The Root of Cynicism is Cynicism

Courtesy Marquil at

Mark Tuesday as a pivotal day – the day that New York’s own Machiavellian governor announced an effort to clean up New York’s election laws. The Malcolm Smith arrest for allegedly bribing Republican party bosses in exchange for a Wilson-Pakula electoral fusion cross-endorsement has, at long last, shined a spotlight on the transactional horribleness of New York’s legalized electoral racketeering. 

Yesterday, Governor Cuomo announced that he wants an independent monitor at the state Board of Elections to root out corruption and campaign finance fraud. 

Ending Wilson-Pakula would be a significant blow to the clout of the leadership of the state’s influential minor parties who grant the waivers for candidates of major parties to run on their ballot lines. Cuomo said he does not support ending cross-party endorsements, meaning major party candidates could still have fusion ballot lines in a general election.

This isn’t a perfect solution, as it still permits candidates to circulate petitions to get on a minor party line. It does, however, greatly reduce the clout that minor party bosses have, and this is a desired result. Why should the boss of a party with a single-digit enrollment percentage have any clout at all? The Daily News describes the law thusly

Wilson Pakula law, which gives party bosses the power to decide if candidates not registered in their parties can run on their lines. Cuomo said the setup encourages ballot lines to be traded for campaign donations.

Of course, Sheldon Silver – champion of awful – opposes eliminating a point of electoral fraud

“I don’t think we should preclude people from running on more than one line,” Silver said at a news conference today. “They’re only allowed to registered in one party. There has to be a mechanism for us — for people — to gain dual endorsements or more.”

It’s no surprise that certain Democrats remain almost childishly butthurt over the election of Jeremy Zellner as chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee.  Typically, there’s litigation pending to underscore the factionalism, most of which has to do with who controls the paltry number of patronage jobs. The Erie County Independence Party barely exists in anything but name only, and the state committee is almost exclusively backing Republicans nowadays. The Erie County Conservative Party is run cynically by Ralph Lorigo, who will only endorse candidates who oppose abortion, gay marriage, and gun control, except when convenient for him and his own self-interest. The Republicans, as one would expect, oppose Democrats uniformly. That’s how it’s supposed to work, after all. Except in judicial races. 

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that everyone united in interest against the Democratic committee apparatus would attend a fundraiser for its chief opponent – another Democrat from neighboring Cheektowaga. If people like Ralph Lorigo can help defeat Democrats in a general election, Zellner gets blamed and the Max/Pigeon people can argue that they should take over the party, and people like Lorigo get to control a few jobs here and there, thus solidifying their positions. But if you take away Lorigo’s ability to control his party’s line, that could significantly affect outcomes. 

Because none of this has anything to do with Democratic ideas or principles. It all has to do with transactional petty nonsense like who gets to hire whom for some no-show job at some city, town, or county authority. 

Abolishing Wilson-Pakula is a great first step. Abolishing electoral fusion and cross-endorsements altogether would be a fantastic second step, as it would eliminate the number of hands in the government cookie jar. 

But if you sit there wondering why people want nothing to do with western New York’s political system, and why we have a hard time getting people to run for office, you have to realize that it has a lot to do with the fact that even the smallest, least significant elected office in this area is fraught with awfulness. 


  • I’ll just make a few of my usual points about all this:

    1. The Working Families Party makes its endorsement decisions on the basis of a vote by rank and file party members. That vote happens after those members interview all interested candidates on the issues. I suppose the actual endorsement only counts once the party “boss” signs some piece of paper, but the decision is made democratically by the members.

    2. The IP and (to a lesser extent) the Conservatives are transactional and corrupt. So are the Democrats and Republicans. Eliminating the little crooks won’t decrease the amount of corruption, patronage, and graft. Instead, it will just concentrate it in fewer hands. This isn’t an improvement.

    3. The two party system is a bad thing. A system that rewards 51% with power and gives 49% nothing isn’t especially democratic and is inhospitable to politics based on actual issues. Making it harder for small parties to exist and gain traction is a bad idea.

    • 1 & 2. Did the WFP rank and file really vote for all of the actions Tony described for the Grisanti seat and Long Island judgeship? Also for the endorsement of Byron Brown for mayor in ’09 after he’d twice received the Conservative Party leadership’s endorsement for mayor in ’05 and ’09?

      3. I’ve often thought an easy improvement (especially now with paper ballots) would be to continue allowing cross endorsements, but end the practice of any candidate’s name appearing more than once on a ballot. Under each candidate name, the ballot could list the party or parties. Thus, voters who care about WFP or any other party label can still take that into account but the power from outnumbering opponents in the ballot line count would be gone.

      • 1. I can’t really speak to the particulars, since I haven’t been involved lately. Endorsements happen as I described them. When an endorsed candidate drops out before the general election, the party has to decide what to do with the line. That decision is made on a less formal basis, in my experience at a general membership meeting.

        2. Yep, the party voted to endorse Brown twice. I wasn’t happy about it, but I only had one vote. Candidates who also seek the Conservative line are asked about it during the endorsement process.

        3. The problem with this is that it eliminates the voter’s chance to vote for issues rather than people. A vote on the WFP line (or the Right to Life line, or whatever) sends a message that these issues matter to the voter. Collapsing everything under the name of a candidate makes it about the personality rather than the issues.

        • 3. I don’t see how limiting each candidate to one ballot line with party indications would eliminate any voter’s chance to vote for issues rather than people, or favor personality over party more so than now.

          Voters could still look for party labels on ballots whenever they want to. I didn’t suggest to hide party labels in fine print or anything like that. Party labels could have identical print as the candidates names.

          The worst thing about the system now is the frequent outnumbering of how many times the same candidate’s name is on the ballot at 4:1 (D/I/C/WFP vs R), or 3:1 (R/C/I vs D) or even a 2:1.

  • The WP is just as bad. They endorse lawyers as placeholders who can drop of the line as late as September to take a judicial nomination in some far flung location so the WFP can analyze the field and cut a deal. Let’s not pretend to be pure when that’s not even remotely true.

    Hell, last year the WFP endorsed a candidate in the Senate race against Mark Grisanti and then nominated that same person for a judgeship on Long Island WITHOUT THAT CANDIDATES CONSENT. There was a court case to decide if you could nominate a person to a position they didn’t want and the WFP lost. They wanted to give the line to Amedo after they saw who the primaries shook out. Out of all the minor party outrages I’ve seen, WFP’s actions were the most egregious.

    • None of this even begins to approach the level of corruption and graft that characterizes the other minor parties, to say nothing of the two major parties.

      Whatever you think of it, the WFP is unique in being an issue based party.

    • Has the Working Families Party ever run one of its members in Erie County for office?

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