President Obama's popularity is on the upswing, which is a potential problem for Republican congressional candidate Jim Tedisco. It also underscores that his waffling on the stimulus bill, mocked as it has been by Democratic candidate Scott Murphy, was a smarter strategy than lining up behind the entire House GOP delegation in opposition to it. The national GOP is struggling to articulate an agenda (witness Bobby Jindal's failed effort to respond to Obama), and voters, here as elsewhere, are scared about the economy. Meanwhile, this week's Siena poll shows Tedisco still needs to shore up his Republican base. Murphy has better numbers with his Democratic base, and although the Republican registration advantage works in Tedisco's favor, independents are key. To woo the conservatives and keep a reputation for integrity, Tedisco needs to stick to his guns on social issues like abortion and gay marriage (although on the latter he could support civil unions). On the crucial economic issues, he can raise valid concerns about deficits and debt, and about dubious Democratic policies such as reversing welfare reform, but should not denounce Obama's tax-the-rich plan. Republicans can get away with Regan-Bush style tax cuts weighted to the wealthy if people think they are good for the economy, but that line of argument doesn't cut a lot of ice now with the average voter in the 20th Congressional District.
Tedisco is still a player at the state level as Assembly minority leader, and there he could stress the need for structural reforms to reduce mandates and cut costs. An obvious place to start is by implementing the mandate relief and other cost-cutting proposals of the Suozzi property tax commission. Gov. Paterson said he was going to introduce a program bill to do that, but it seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle in the turmoil and confusion on the Capitol's second floor (or else it was killed by NYSUT and Shelly Silver). Tedisco could be pushing both for the Suozzi property tax cap and the cost-containment measures. He also could get behind Paterson's fiscally responsible pension reform proposal. I guess the only reason not to do so is fear of the public employee unions, which could throw their support to Murphy. Also lost on the second floor has been the governor's prior commitment to try to get a budget done by March 1, which he said would save a billion-plus dollars. Why doesn't Tedisco call for speeding up the process and saving at least some of that money? But if the "millionaire's tax" that some Democrats are pushing comes up, and which Tedisco has previously opposed, he should say as little as possible. There's no percentage for Republicans in being tagged as the party of the rich or supporters of trickle-down economics.
Tedisco can plausibly claim to be a reformer at the state level, and should resurrect and expand that agenda. Democrats will likely try to tie him to the indicted Joe Bruno, but Tedisco can say accurately that he is the only legislative leader with insignificant outside income, and demand that the others live up to their rhetoric about "transparency" by publicly revealing their private-sector income, and where it comes from. (It took a federal indictment to expose Bruno's.) Tedisco could include a requirement for that exposure in reform legislation, along with rules changes to open up both chambers of the Legislature. How about working with independent or left-leaning goo-goo groups like NYPIRG and the League of Women Voters? He has a bully pulpit in Albany.
I see Albany attorney Terry Kindlon is filing an appeal in the case of Christopher Porco, the University of Rochester student and town of Bethlehem ax murderer whose trial enthralled the Capital Region in 2006. No doubt the physical evidence was weak, but I haven't come across anyone unconnected to the defense who entertains serious doubts about Porco's guilt.
That is emphatically not the case with two other defendants tried that year, one of whom was represented by Kindlon. They were Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain, who are now imprisoned and whose case is still properly controversial in and beyond this area. I covered much of their trial at the federal courthouse in Albany, and along I believe with most of the other reporters there would have been happy to see them acquitted. I deny that that makes me part of some liberal media conspiracy. While I oppose torture, I didn't object to the Bush administration's wiretapping, recognizing as I do the actual grave threat of Islamic terrorism. But Hossain and Aref were entangled in an FBI sting operation, and it was far from proven that they would have supported terrorism apart from that.
One problem for the defense, though, was that when Kindlon made his impassioned pleas on behalf of Aref, I couldn't help remembering, as I bet did many jurors, that a brief time before he had been making similar impassioned pleas (seen by us on TV) on behalf of the innocence of Porco, in which no one believed. Still, you never know. I think family members including the deceased mother have been vindicated in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, when most people including me thought they had something to do with it, so I could be wrong about Porco, too. But that's not the way to bet.
