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.
In an email circulated to his Board colleagues last week, Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin called for the resignation of David Crawford, President of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC).
Crawford’s engineering and planning firm, Crawford & Associates, is handling permitting and engineering work for Ginsberg’s Foods’ proposal for a 300,000-square-foot facility in Ghent and Claverack, which has received substantial financial and marketing support from CEDC.
David Ginsberg preceded Crawford as President of CEDC, remaining on its Board (according to its minutes) until October 2013, well after the agency had decided to apply for $1.5 million in funding for the Ginsberg project. Ginsberg’s Food also has had a $400,000, 1%-interest loan from CEDC; the loans term overlapped the tenures of both Ginsberg and Crawford. Finally, CEDC has come under fire for voting to give 33 acres of land to Ginsberg’s for just $1.
Bassin’s email calling for Crawford’s resignation treats the controversy about the Ginsberg’s project as mostly a perception problem needing a cosmetic fix, writing that
The negative reactions to the Ginsberg project seem to be related to the apparent conflicts of interest associated with Mr. Ginsberg’s past role on the CEDC board, and Mr. Crawford's current role as both chair of the CEDC Board and president of the engineering firm advising Mr. Ginsberg on the project.
In this context, the proposal from CEDC to sell the 33 acres for $1 and the 1% $400,000 loan made years ago to Ginsberg's has triggered ethics and legal concerns, and has exposed the project to additional scrutiny.
Chairman Grattan’s letter suggesting CEDC repay the County for the $114,000 County cost of the 33 acres, and his decision to chair a special committee to review the relationship between the County and CEDC, are steps in the right direction, but do not go far enough to clear the air surrounding this project.
While CEDC Executive Director Ken Flood has claimed that Crawford stayed out of all votes and discussions about the Ginsberg’s project, the agency’s minutes suggest otherwise. Meanwhile, CEDC has rebuffed a written request from Hilldale Supervisor Art Baer that CEDC provide a legal opinion verifying that the $1 transaction meets ethical muster.
In addition to having Crawford resign, Bassin proposes two additional steps:
CEDC responds to Supervisor Bear’s [sic—Baer] request for an opinion letter stating the proposed sale of the 33 acres for $1 is consistent with NYS legal and ethical standards, and the ethical standards of the CEDC.
CEDC requests Mr. Ginsberg to pay the full fair market value of the 33 acres.
Opposition to the land deal and concern about an additional $660,000 property tax break pending before the County Industrial Development Agency has spread from neighbors, taxpayers, citizens organizations and independent news sites to the editorial boards of both of the County’s print newspapers, The Register-Star and Columbia Paper.
Opposition has also come from two neighboring farms, whose owners have apparently filed an Article 78 against the Ghent and Claverack Planning Boards.
As the issue has heated up, BOS chair Pat Grattan has called for the company to reimburse the County for its land purchase at the 1997 price of $109,950 (plus related costs), which would amount to only 40% of the land’s current appraised and assessed values. Another recent applicant to CEDC, a local farm, was required to borrow $50,000 for a piece of land nearly six times smaller than the Ginsberg’s plot, and pay 10% interest on the loan.
Members of the Ginsberg clan have told this site and other sources that they do not intend to pay for the land, harrumphing that opposition to the project will not diminish even if they do.
The Columbia County Board of Supervisors does not directly control CEDC. But several Supervisors serve as trustees, and the bulk of its funding comes from the County.