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.
In the wake of his latest public relations debacle in April, Sean Eldridge’s Congressional campaign put out a call for applicants to serve as an “experienced, energetic Communications Director to manage the campaign's day-to-day operations of press strategy.”
The development led to yet another satirical blast from Republicans. The GOP seized this as a fresh opportunity to highlight Eldridge’s lack of experience in running for public office, his lack of roots in the district, his overabundance of money to spend on his campaign. and other now-familiar talking points.
Leading the charge was the NRCC’s Ian Prior (himself a former Congressional campaign manager) , who drafted a fake application for the job. Prior used the tongue-in-cheek letter to highlight the GOP’s preferred bullet items: that Eldridge is his own largest campaign donor, that he’s allegedly Hudson River Ventures to curry favor in the district, that he’s bought expensive houses in different districts to “shop” for a winnable race, etc.
Gibson’s people seem to understand that in non-Presidential election cycles, these one-liners are useful (whether fair or not) for motivating the Republican base to turn out—and for helping to dampen Democratic enthusiasm.
Even some Democrats who would like to see the party regain control of the house have grumbled that Eldridge’s missteps are playing into Republican hands, as image and media issues allow Gibson to avoid discussion of votes which might put him out of step with the NY-19 electorate.
One p.r. problem leads to another, as even more balanced articles such as this recent Freeman report consistently highlight Republican accusations about carpetbagging and campaign finance before glancingly addressing the issues at stake.
Eldridge’s challenge now is to undo the Al Gore-ing of his campaign, even as the opposition tries to make his infinity pool into the regional equivalent of 2000’s unfair “I invented the Internet” tag on the then-Vice President.
Meanwhile, though the ad for a new Communications Director is now nearly a month old, recent press releases on Eldridge’s site continue to list the same outside p.r. rep, Morgan Hook of SDK Knickerbocker, as his primary press contact. (The Knickebocker Albany office lists only one other key staffer other than Hook, whereas its New York City office lists 20 Managing Directors, Vice Presidents and Associates.)
So while Eldridge may be belatedly realizing—less than six months from Election Day—that his campaign needs to speak more for itself, and more freely, the intended course-correction appears, like the rest of his campaign, to be a work in progress.
Described as a “contingency plan” to be enacted “in the event of a national crisis,” a June 1982 memorandum “called for the suspension of the Constitution and imposition of martial law,” according to UPI.
The news agency obtained the memo authored by FEMA official John Brinkerhoff with the assistance of North, acting as the agency’s liaison to the National Security Council. Under the right conditions, “control of the United States” would be turned over to FEMA, which would appoint “military commanders to run state and local governments.”
Brinkerhoff denied the allegation, claiming the plan’s purpose was “emergency preparedness” and the maintenance of “civil rule.”
The ironies here would be hilarious, if Beck and his peers were not so deadly serious about banging the whole “we need more guns to defend Amerikka against Goblin King Barack Hussain Obama’s tyranny” drum.
Their endless-but-empty invocations of The Constitution and fear-mongering about FEMA camps are absurdly hypocritical, considering their elevation of North to near-saintly status.
We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. [...N]o official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.
A source in the northern reaches of Columbia County has passed along persistent rumors there that Chelsea Clinton and her husband Marc Mezvinsky are buying a house in Old Chatham. (This would help explain why the former President and Secretary of State were dining with them at an unprepossessing restaurant recently in Chatham, en route to no obvious destination. The pair were also married in the region, outside Rhinebeck.)
The source’s best guess is that that the property in question might be a 6,000 square foot brick home on 20 acres with a pool, listed at $1.3 million, currently owned by the founder of a cable porn network. Gabel Real Estate, one of the more active brokers in that part of the Couny, has a half-dozen properties listed in Old Chatham, ranging from $550,000 to $2.65 million, several of them marked sold.
If true, the location ironically would put the former First Daughter some 10-12 miles downwind of pollution belched by the Lafarge Ravena cement plant. Hillary Clinton, to her discredit, was paid for several years to sit on the board of Lafarge.