The Siena poll released today shows Republican Jim Tedisco with a 12-point lead over Democrat Scott Murphy in the 20th Congressional District race. That might be a narrow enough margin to encourage the Democrats to pour in money and campaign workers in a serious effort to hold on to Kirsten Gillibrand's seat, even though the Republicans have a 70,000 registration advantage. If the Tedisco campaign was overconfident, this ought to be enough to get them going. One potential opportunity is at the northern end of the district, where Murphy is based, a Republican area that has the Democrat with a slight lead. Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, is very popular up there, and it was reported somewhere that she has a distant connection to Murphy through his wife's large family, and has met him at those famous (from his TV ad) family get-togethers in Washington County. Little also was a rival of Tedisco's in seeking the Republican nomination in this race. But her spokesman, Dan Mac Entee, tells me today she is supporting Tedisco, and will appear at a fund-raiser for him tonight at Lake George. She hasn't been ask to cut an ad yet, but Tedisco probably should have her do that.
The Siena did not inlcude Eric Sundwall, whose campaign is collecting signatures to put him on the Libertarian line. Sundwall could draw votes from both camps, with a platform that includes withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and other countries, opposing spending measures including the stimulus bill, supporting civil liberties and opposing various Bush administration measures, and a call for an investigation of the Federal Reserve.
The Assembly today passed the "Environmental Access to Justice Act," a bill endorsed by groups that want to make it easier for people to sue by alleging violations of state environmental law. It has passed the Assembly before, but was blocked in the Senate when Republicans controlled that chamber. A Republican assemblyman, Peter Lopez of Schoharie, who spoke in the floor debate, told me one of his concerns about the bill (A3423) is that it could empower opponents of windmills, and wind up hurting the environment in the name of helping it.
New York pols from both parties have for many years talked about improving rail service, while not doing much about it. At today's leaders' meeting, Gov. David Paterson and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith both said using federal stimulus funds for high-speed rail was a top priority, and would boost economic development in cities throughout the state. Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos expressed some skepticism about raising expectations that cannot be met. But the actual projects trotted out at the meeting (after the leaders had left to go off to the swearing-in of the state's new top judge) by Timothy Gilchrist, deputy secretary for economic development and infrastructure, were more mundane than high-tech. They involved not magnetic levitation but signal work in Poughkeepsie, building a second track to eliminate the bottleneck between Albany and Schenectady, and building sidings west of Schenectady so trains can get out of each other's way. Those long-mooted projects are doable and should be done -- as should more ambitious ones if and when funding becomes available.
Skelos and others noted that Senate Republicans, when they were in the majority, had been pushing rail improvements. In fact, they were doing most of the pushing and funding in recent years, when Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Assembly Democrats were ignoring the issue, and the national Republican Party continued to view Amtrak as the work of the devil. The national GOP seems to think subsidizing rail service is a uniquely wasteful idea, although they are happy to join with Democrats to spend vastly more money on the nation's roadways and airports (including ones with no public flights). Given the uncertainties about the future supply and price of oil, rail makes more sense than ever, at least in a state like New York. The fact that state leaders seem on board with that (no one raised objections today) shows that New York pols do not get everything wrong.
Republican congressional candidate Jim Tedisco, who has come under attack for not taking a position on President Obama's stimulus plan, issued a statement Tuesday night after the president's speech. The statement said in part: "I appreciated the President’s increased focus on education and health care, both
of which are key for job creation in New York’s 20th District. I hope that the President will exert his leadership and ensure that the
priorities he laid out tonight do not fall victim to the lobbyists and special
interests that hold sway over the Democratic leadership in Congress. Addressing
our financial challenges will require bold action. But it will also require
discipline and transparency in order to ensure that the taxpayers’ money is
protected from waste, fraud and abuse."
Tedisco did not mention the official Republican response to Obama by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and is clearly positioning himself closer to the president on the issue of the economy than Republican congressmen, governors like Jindal and the national GOP leadership are prepared to go.
The most read story at the moment on the New York Daily News Web site has the promo: "Gotti goon: I bedded Junior Gotti's sister." It's about a man testifying as a prosecution witness in a Mafia murder trial. Here's the lede: "Before he became a mob rat, Gambino associate John Alite says he was a horndog who had a secret affair with Mafia princess Victoria Gotti. " Meanwhile, the lead story on the News home page is about Rupert Murdoch, publisher of the rival tabloid New York Post, apologizing for the (allegedly) racially charged Sean Delonas cartoon. Speaking of racial minefields, you quite often see denunciations of the destructive "stop snitchin" mindset that discourages many potential witnesses in poor black neighborhoods from cooperating with police. So how is routine disparagement of prosecution witnesses in cases like these, to the point of adopting the mob terminology and calling them rats, any different?
It seems to me, despite the headline on this TU post, that the vast majority of New York Republicans do not object to taking the federal money. The normally level-headed Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is rejecting some of it, but I don't think he makes a persuasive case.