Rochester, NY (April 27, 2011) -- If there is one thing politicians are supposed to be good at, it is (to steal the tagline of a local law firm), "the art of representation." They may not know budget numbers off the top of their head or the five pieces of legislation of which they are most proud, but they always know who they represent -- and sometimes they know their kids' names and their dogs' names and the soup special at the local diner. This is why redistricting years are always highly political: pols fight over who they get to represent, hoping to secure a district that is even more familiar, more politically "safe" for them. In other words, pols invest themselves in knowing their district because that is what is most likely to help them secure re-election.
Given all this, it is curious indeed that one member of Rochester City Council, Carla Palumbo, Esq does not know the boundaries of the district she has represented for 3 1/2 years.
The paper trail
In an email to a local Democratic Committee member, Palumbo said the following, "As far as the City Council seat there is no part of the NW Council District that crosses over to 22nd or 24th LD's." In a separate email, she insisted on the point once more: "I have never had any part of 22 - I do however have some of 27 but there is no one in those ED's I will check with Tom Ferresse [sic]--."
To some in the Northwest Council District (the boundaries of which can be readily viewed by visiting the Monroe County Board of Elections website), Palumbo's comments are fitting. Admittedly, filling the shoes of former Councilmember Bob Stevenson was an impossible task: Stevenson put the word peripatetic to shame. Even Joe Robach used to hang his head and say "Damn, that Bob Stevenson is EVERYWHERE." And he was -- Stevenson knew his District and thrived on participating in virtually every aspect of civic life in that part of Rochester.
Palumbo, by contrast, has caused some consternation by not regularly attending neighborhood meetings, and appearing disengaged at those she did attend. If there were ever a perfect validation of the rap on Palumbo as being not very interested in her district, she provided it herself: she doesn't even know who lives in her district.
The offensive ED revealed
Who are the forgotten voters of Carla Palumbo's Northwest Council District, the ones who, apparently, have gone unrepresented since January 2008? They reside in Legislative District 22, Election District 24. A few blocks just northwest of the inner loop containing Frontier Field (that's where the Red Wings play, Carla -- they're a baseball team).
According to the Monroe County Board of Elections, approximately 306 registered voters reside there -- 71 of whom voted in the November 2010 election, and 29 of whom voted on Ms. Palumbo's candidacy in November 2007. Two dedicated voters in this district (both Democrats) have not missed a single election since 2005. The truly bad news for Palumbo is that just over 2/3 of the voters in this ED are registered Democrats, and therefore eligible to consider a Democratic alternative to Palumbo, should a primary challenger emerge.
But wait, there's even more intrigue afoot in the NW
As one might expect, this is not the end of the story. This being Smugtown, the story would not be complete without some sort of machinations by the party to protect incumbents and tamp down any sign of dissent.
In this case, such efforts took the form of an argument that, not surprisingly, simply is not true: that it is traditional for Democrats to designate candidates under the current district lines, and then re-designate if the lines change (as they are likely to do once new lines are approved for the 2011 election).
In one email to committee colleagues, County Legislator Cynthia Kaleh (LD28) argued that "There is a history of the leg[islator] running on old lines for the county." Whoever is providing Ms. Kaleh with her history is doing the legislator a grave disservice. In fact, the 2001 designations occurred AFTER new lines were drawn. Ms. Kaleh reveals her actual motives later in the same email where she states, "the committees should rally round the process and help all incumbents to maintain their seats." Well, that explains things.
Ironically, it is Carla Palumbo herself who provides the evidence regarding the sequence of events in 2001. In a letter mailed to committee members seeking their support for her designation to the County legislature in April 2001, Palumbo clearly states, "The designating meeting will be held after the Monroe County legislature votes on a final plan." [See below]
Conclusion: Reform Starts in the NW?
For those looking to send a message to Smugtown elites and to the powers that be in the Monroe County Democratic Committee, the Northwest City Council District might be the lowest-hanging fruit of 2011. Palumbo's already tenuous hold on the district seems weaker given her current gaffes.
Incidentally, the Northwest Democrats decide to break with past practice, designating both Council and County Leg positions at the April 25th meeting. Palumbo won the designation, but not overwhelmingly. And she did it with the LD 6/7 Committee deciding to vote without permitting her opponent, Jim Muscatella, to even address the committee. Evidently that is what Democratic Party elites think passes for democracy in the Northwest. Fortunately, voters will have their say in September.
If you'd like to share your opinion on this article, please log in (or create a membership login) and enter your comments in the "What's your opinion?" box. Underneath your opinion, provide your first and last name and the city and state in which you live. We will only print opinions that include this information. Thanks very much!
Click here to get email updates!