Tag Archives: League of Women Voters

The 2011 Clarence League of Women Voters Candidate Forum

25 Oct

Last night I attended the always entertaining Clarence candidates’ forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters. I interviewed a few participants last night and will have a podcast of that up later on. Here’s what I saw:

1. Chris Collins lives in Spaulding Lake, which is about a 1/2 mile from Clarence Town Hall, where the debate was held. Mark Poloncarz lives in the city of Buffalo, about 25 miles away.  Poloncarz was there last night, but no one from Collins’ campaign bothered to show up. There was just one piece of lit. Poloncarz had the floor and answered tough questions from the audience about library financing, whether he’d take a salary (yes, and so does Collins, BTW), infrastructure, the Bills, volunteer fire departments, and cultural funding. He answered all with aplomb, got in some shots at his opponent’s hyperpolitics and mismanagement, and in the end reminded the audience that someone asking for their vote should have the balls to come before them and do it in person. Astonishing that Collins can’t be bothered to talk to us commoners.

2. Councilmember Joe Weiss showed up and, even though he resigned from the town board in September and is only on a minor party line, decided to take an opportunity to “debate” Bob Geiger and Bernie Kolber in the council race. Weiss took the opportunity to mock Geiger, to call Kolber always late and unprepared, and to denigrate Scott Bylewski with obnoxious falsehoods. He insisted he isn’t a bully, and no one in the room was having it. Weiss ambushed everyone and a large audience saw just what a dick he is.

3. Ed Rath met his opponent Toni Vazquez. Ms. Vazquez talked about her knowledge of health care issues and how the county is instrumental in administering and paying for health care for the needy. Rath talked about his record. The first question – why do we need a county government. Awesome – but Rath sort of punted and answered much like Antoine Thompson did when we asked the same of the state Senate, reciting what the county does, but not answering the larger existential question. We clean that up in the upcoming podcast.

4. Maria Whyte is an energetic campaigner, and she’s running for County Clerk.  This is a largely ministerial position and the best anyone can do is make it less of a horror for people to use the clerk’s office. Both she and her opponent, Chris Jacobs, pledge to innovate and reform so that people’s involvement with county government is as swift and un-horrible as possible. Jacobs touted his foundation (I’m rich!), which donates scholarships to underprivileged kids to attend private and parochial schools in the area. Interesting, that. First of all, it has nothing to do with anything – so, he’s loaded and wants to help poor inner city kids. That’s great. So would I if I was born into billions. But secondly, the only elected office Jacobs has ever held has been in the City of Buffalo’s board of education. He can’t run on his record there, so the best he can do is point to the fact that he has helped kids escape the horrible learning conditions in the city schools over which he helped preside. Not a winning strategy, IMO, and look for Whyte to capitalize on this.

5. The Clarence Supervisor’s race between David Hartzell and incumbent Scott Bylewski. It’s no secret that Scott is a friend of mine, so my bias is quite clear. At one point, Hartzell needed a question repeated to him – “what is your vision for Clarence”? Bylewski had answered about how he wants to preserve the town’s rural and agricultural character, and cited our master plan and other growth strategies to achieve that. Hartzell mocked Bylewski’s answer, and then gave his own – that his vision was business development. As the debate wore on, Hartzell’s only answer to everything was to give stuff away to businesses. He’s a consummate beancounter who sees everything as a balance sheet, rather than something that has a positive or negative net effect on people. But his counting? Not so good. When asked about volunteer fire department consolidation (a non-issue in town, by the way), Hartzell said he had studied similar suburban towns throughout the country, and all of them were just like Clarence; that they all had about 3 fire districts.  The crowd murmured at that – we have 6 VFD special districts in town, one overarching fire district. He doesn’t have his facts right.  Another big issue is a prospective ice rink proposed by Eastern Hills Mall. It would ultimately cost the town money, and it’s in the early planning stages. Weiss and Hartzell enjoyed complaining (a) that the process was going too slowly; and (b) it shouldn’t cost the town money and should go to referendum. That’s quite a dance.

The most powerful part of this debate? When Scott cited Hartzell’s own endorsement of him on LinkedIn:

Scott Bylewski is an excellent supervisor. He loves Clarence, and is always working for the good of the town. Prior to his assuming the office of Supervisor, he excelled as a committeeman. Scott was well known for his preparation, presentation and firm grasp of local issues. As supervisor, Scott is constantly fighting to keep taxes down. Scott is an unusually successful politican…able to reach across the asile to work with members of both parties for the good of the town.

Scott will not retire as Supervisor of the Town of Clarence…his energy and talent will carry him far from the confines of One Town Place.The citizens of the Town of Clarence are lucky to have a man of Scott’s caliber to steward the continued growth and development of this special place called Clarence, New York.” January 9, 2009

2ndDavid HartzellPresident and CEO, Cornell Capital Management
was with another company when working with Scott at Town of Clarence

Bylewski read excerpts from it out loud, and said he was proud of that and agrees with it. Hartzell? He mouthed some nonsense about it being 4 years ago, and that Scott was now a “career politician”. People laughed.

November 8th is election day, and you should be attending as many of these candidates’ forums as you can to see these people up close. Watch them answer questions and offer their visions and plans. It’s quite eye-opening.

As I mentioned earlier, a podcast will be up shortly.