Say you’re a newly-elected elected civic official whose constituents are clamoring for a public dog park. Seems like a good idea to you... Optimistically, you assume that the park will be a beneficial and non-controversial idea. So you begin to advance the proposal in good faith among your new legislative peers.
But suddenly you encounter all kinds of unexpected, nonsensical and even vicious opposition.
The powerful Cat Bloc PAC runs ads questioning why cat owners should have to subsidize the dog owners with their taxes.
Another legislator who recently lost his bid to get ferret and snake-keeping regulations changed feels jealous. Your dog idea seems to be gaining traction and gathering momentum, so he begins sharpening his political knives for insertion in your back.
Still others in the other Major Party assail your proposal as cynically motivated and “poll-driven,” pandering to the pro-dog voter demographic. (After all, their own motivations are debased, so they project that yours are, too.) They oppose it so that you can’t cite it as an accomplisment when you run for re-election. Then they turn the issue around on you, suggesting that you want to “increase taxes on senior citizens by expanding government.”
Meanwhile, the Chair of the Recreation Committee has his own pet project, a waterslide park, and he frets that funding for your idea may delay or even scuttle his.
Sensing an opportunity, the ferret/snake legislator cannily whispers in the Chair’s ear that your initiative is really a covert assault on his influence and seniority... You secretly covet his chairmanship, see. So the Recreation Chair sets about undermining all of your legislative goals, not just the dog park, while covertly spreading grotesque rumors about you on an anonymous chatboard that you’ve taken bribes from a PetCo executive with a weekend house in town.
You catch wind of these machinations, and try to reason with him, and by the end of the meeting you think you’ve bridged the divide... But then on the night of the big vote, he abstains, citing “support on both sides of the issue,” and your proposal narrowly misses getting the necessary weighted votes to pass.
What you originally thought was a no-lose proposition has now created a great deal of discomfort and headache for you within the corridors of power.
What’s your next move? The winning gambit would be to double down on the idea, by taking it even more aggressively and directly to the people:
Work the streets, and make sure your colleagues know you’re out there winning popular support daily. Have allies gather an overwhelming number of petitions in favor of the park. Inundate the paper with a steady stream of pro-park letters that make the case forcefully, or at least pull at the heartstrings. Meet with editorial boards to get their support. Arrange to speak on the issue before community and civic groups (from the Lions Club to the Neighborhood watch) to make the case. Create photo-ops, with appealing pictures of dogs enjoying their new liberty to run and jump and fetch, while their owners socialize and flirt on the sidelines. Give voters the info to contact recalcitrant legislators to make it clear their future support depends on their park vote. Make a full-court press, until it becomes politically impossible for those opposed not to get on the dog park bandwagon. Finally demand a second vote, and once you’re certain you have enough to prevail.
Either you win by redoubling your efforts and demonstrating that the will of the people still matters; or at worst you prove that you are leader of integrity, and get re-elected by the people who respect your hard work and principled stand.
But organizing a popular groundswell involves a lot of work, more heavy lifting than most politicians are willing to do—especially when it seems so much easier to just try to forge better relationships with a dozen or so insiders in City Hall, rather than dealing with the Great Unwashed on the sidewalk.
Thus even idealistic and tenacious leaders often will retreat from internal City Hall (or Statehouse, or Congressional) conflict. They circle their wagons, rather than sending out new scouting parties.
Following the failed vote, they meekly accept a “compromise” to have their cherished idea “studied” by a “task force”... which will bury the idea slowly, surely and quietly, temporizing with park supporters. This at least allows them to save face by pretending they haven’t entirely given up the fight, even though it’s totally lost.
The chastened new official begins to nod docilely to his elders who counsel that “you have to pick your battles,” and imagines that by “building political capital” now by letting go of the big idea, he will achieve greater things later.
But that dream deferred never gets realized. The politician gets no actual credit from his peers for caving. All he’s accomplished is to identify himself as an easy mark for more committed but less scrupulous power brokers.
During elections, We The People ostensibly are the main audience for politicians. They need our votes, and must at least appear to be attentive to our hopes and concerns.
Yet once elected, all but the most exceptional politicians turn their attentions to a new and far smaller audience: their fellow politicians, plus the staffers, appointees, committee members, and other insiders who populate the corridors of power.
