It’s cute when a young child fibs. Most kids are very bad fibbers, so there is little risk of them fooling anyone. Plus their motives are usually harmless, and their alibis often hilarious. (“Did you eat all the cookies, Billy?” —No, the goldfish did.)
Attorney Andrew Howard’s picture from his website
The same can’t be said of grown men, especially grown men being paid upwards of $150/hour out of public funds... So what’s the excuse of Andy Howard, the former County Attorney turned lawyer for the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC)?
At this week’s CEDC meeting, Howard told an obvious whopper. During Tuesday’s meeting, the topic came up once again of Hillsdale Supervisor Art Baer’s request for legal confirmation that CEDC’s $1 land deal with Ginsberg’s food was aboveboard—free of any conflict of interest.
Previously, CEDC (via Howard) had declined to issue the certification Baer requested, vaguely claiming that the request was too vague.
But this time, Howard took things a step further, grossly embellishing the nature of Baer’s written inquiry. This misleading colloquy sounds a lot like an attempt to gin up fake outrage among the CEDC’s elite membership, who in the past have expressed reluctance to comply with ethics disclosure, training and oversight.
CEDC Board member Scott Wood raised the matter of the “letter from Supervisor Baer asking us to review the legality of certain issues we had done. And we had discussed it on here with our counsel, and we believed that everything we had done was legal and in conformity.”
But though Wood felt CEDC had fully responded—an opinion shared by few outside observers— he expressed surprise that another Supervisor found the response “evasive,” and wondered what they could do to clear up the matter.
That’s when Wood turned things over to Howard, who says:
You received a general request for a legal opinion that everything this Board has done has been legal and ethical standards. Not specifically with Ginsberg’s, not specifically with anything… It seemed very ambiguous and vague.
In fact, Baer’s request was hardly general, and was not aimed at “everything” CEDC had ever done. Rather, it specifically and narrowly dealt just with the Ginsberg’s land transaction.
The subject line of Baer’s August email inquiry was:
Ginsberg Land Sale
The body of the message featured a formal request for “a legal opinion from CEDC counsel and/or the County Attorney that all ethic and legal guidelines have been followed in this proposed transaction” [emphasis added].
The purpose of the request was clear to CEDC executive director Ken Flood, who spelled it out just as explicitly in an early September memo to Howard (attached here). Flood noted that CEDC “has received a formal request for a legal opinion that all ethic [sic] and legal guidelines have been followed in the proposed land transaction between CEDC and Ginsberg’s” and sought Howard’s response.
And indeed, at that time it seemed Howard understood the narrowness of the request. Two days after Flood’s memo was sent, Howard himself referenced Baer’s specific request about “the proposed land transaction between CEDC and Ginsberg’s.” While refusing to provide the assurance sought by Baer, Howard then proceeds to discuss details of that deal—and no other CEDC business.
Does that mean I start and look at each and every one of your appointments, to see if you were legally appointed? Does that mean I go to Lisa and look at every one of the legal notices, since I was appointed?
“We should be done with this!” Bartolotta is heard to exclaim on Cusano’s recording, followed by a loud sigh. (Earlier, Bartolotta said of the County’s request for reimbursement of $109,950 paid for the land that “it just makes me crazy... It’s just ridiculous!”
Wood suggests that CEDC “should take the offensive… Maybe that is a strong word… Take the initiative… Relying on counsel’s affirmation that we have been doing things correctly.”
A voice which sounds like CEDC Board member Mike Vertetis derisively says that responding further won’t “quiet the chance to run off at the lip a bit in front of the paper.”
CEDC Board member Greg Fingar chimes in that Baer and [Ancram Supervisor Art] Bassin are “both retired,” so they should be able to attend meetings. Bartolotta demands to know whether the two are up for re-election next year, echoing an insinuation from a previous meeting by CEDC President David Crawford—and Ginsberg’s project engineer—that “this is all political.”
Perhaps more illuminating than Howard’s whopper is that the rest of the CEDC Board did not utter a word of correction, though Baer’s specific request has been widely reported and commented upon in the past few months.
Last week, a poll commissioned by the Chris Gibson campaign claimed that the incumbent Republican Congressman (NY-19) holds a 26-point lead of 56%-30% over his Democratic challenger, Sean Eldridge.
Now Eldridge—possibly concerned that any impression of being hopelessly behind could suppress his base’s enthusiasm—has swiftly released his own counter-poll, claiming to show him “just” 10 points behind, 36%-46%.
Both competing campaign polls surveyed approximately 400 voters, and claimed a margin of error of about 5%. Gibson used the firm Public Opinion Strategies, while Eldridge used the equally-excitingly-named Global Strategies Group. Unlike Siena, neither of the two partisan campaigns released the “crosstabs” for their poll results, data which helps statheads to verify a poll’s methodology. Both purport to have surveyed “likely” voters, without specifying how they measured that likelihood.
Perhaps most tellingly, both polls show a large number of undecided voters: 14% in Gibson’s poll, 18% in Eldridge’s.
While Eldridge fans may take heart from the counter-poll, 10 percentage points is still a lot in the world of politics. Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by less than 4 points in 2012, yet that was considered a resounding victory. So Eldridge’s pollster using the word “just” to describe a 10-point deficit seems kind of spin-ish.
Meanwhile, Gibson fans can find comfort in an endorsement this morning from the generally centrist Poughkeepsie Journal. The “PoJo” editorial board writes:
In his four years in office, Gibson has proven to be a reasonable, responsible lawmaker, someone willing to work across the aisle, as shown by his high independent rating scored by Congressional Quarterly on key votes.... Indicative of his bipartisan approach, Gibson has worked extremely well with neighboring congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat [on the farm bill]. They also have teamed up to get the House of Representatives to approve defunding the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's outrageously detrimental "new capacity zone," which is causing electric rates to rise in our region. Gibson has been a strong fighter on behalf of Lyme patients throughout the valley, pushing for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to devote more funds to the effort and directing it to work on a better diagnostic test.
