November 13, 2013

Have (some) Dryden Republicans given up on elections?

[Building on a piece I started writing in October.]

It's been a very strange fall. Normally, around Labor Day, the Dryden roadsides blossom with political signs, especially in years like this one with county elections as well as town elections. For the first time in a long while, every seat that's up for election this year is contested.

I've been puzzled, though, to watch as Democratic signs went up but only a few scattered Republican signs, and those for incumbents Steve Stelick and Jack Bush. The Shopper ads for the Republican town candidates are a mix of their usual past slogans. "Individual Freedom & Personal Responsibility" meshes nicely with the sign that hung in their office for a long while:

Saint Calvin.
Saint Calvin Coolidge and his reversible axiom.

The ads for the county legislature candidates are especially strange, with the candidates from both the east side and the west side directing their fire at west side Democrat Martha Robertson. The weirdest moment of that was in a Shopper ad with a bullet saying that "Mike Lane is a nice guy but enables Martha Robertson to do this with his votes". The second part of that statement is the clearest sign I've seen that the Republicans running for county legislature have spent no time whatsoever studying how the legislators actually work with each other.

Then, last night (October 17th) I went to my first Town Board meeting in a while. Between an ad in The Shopper calling on "Town of Dryden voters" to "Come join us. Voice Your Opinions." and the news that the Town Board had demanded and received the Planning Director's resignation last month, I expected a crowd.

I'd heard of a consistent band of angry folks attacking the board for daring to proceed with Critical Environmental Area (CEA) designations, but I wasn't prepared for a crowd that seemed to demand a fight. One speaker dared them to call the Sheriff, one told me "any time, buddy", and there was at least one other invitation to a fight. It wasn't a friendly crowd by any means, announcing its lack of trust in the board and especially the supervisor repeatedly.

I'm not sure what the crowd at the meeting thinks about it, but the Dryden Republicans went down to a resounding defeat in last week's election.

The two Republican incumbents, Highway Superintendent Jack Bush and Town Board member Steve Stelick, lost narrowly, Bush by 26 to Rick Young at the latest count and Stelick by 66 behind Democratic newcomer Greg Sloan. The other Republican candidates lost horribly. Democrats won County Legislature seats by 2-1 margins. Democratic Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner, the target of that angry crowd, won by 1830-1375.

(I'll post a fuller story when the official results go up.)

I would like to give lots of credit to the Dryden Democrats, who ran some great campaigns, but the larger story seems to be the decline of the local Republican party and strange choices by its leadership.

Dryden has changed dramatically since I started writing ten years ago, and not just in voter registration. The battles over fracking left a lot of Dryden voters skeptical of the Randian property rights rhetoric the Dryden Republicans relish, and the party didn't seem able to put together much of a story. Its lead candidate, Ron Szymanski, is pretty well remembered for his pro-drilling rhetoric.

This still should have been a winnable race for them, as Republicans historically vote at higher levels in local races. I suspect that 2011 made some Republicans less eager period, and the barely even minimal campaign (awful signs, very late) that most of their candidates ran made it worse.

The craziest piece, the most self-defeating piece, was running the legislative race as an attack on Martha Robertson. I get that Republicans don't like her, and neither does my former high school classmate who is now unfortunately our Congressman. Running someone against her, even someone unlikely to win, though, was a great way to increase west side Democratic turnout. Blasting bizarre attack ads out over Facebook, where they seemed to hit pretty much everyone in Tompkins County, though, was an especially bad idea. Apparently there were also similar TV and radio ads.

That brought out people who just wanted to vote a Democratic ticket as a show of support before next year's Congressional race. I'm reasonably sure that approach brought out many more than the 26 votes that cost Jack Bush the Highway Superintendent seat, and maybe the 66 that cost Steve Stelick the Town Board seat.

This last-minute prank didn't help either, at least with anyone who was paying attention. Maybe it was supposed to be about Steve Stelick and Jack Bush, who've demonstrated an interest in clean water in the past, but I don't think it was a wise reminder of the views of the rest of the Independence ticket for Dryden offices:


It was a weird year, one where most of my predictions fell flat. The continuing strength of the fracking conversation and DRAC's strong presence made it a hard year for Republicans whose rhetoric was tarnished by past fracking battles. Despite that, I didn't see any kind of Democratic sweep coming.

The Republicans certainly could and even should win elections here, but I don't think it's possible on their current course. That makes me worry that we'll have effectively uncontested races (much like the City and Town of Ithaca) in the near future, something I dread. (The Republican victories in Lansing and Newfield are signs that we're not necesssarily there yet.)

I'm not sure what to predict for the angry crowd at the Town Board meeting. CEAs are gone, and took the Planning Director with them. Perhaps the end of that saga (which alas I never especially covered) and the magnitude of this loss will ease tensions a bit. I'm not counting on it.

Posted by simon at November 13, 2013 8:03 PM in
Note on photos