Tale of the tape
Campaign managers –or political hacks as their more commonly known –are constantly dashing across this wire. And as the minutes tick closer to Election Day, their speed grows incrementally. One poorly-worded campaign flier or one errant media report can really set a candidate’s run for office in a tail spin. Conversely, one well-timed tip can mean the difference between a concession speech and a victory proclamation on the first Tuesday of November.
In the Spa City, there is no shortage of political chicanery. In fact, the last couple of weeks have been wrought with campaign power plays; so many that voters sometimes need a score card to keep things in perspective. Well, iSaratoga’s stalwart editorial board has decided to offer a layman’s guide to campaign propaganda, sorted and graded for your edification.
Story: City comes up short on health insurance allocation
Details: After spending nearly four years squirreled away in the darkest recesses of City Hall, Eileen Finneran is really starting to become the political spinster everyone knew she could be during her rookie year. The “deputy Public Safety commissioner” –quotes are used here because she doesn’t perform any of the job’s normal functions –is showing why Ron Kim quickly snap her up as his number-two. First, she manages to turn the Rec Center vote, one of Kim’s greatest disasters, into a campaign platform for the Democrats. Now she’s done almost the same thing by leaking this story about her department being in the red on its health insurance contributions.
Finneran paired with her old buddy Skip Scirocco at Public Works to throw a one-two punch at Finance Commissioner Ken Ivins and Mayor Scott Johnson by default. The claim is that the city is short roughly $500,000 in its employee health insurance contributions, meaning there could be a serious budgetary shortfall for both the Public Safety and Public Works departments. The error seems to be egg on Ivins’ face, seeing as though he was the one that proposed the budget. In truth, all five commissioners voted for the budget –including Kim and Scirocco –and none of them seemed concerned about it then. Even Ivins doesn’t seem that concerned. He rightly stated that the money can come from surpluses realized on other lines.
But who really reads that far down in articles, especially one about health insurance premiums? Score one for Finneran. She’s made Ivins appear incompetent, even though the issue she raises isn’t really an issue at all. Her spin gives the otherwise lackluster Peter Martin a shot at securing unseating Ivins and Finneran an alternative office to hide if Kim isn’t successful in his bid for mayor.
Details: Scott Johnson’s campaign handlers don’t like dashing across the tightrope too often. They didn’t in 2007 and they don’t appear to being doing so in 2009. He doesn’t wage massive political attacks in the fall, nor does he outwardly offer public criticism to his opponents. These sorts of things are better left to campaign mailers, radio ads and the occasional television spot. In fact, Johnson has literally dumped his war chest –almost $44,000 –into this sort of public relations, which subverts the unbiased media and speaks directly to the voters.
In these ads, Johnson cogently derides the criticism he takes from his opponent and then offers a bit of tinder to fuel the flames already burning beneath Ron Kim’s drive for the mayor’s office: Kim storms out of council meetings; Kim voted for the Rec Center six times; Kim has driven a $3.5 million increase in the Public Safety spending. These are all hard things to dispute, and in the absence of a television camera or news reporters, Kim is simply not able to do so.
By staying out of the spotlight, Johnson can also claim he’s not playing politics on city time. And that’s a pledge his opponent could never make. That’s not to say this sort of campaign tactic can’t come back and bite a candidate in the ass. Avoiding the tightrope can be every bit as lethal as running across the damn thing. Ducking out of the spotlight is also a tough thing to do, especially as mayor. If it involves blowing off media calls, a candidate runs the risk of souring his or her relationship with reporters. And that’s basically a death knell for any campaign.
Story: Waterline extension spurs debate
Details: Eddie Miller, the Independence Party candidate for Public Works, has been trying to convince voters that Skip Scirocco is corrupt. When the story about the Regatta View waterline broke, he though he found his silver bullet. Scirocco claims the city-funded work, which has connected two private residences to city water, was conducted to extend a fire hydrant further down Union Avenue. Miller naturally disagrees.
Scirocco’s challenger claims the DPW chief installed the waterline as a kick-back to a couple of friends. Miller has openly questioned why Scirocco didn’t have the project approved by the council and why the estimated $20,000 project wasn’t paid for by the homeowners. This volley of shots across Scirocco’s bow caused him to stammer a bit. He made contradictory statements to the media, and then back-pedaled to his original stance, making him look either a bit foolish, a bit nefarious or both.
But Miller’s crusade against the project continues to boil down to a he-said-she-said, and has never really picked up legs in the media, despite several articles by two papers. The problem with Miller’s silver bullet is three-fold. First, no one can really explain why Scirocco would want to curry favor with these residents; second, many view the issue as being petty in the grand scheme of a multi-million dollar public safety budget; and third, it’s goddamn boring. Waterlines and infrastructure aren’t sexy things, and unless a campaign can really make a salacious accusation, they’re not the ticket that is going to win an election –especially against an incumbent.
Grade: C -
Story: Impasse in PBA contract negotiations
Details: With less than a week left before the election the Saratoga Springs Police Benevolent Association has begun opening bitching about their contract. They bombarded the Saratogian’s Web site with news releases just one day after they declared an impasse to contract negotiations with the city. The news releases in turn spurred a news story about the sorry state of the negotiations. Unfortunately for the PBA and their slate of candidates, the literature and subsequent article really manage to truthfully characterize their organization as a money-grubbing group of thugs that won’t stop until every patrolman is making six figures.
Laughably, the PBA claims it offered good-faith concessions to the city that weren’t answered. One of these so-called concessions is their willingness to forestall their 3 percent raise this year until 2010, the same year they’ve proposed a 4 percent across-the-board salary increase. In other words, the city would get out of overpaying the cops for two months, only to have the bums collect double come the New Year.
To put it bluntly, the fact that the PBA is even making such a demand in this economy and when eight of their members could soon be without jobs is fucking mind blowing. Moreover, it shows their true strategy in this negotiation: Get Ron Kim elected mayor so he can give them carte blanche with their contract. But whoever thought out this strategy –maybe PBA dunderhead Ed Lewis –didn’t take one thing into consideration. Hardly any of the cops live in Saratoga Springs, thus they and their families can’t vote. They also made Kim look like a flatulent asshole for jumping in the sack with the PBA. Keep in mind, Johnson wouldn’t even accept an interview with the PBA, nor would Ivins or John Franck, the unopposed Accounts commissioner. Uh oh...damage control...
Be mindful, these grades aren’t an endorsement of any candidate per se; but rather how effectively their inner circles conduct their respective campaigns. For instance, it would take all the hash in Amsterdam and at least a 55-gallon drum of bourbon for iSaratoga’s e-board to even stomach the thought of fathoming another two years of Finneran’s dickering in City Hall. But when someone’s good at something –even if that something is really malicious –it’s worthy of note.
Editor’s note: This is the first among a marathon of posts pertaining to the election, politics and everything in between. The whip has been cracked at iSaratoga and its bibulous scribes are hard at work. Let’s just hope there’s enough bourbon to fuel this vicious run.