If one were to assume Eldridge’s poll is more accurate—as most Democratic partisans will assume—he still has a big mountain left to climb. Gibson would need only win less than a quarter of those undedideds (22.7% of them, to be exact) to prevail by just over 50% (46%+4.1%=50.1%). Eldridge meanwhile would have to win well more than three-quarters of undecideds to pull ahead.
By contrast, if Gibson’s numbers were assumed correct, there would be no way for Eldridge to catch up even if he captured all of the undecideds. He’d also have to cut into Gibson’s committed supporters.
So, what is the public to believe? Polling is a notoriously inexact and even biased science, and much could change between now and Election Day. (The last few weeks of a campaign is often when “oppo research,” i.e. personal smear tactics, tend to rear their ugly head.)
If one splits the difference between these results, the average of the two is roughly an 18-point lead for Gibson: 51%-33% with 16% undecided. To the extent that polls tend to narrow as one gets closer to the election, the final margin will almost surely be somewhat tighter than that.
There are plenty of reasons for residents of Hudson to feel disempowered.
Some get disempowered by their elected officials, who display few qualms about ignoring both common sense and the voices of hundreds or even thousands of residents. Recent (non-) debates on the Community Garden, a proposed Dog Park, and the long-running Waterfront controversy are good examples of how insider conversations within the City Hall echo chamber trump popular sentiment.
Others disempower themselves, for example by failing to cultivate strong candidates, and allowing beatable incumbents to run unopposed… Or, by mounting half-baked or incompetent election campaigns.
The first group of disempowered people feels slighted. The second group slights itself, along with (mostly-) well-intentioned supporters.
It’s in this context that both groups of disempowered Hudsonians have latched onto the abstruse issue of Hudson’s weighted vote as a means of reforming City politics.
Hudson is said to be one of the last of “Small City” in New York State, and maybe even the nation, to retain an antiquated and recondite scheme for weighting Common Council votes in proportion to each Alderman’s ward population. (More usually, City Councils set forth districts with equal numbers of residents to achieve a one-rep-one-vote system.)
As a result, one huge Hudson Ward—the 5th—holds nearly 40% of all votes on the Council, effectively diluting the votes of other Aldermen. When the 5th Ward’s two Aldermen vote in tandem, they can carry most votes with the help of just one of their remaining nine colleagues.
Fix the weighted vote (the disempowered now hope) and Hudson’s electoral problems will magically go away. And thus a tremendous amount of energy lately has been put into calling for either redrawing the Ward map to better make the Ward populations more balanced, or even better, hold a Charter change referendum to switch over to one-rep-one-vote.
Those in favor of keeping the existing system self-servingly counter that the last time this was tried, the referendum was defeated, albeit narrowly. This camp conveniently ignores that the proposal roughly a decade ago was paired with an unpopular proposal to double the terms of the Mayor and Council President, muddying the weighted voting question.
Without question, the City’s weighted voting system has become lopsided, and its implementation appears to be sloppy at best. But that said: Those putting so much effort into agitating against the weighted vote in Hudson are ignoring the much bigger electoral problems in Hudson:
(1) Far fewer people are voting in today’s elections than a decade ago;
(2) The Democratic Committee is a shell of its former self, with little serious effort put into cultivating full slates of solid candidates;
(3) Progressive interests are not backed by smart, well-organized and well-funded campaigns.
The root problem is a disaffected electorate which has largely given up on participating in politics. Changing Hudson’s weighted voting system is a long-term procedural headache which few voters have either the interest or the patience to follow. Few are ever going to spend the time necessary to get their minds around the Banzhaf Power Index, nor should they have to. Moreover, the weighted voting system itself does not effect the election of either the Mayor or the Council President, which are by far the two most influential elected positions in town.
Still more crucially: In a small community like Hudson, voters are far more motivated by hyper-local concerns, such as timely snow removal, getting the fetid storm drain on their corner flowing again, or fixing a huge pothole in the middle of their block, than by head-scratching referenda about the City Charter. Most voters could not even define the difference between the Charter and the Code, and nor should they really need to know that.
Instead, if the same intensity of effort that were put into direct electoral politics, problems with the weighted voting system would be minimized.
Rather than trying to explain a highly-technical Charter issue to an already uninterested electorate, effort would be better spent registering people to vote who are not already on the rolls. With voter participation down by about 35% over the past decade, registering just one voter per day between now and the next Citywide election in 2015 would make all the difference.
Instead of diverting energy into a long, complicated procedural argument, those seeking empowerment would do better to engage in direct, grassroots organizing. Start by creating a database of existing voters, identifying existing supporters, and drawing up lists of unregistered friends and neighbors to get on the voter rolls. Spend the next 3-5 months developing a strong slate of candidates. And then start early going door-to-door to present voters with palpable, real-world reasons to elect that slate.
Elect a better Mayor. Elect a better Council President. Challenge incumbents who have become more responsive to inside City Hall baseball than to the needs of the City. Or at least, focus on finally winning one of the two 5th Ward seats. Find a great candidate for 5th Ward alderman, and put everything into getting that person elected.
Such a victory alone would neutralize the weighted vote issue by dividing the 5th Ward’s lopsided vote in half, thus empowering the remaining members of the Council.
And then there might even be enough votes to fix the weighted voting system.