County Executive Debate Takeaway

14 Oct

First of all, shame on WGRZ, WIVB, and WKBW for not interrupting their scary-good primetime schedule to fulfill their duty as FCC licensees of the public airwaves to broadcast the sole televised debate in this important election. Thanks to WNED for doing just that.  Channel 2 has the video up, but it’s broken up into multiple pieces, so I’m not going to embed them here.

Yes, I’m biased, but I can’t fathom a way in which someone can argue with a straight face that Chris Collins won the debate last night. The reason? Discipline. Knowing Mark Poloncarz, I know that, when it comes to facts and details, he is disciplined and knowledgable. He was prepared, he was confident, and he thought fast on his feet. By contrast, I don’t perceive Collins as being a disciplined campaigner. I think he disregarded the advice of the sycophants with whom he surrounds himself, and that he crossed the line into arrogance. He seemed unprepared, it was easy for Poloncarz to poke “[his] opponent” – whom he never named – with a stick and get a reaction.

Collins was the sweaty Nixon of 1960 with shifty eyes and a bad demeanor. But beyond the appearance, he was substantively disingenuous. The Twitter stream virtually howled with laughter when he alleged that he was “working with” the libraries.

Both campaign themes came out, though. Poloncarz portrayed Collins as out-of-touch with average, middle-class and poor western New Yorkers, as a guy who goes out of his way to vindictively harm the less fortunate and help his wealthy friends. Collins accused Poloncarz of “promising anything to anyone” and being beholden to the unions.

The big loser of the night, aside from Collins, was the Buffalo News’ Bob McCarthy. He was given about 3 questions, and every single one of them was about campaign finance. Seriously, is that all he cares about? Politics is about more than just how much a candidate raises, and from whom. It’s about ideas and governing. It’s about competence and the best interests of the people. Or, at least, it should be. McCarthy, however, sees politics as a sports event where a team is on offense or defense – winning or losing. He shouldn’t have been there to ask those questions, even if he did embarrass Collins with the Harris Beach / pay for play question, which Collins tried (and failed) to dodge no fewer than three times.

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Collins’ accusations that Poloncarz just wants to spend were, however, untrue. And Poloncarz had the facts right on the tip of his tongue to prove it. Collins, meanwhile, proved his “job creation” bona fides by listing all the county jobs he eliminated. Say what you want, but those people spent their salaries in the local economy and paid local taxes. Now? Not so much.

Collins tried to personally insult Poloncarz on two occasions. First, he accused Poloncarz of wanting to be a “czar”, not a county executive, because Poloncarz wants to hire a Deputy CE who will be in charge of job creation. I think his use of “czar” was because (a) it’s a conservative code word for “Obama” and “evil”; and (b) frankly, I think it was an unintentional ethnic slur. Poloncarz is Slavic, Czar is a Slavic construct of “Caesar”. Secondly, Collins referenced a video that Poloncarz took of the dilapidated restrooms at Wendt Beach to rebut Collins’ claim that the county-run parks are in great shape – he called it “creepy”. Here it is. It’s grainy, shaky, and a more mundane version of the Blair Witch Project, but it’s not “creepy”. Furthermore, Collins claims it looked as it did because it was undergoing construction. We’ll go check and see how that construction is coming along, K?

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Six Sigma? Poloncarz said the savings can’t be quantified – and the entire program is based on metrics. While Collins touted all the people he’s fired, Poloncarz said that some agencies are too big, some are too small, and we have to aim for efficient and responsive government, not mere firings.

Unfortunately, no one asked – and no one talked – about regionalism.

Here are some real-time reactions / interpretations of what happened:

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This was the sole televised debate, and Poloncarz had been asking for three.  Collins was reluctant to even do this one – this was supposed to be a radio debate. The League of Women Voters and WNED figured that they might as well televise it, and I’m told Collins’ people went ballistic. Collins doesn’t come across well. He’s not a people person. We now know why he and the Lees and Corwins of the world don’t do retail politicking and rely instead on money, speeches, TV ads, and Limbaughesque soundbites – they suck at connecting with people. It’s hard to do, after all, when you sequester your life among other millionaires, sharing your millionaire problems with your million-heir friends. In the end, the League basically told Collins’ people that they were going to hold the debate, and Collins can either participate, or Poloncarz will get a free hour of TV.

I don’t honestly recall whether Collins and Keane held a televised debate, and I haven’t checked the archives to see. If it existed, it wasn’t memorable. Keane was an abominable, horrible candidate. Collins was the fresh face with the “like a business” bill of goods. See how Corwin crumbled against Hochul, despite all her money? These people cannot win when given a credible challenge. Poloncarz can connect with regular people – union workers, middle-class – people who work for a living and live paycheck to paycheck.  People who see that their lives are harder and less hopeful than previous generations’. People who rely on county services for a good quality of life. Or for healthcare. Or for food. Or a roof over their head.  Make no mistake – that Siena poll was accurate. It may not have predicted turnout, which the Republicans will try and suppress in the city and lift in some suburbs, but it accurate reflects how likely voters think about the candidates and the issues. Poloncarz is putting up a great fight, and he’s working hard. Last night, he showed a wider audience who he is, and Collins revealed who he is.

Three weeks to go. Three weeks to victory?