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Two Parties, Two Strategic Directions
Two Parties, Two Strategic Directions
Rochester, NY (March 6, 2013) -- With local elections approaching in November of this year, Republicans and Democrats are already jockeying for position. But in this horserace, Republicans are already looking like experienced harness racers, holding the whip hand. Democrats, by contrast, seem directionless and uneasy in the saddle.

And with that, I have exhausted all of my horseracing idioms.

But the fact remains: local Republicans are demonstrating their political savvy; Democrats are continuing a long tradition of freeform politics, epitomized by the circular firing squad.

Republicans’ Smart Moves
Just this past week, local Republicans have made two moves that demonstrate they are thinking about their party, its supporters and how to better position itself to maintain its current strength. They have shown solid strategy, regardless of how one may feel about the content of their policy positions.

Although there was no previous outward indication that County Chair and NYS Assemblymember Bill Reilich was interested in running for Greece Town Supervisor, Reilich announced his plans this past week. Reilich and the Republicans realized something important: the Town of Greece, one of the largest towns in the state, is currently suffering some malaise with respect to Republicans. Former police chief Merritt Rahn’s imprisonment, skirmishes on the school board and a pall of negative associations with Supervisor John Auberger make conditions ripe for a potential voter revolt. And while Greece is not revolutionary territory, Republicans know this: with the right candidate, Democrats could conceivably win control of town government.

A Democratic victory in Greece would be devastating to Republicans. Substantively, the town is the largest pot of patronage jobs in the county -- an opportunity to place party loyalists and to use those connections to build reciprocal support for the party. Symbolically, the loss of Greece would be demoralizing to Republicans -- it would be the major domino whose toppling would suggest the Democrats could soon control much more across the county.

This is why Reilich’s move makes such strategic sense for Republicans: he is well known, capable and just about the strongest candidate Republican can field. His candidacy makes a Democratic victory in Greece little more than a pipedream, barring something completely unforeseen.

Another example of Republican strategy is the County Legislature’s plan to challenge the new state gun law, the NY SAFE Act. Republicans know that the issue is simmering among their base, demanding some sort of challenge of the governor. They also know that such a challenge has to happen in Albany -- not at the local level. So County Republicans are doing what makes sense: taking their case to Albany. Win or lose, it is good, solid politics.

For Democrats, Mystifying Actions
In contrast to Republicans, consider how puzzling the Democrats’ strategic moves have been over the past several days.

On the gun issue, Democrats know that their base favors gun control. Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered Democrats a major victory with the SAFE Act, but local Democrats gained little from it politically. Perhaps trying to capitalize on the issue, County Legislature Democrats proposed banning firearms in the County Office Building. On policy grounds, it would change very little; symbolically, Democrats were probably hoping that Republicans would overplay their hand. But it is usually a risky strategy to hope the other side screws up.

In this case, Republicans shrugged off the proposal. Majority Leader Anthony Daniele responded with understated but effective logic: firearms are permitted in countless buildings in the area -- on what basis does one target the County Office Building? And what need has been demonstrated for such a ban? These are reasonable questions that suggest not an ideological opposition to the proposal, but a pragmatic one. Democrats may have been hoping Republicans would scream “From our cold, dead hands!” but instead they simply asked an obvious question and Democrats were left without an effective response.

Within the city, Democrats’ strategy is equally mystifying. Mayor Thomas Richards has certainly proven himself an able administrator and a reasonable executive. But his vision for the city has been difficult to describe. For several months, the city has fought Monroe Community College tooth and nail to keep the college’s city campus in the city building. And yet the city’s argument has never quite made sense.

“Stay in the downtown area because the college is central to downtown growth.” Really? There has been no clear plan for downtown’s growth -- certainly the city’s lack of interest in a performing arts center indicated that downtown life was not something that has been a major focus of the administration -- unless they believe a vibrant downtown is based on Windstream employees and MCC students.

Then came a reduced price tag for renovating the building from its new owners -- several million dollars below what they had previously estimated. But if that was possible, why did the offer come so late in the game? Something about this new offer does not make sense.

And then there has been the paradox of safety: the city claims the Sibley building is safe -- that the Kodak site would be no safer. And yet the new Sibley owners are promising to work with the city to locate a downtown police substation in the building. So, is it safe or isn’t it?

And while this bizarre procession of arguments goes on, Democratic leaders are bolstering the administration and working overtime to prevent a challenge from Council President Lovely Warren. To what end? For what greater good? Seemingly the only argument the party can make is, “just let us keep our guys in power and we’ll figure it out later.” Perhaps if Democrats could offer their party activists a coherent, effective governing strategy, they might find it easier to act cohesively as a party. But given this scattershot approach, it might actually be better for some primaries and internecine battles. Perhaps some good long-term strategy and discipline will emerge.

Make no mistake: good strategy does not necessarily make good government. But good strategy makes governing possible. Democrats need to focus on the basics of politics: connecting with voters, recruiting good candidates, running disciplined campaigns and then governing with a consistent message and a unity of purpose. Local Republicans do this well, but they do not have a monopoly on this knowledge. If Democrats can field candidates who can practice politics with skill and discipline, they can win the trust and respect of voters. And whoever governs the county of Monroe and the city of Rochester over the next several years will need that trust: tough decisions loom.

[Further Reading: Where is the Vision for Downtown? | Why Broadway's Hottest Shows Will Be Playing in Irondequoit | Why a Warren Campaign Would Be Good for Rochester]

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Member Opinions:
By: admin on 3/6/13

Let’s see if I understand this:

In the City of Rochester a potential candidate wants to run for mayor and is openly discouraged by major figures in the interests of party unity. This is bad because pluralism and competition is good. In the town of Greece several candidates are interested in running for supervisor. One of these candidates is openly critical of the selection process as rigged. After a private talking-to by the party boss, presumably in the interests of party unity, the dissenter defers and the boss takes the nomination without ever declaring himself a candidate. This is good because competition and pluralism is bad. That makes sense.

Aren’t you really offering a theory about power politics rather than better democracy? The republicans are better because they quash dissent and the other side is clumsy at the same thing. The larger point gets lost here.

Is continued one party rule in Greece good for our community? Sometimes it seems like east siders treat the west side as if it were another country, where different and more primitive rules apply.

Brian Caterino
Rochester, NY

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