It is an important, and troubling, election year. Voters' focus has been principally on the presidential campaign, but there are Senate, Congressional, state, and local offices on the November 2 ballot as well.
In nearly all of these races, the campaign season has been starkly different from that of the Bush-Kerry campaign: quiet, with few issues and little tension and suspense.
In far too many races, either the incumbent has no challenger or the district votes so heavily Republican or Democratic that the challenger faces almost insurmountable odds. In large part, that's the result of gerrymandering, thanks to the inexcusable system of letting political parties, rather than nonpartisan groups, establish district boundaries.
But the lopsidedness is also a reflection of an increasingly divided community and state, with urban areas voting heavily Democratic and the suburbs heavily Republican.
For our endorsements, we focus on two contested offices ---the 131st district of the State Assembly and the 29th district Congressional seat --- and an important, interesting Rochester race, for school board.
In the City of Rochester, the real election is the Democratic primary. Democratic voters so outnumber Republicans that the Republican Party seldom fields a full slate of candidates. Latino community leader Domingo Garcia was appointed to the board last year to fill an unexpired term, but party infighting resulted in the Democratic Committee's failing to nominate him for a full term. Garcia waged a primary battle and won and will now likely continue to hold his seat.
The Green Party's David Atias is a bright, concerned candidate and might make a good board member. (Our interview with him is in our October 13 issue, www.rochester-citynews.com.) Like many non-incumbents, Atias sometimes focuses on simplistic approaches to complex problems (although he hasn't analyzed the budget, he says he's sure there's waste). But he's right in his opposition to standardized testing, something the Fairport school district has courageously fought.
Garcia, however, is a strong board member (our interview: September 1, www.rochester-citynews.com), and we don't see a compelling reason to replace him with Atias. It is crucial that Rochester's growing Latino community be represented on the school board, and Garcia is currently the only representative. The Democratic Committee made a serious mistake in failing to back him.
The public has grown increasingly frustrated with New York's state government ("furious" might be a more accurate word). The habitually late state budget, followed by a damning report on the way the way the legislature operates brought that frustration to a head this year. The Democrat and Chronicle has gone so far as to refuse to endorse in any of the state races.
Some voters seem convinced that the solution to state government's problems is to throw out all of the incumbents. That wouldn't fix things. The system is rigged, with the complicity of both major political parties, and it will take more than fresh blood to change it. It will require campaign finance reform. It will require legislators' letting a non-partisan committee draw the district boundaries. (For a discussion of Albany's problems and possible solutions, see our interview with former State Senator Rick Dollinger, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," August 11; www.rochester-citynews.com).
In one of the few hotly contested state races, Democratic incumbent Susan John faces Republican Mike Slattery, who lost to her two years ago by less than 1000 votes. It's important that John be returned to Albany. No one legislator can work miracles, especially in New York, but John is an exceptionally capable, bright member of the assembly.
Voters who favor the death penalty or oppose abortion rights won't support John. Slattery has traditional conservative views; John is a rock-solid, eloquent liberal. John is also a person of intense integrity, risking voters' wrath by sticking to her principles --- and by refusing to adopt simplistic approaches to complex problems. (Coverage of this race is on page 9 of this issue.)
John's experience and hard work have won endorsements from a wide range of constituents, including the conservative political action committee of the Rochester Business Alliance and the AFL-CIO. We add our endorsement enthusiastically.
In this race, as in the John-Slattery race, there are clear differences between the two candidates. Republican Randy Kuhl is an experienced state legislator who is certainly qualified to serve in Congress. His opponent, 27-year-old Samara Barend, has never held political office.
Voters may fail to look beyond youth and political experience and choose Kuhl by default. If voters want to add another voice to what is becoming a large conservative choir in Washington, they should vote for Kuhl.
But this is an important seat, currently held by a highly respected moderate Republican, Amo Houghton of Corning, who has voted against his party's leadership on some important issues. If Kuhl is elected, Congress will have one more anti-choice member, one more supporter of the Bush administration's war in Iraq, one more member promoting a strong, conservative agenda.
Barend is an impressive, articulate candidate who has already established a record of community activism and leadership. (Our coverage of the two candidates is on page 8 of this issue.) She discusses the regional economy, US trade policy, the federal deficit, Medicaid, and health-care reform intelligently. On foreign policy she, like John Kerry, supports building alliances. Unlike Kerry, she would have voted against the war in Iraq.
Amo Houghton will be sorely missed in Washington. Barend, not Kuhl, should replace him.