Even the most outspoken reformers are easily sucked into the insider dialogue, and begin to forget who brung ’em to the dance. Rather than rallies and fundraisers and meet-and-greets, political life starts to consist of routine committee meetings, perfunctory roll-call votes, and partisan caucuses, held in drab-neon lit settings rather than the streetcorners, diners, factories, festivals kitchen tables and the other standard flesh-pressing whistlestops.
The terms of success become not Am I resonating with the people but Will the party boss take my calls, Will I get a good committee assignment, and Can I get a better office when the Minority Leader retires?
On the most mundane personal level, going along to get along becomes the main priority: avoiding conflict and difficult debate, so that meetings don’t become uncomfortable. These meetings are long and boring enough already, without getting gummed up with arguments, or, gosh help us, hysterical public input.
Politicians who have become afflicted with this chronic malady—let's call it regional citeitis*—then begin to defend their increasingly cautious ways with any number of pat phrases, homiles, and clichés intoned with the utmost sincerity:
“We must work together, and learn to bridge our differences.”
“We must forge relationships with our colleagues across the aisle... to get things done.”
“It is vitally important, above all, to maintain civility.”
“There are two sides to every story.”
“We can’t be swayed by those who view things as black-and-white, unlike us leaders who are able to perceive all the shades of grey.”
“Change is all well and good, but we can’t move too fast... or appear too radical.”
On and on the platitudes roll, implying that these patriarchal politicians are the sole adults in the room, the only ones who See the Big Picture. Each of these catchphrases appeals to the nearly-universal impulse to seen as moderate, reasonable and prudent. But in politics, these slogans mainly serve to cover up a lack of backbone and determination, justifying the slow abandonment of one’s campaign promises.
As these self-satisfied feelings become more inflamed, the next stage of regional citeitis is a growing irritation with one’s pesky constituents, culminating in more severe cases in outright hostility to public input. How dare these citizens email me with their ridiculous concerns!, the annoyed politico thunders. I mean, they don’t even use spell-check... and they almost never attend meetings! (The latter is a common fallback, ignoring that we live in a representative democracy which depends on elected officials to be vigilant and speak on our behalf.)
The same citizens who, on the campaign trail, cheered the politicians' call for more open government, civic engagement, public participation, and an end to “closed-door decisionmaking” slowly become an exasperating nuisance to the citeitis sufferer.
The public’s needs and wants and dreams create friction with the politico’s desire to advance within the closed circles of City Hall and/or their political party. The people want action and change, while the politician wants to get along with other politicians, and move up within their ranks: I’m the 2nd Vice Fundraising Chair for Gymnasium Decoration, hear me roar!
Any reform or improvement in government, even the most commonsense ones, necessarily will step on the toes of some entrenched interest. And few politicians have the stomach to see conflict through t end, and survice the parliamentary infighting that can result from trying to be responsive to public wishes.
And so it goes that many who sweep into office with reform and progress in mind begin to retreat, consciously or unconsciously. Except in the rarest cases, they will never return to the offensive to fight for their own and their constituents’ beliefs—unless led back either gently by the hand, or firmly by the nose.
So keep your eyes peeled for politicians showing symptoms of regional citeitis in your own local, State and Federal government. They need both our malediction, and also our help.
* With apologies for this clumsy term to the memory of my great-grandfather, the gastroenterologist Burrill B. Crohn.
Back in the mid-1990s, Hudson citizens blew the whistle on the City of Hudson’s Federal grant programs. A lesson from that incident speaks to certain claims about Eric Galloway’s Lantern Group by the director of his new Galvan Initiatives Foundation.
David Kermani (who then operated a high-end Warren Street rug shop) and other compatriots alleged that the City had made an improper side deal with L&B Contract Industries, later known as LB Furniture. Prompted by citizen complaints, HUD’s inspector general indeed found major “irregularities” in the City’s handling of a $556,000 grant to L&B, plus a host of problems within Hudson’s development agencies. [PDF of the report] Those irregularities included not just the company’s failure to make interest payments, but also the connivance of Hudson Development Corporation (HDC) staff in allowing L&B to make just one repayment of $4,998.25. Nice deal, if you can get it: $551,000 in free government money.
