By Nick DAngelo
In 2008, a presidential election year, 60% of those eligible to vote made it to the polls, according to George Mason University. According to the same statistics, only 41% of those eligible turned out for the highly anticipated 2010 midterm elections. But 2011 is different. It’s an off political year, carrying few high-profile offices, and even fewer celebrity names. Nonetheless, 2011 is important. A year after a hotly-contested midterm and a year before what could be a competitive presidential election, 2011 can act as a precursor. But perhaps more importantly, with almost every local or county post across New York up for election, 2011 is a crucial election year.
Republicans and Democrats across the nation are spending heavily in some key races in 2011. West Virginia and Kentucky will both elect governors in October and November respectively (West Virginia will have a special election after the departure of Joe Manchin to the U.S. Senate). But the most hotly contested race of 2011 is right here in New York.
The 26th Congressional District, covering the Erie/Buffalo area, a traditionally Republican block, has become a toss-up. By the time this article is published, the May 24 vote will have taken place, but the most recent polling as of May 19 has Democrat Kathy Hochul leading with 35% to Republican Jane Corwin’s 31% and Independent Jack Davis’s 24%. With the race becoming more competitive than anyone expected, the party that wins will have remarkable energy come 2012, a necessity as Republicans try to hold on to their New York House seats, and Democrats attempt to take them back.
But local races across New York will make the difference in November. As House Speaker Tip O’Neill stated, “all politics is local.” Reform and policy making start on the local level, and the town board, school board and county legislature races that nobody pays much attention to may be worth watching this time around. In Westchester County, a blue county if there ever was one, Republicans are looking to end the 12-5 supermajority Democrats hold on the Board of Legislators. With this partisan gridlock, Democrats can essentially dismiss debate entirely, overpowering even the veto of Republican County Executive Rob Astorino. I’ve met with Mr. Astorino, his staff, and many of the GOP candidates running in 2011.
The common consensus is clear: 2011 will be filled with energy. Let’s be clear, we Republicans are not looking for an unchecked Republican supermajority—we just want the opportunity to debate the issues, fair and square.
2011 is only made more important by the 2010 census. With the results in, local officials across the state will be redrawing the district lines for everything from the County Legislature to the U.S. Congress, and it’s not a clean process. Back in Westchester, Democrat Mike Kaplowitz, a leading member of the County Legislature, gerrymandered his district, drawing lines almost exactly around the property of his main Republican opponent, Terrence Murphy. Meanwhile, Ken Jenkins, the Board Chairman, allegedly rigged the process to ensure that his residence would be within the district he represents (something that is required by law, but remains disputed). We can only keep the process clean if we hold our representatives accountable. And we can only hold them accountable by voting.
The 2011 strategy for both sides is simple: Consolidate the energy of 2010 to the local level. The spending is real. The debt is real. The taxes are real. Make an effort in 2011 to learn about the issues and develop opinions, regardless of which side of the aisle you’re on, and just go vote.