.
The judge in question, a Montgomery County surrogate (Amedore country) acting as a supreme court judge, issued the gag order almost a month ago before two higher courts issued rulings.
The advance team for Congressman Chris Gibson might be getting some blowback after booking a Midtown Kingston second-floor suite that lacks an elevator at 721 Broadway for a district office. It was the federal government that instituted regulations to provide access to the disabled a generation ago. And there was a plethora of Midtown office spaces available when congressional staff was in the market last November-December.