In addition, HUD discoverd that HDC had “subordinated” the grant lien to obtain a further $3,000,000 bank loan. All the while, the report said, local leadership never alerted HUD that it was making any of these arrangements. HUD’s Inspector General was not pleased, and reprimanded both L&B and the City. Moreover, HUD identified apparent “conflicts of interest” and “procurement weaknesses” at HDC and the Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency (HCDPA). For example, the wife of a Board member was getting paid up to $170 per hour “without competition.” Meanwhile, the agency’s “Rehabilitation Specialist” awarded over $27,000 in work “to a company owned by his brother,” again without giving anyone else a chance to compete for the contract.
The Inspector General’s scathing report was issued to 13 Federal, State and local officials.
And then: HUD continued to award the City of Hudson more development grants from these same pool of funds. And City agencies continued to help the perpetually-failing L&B. Despite years of public largesse, the company finally closed up shop a few years ago, throwing some 150 people out of work.
Through it all, the City was given more grant money to play with; and still it continued to botch projects... For example, issuing $1.8 million in bonds to lure a mysterious Californian corporation called Wittcomm, which disappeared and according to inside sources never repaid its obligations. That’s just to name one among many of the chronic failures of these agencies to manage public funding to achieve real economic development, or alleviate poverty.
In short: HUD knew and acknowledged that the City of Hudson had a lousy track record of managing grants—and yet kept coughing up more grants, often in the face of public concern and opposition.
So, how does all of this relate to the latest controversy instigated by Eric Galloway’s local activities? In response to the detailed exposure of numerous complaints and violations on record for Galloway’s Lantern Group in New York City, Galvan director Tom Swope offered the following dodge:
“That the Lantern Group continues to get funding for their projects should be a testament to the high quality of their management.”
Based on the above examples of HUD and the City, can anyone say that continued funding is a testament to anything except bureaucratic ineptitude? We’ve just seen how the City had made an illegal side deal with a grantee, and its development agencies were found to be rife with problems. And yet HUD continued to give the City grant money to play with, and failed in many cases to monitor its use, in spite of past debacles. Continued funding is no proof of even mediocre performance, let alone success.
Yet based on Swope’s fallacious logic, one would also have to conclude that:
Sustained City support of (the now-bankrupt) L&B was a rousing success;
The ever-increasing budgets of FEMA and the Army Corps reflect the heck of a job they did in dealing with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans;
The Kardashian sisters’ continued popularity is reflective of their immense talents; and
George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 served as a clear testament that he was a terrific President.
In making such flimsy arguments, Swope is asking people to believe that bureaucrats are stewards of excellence, and never act to protect their own buddies (or rumps). Someone please furnish Galvan’s director with a copy of The Peter Principle, posthaste.
The Albany Times-Unionreports that appointed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (formerly of Greenport) is siding with Hollywood and music industry lobby groups over, well, pretty much everyone else when it comes to internet censorship. The PIPA and SOPA bills in Congress have inspired numerous sites (from Wikipedia to Boing Boing to Reddit) to go "dark" for the day. More than a passive supporter, Gillibrand actually co-sponsored PIPA in the Senate.
As if to illustrate what such censorship might be like, a reader reports that comments about these bills were being erased from Gillibrand's Facebook page, though now it appears they are coming too fast and furious for monitors to keep up with.
Public outcry has already caused some initial supporters, such as hosting provider Go Daddy, to withdraw support from these measures (which would help rich entertainment businesses eke out a modest improvement in profit, at the expense of free speech). A former attorney for Big Tobacco, Gillibrand has a history of changing her noxious positions if there is enough pressure: she formerly opposed gay marriage, and held anti-immigrant positions such as making English the "official" U.S. language.
But such pressure has rarely come from Hudson Valley Democrats, who have tended to value their personal access to a "local" politician over their own political principles. Will Columbia County Dems hold Kirsten's feet to the fire on this huge issue?
At this link Google has an action page for speaking out to Congress.
It often happens that scientists say: “You know, that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken.” And then they actually change their minds, and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.