By Nick DAngelo
After losing his first campaign for the Cambridge City Council in 1935, Tip O’Neill coined his famous phrase “All politics is local,” articulating the need for issues to be brought directly to the constituency. Despite his first, and only electoral loss, O’Neill went on to become the second longest serving House Speaker ever.
While our attention will undoubtedly be focused on the national scene in six days, our voices will be the loudest here at home. After all, just last year, the Schenectady mayoral election came down to less than one percentage point. With 120 Union students newly registered to vote right here in Schenectady, history shows that we could make the difference in these down-ballot races.
But when you step into the voting booth on Nov. 6, who will be on your ballot? With over a dozen names across the sheet, it can be a little intimidating. Knowing your choice is crucial.
The United States Senate
The highest office up for grabs in New York in 2012 is the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand. A former member of the House of Representatives, Gillibrand was appointed to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat in 2009. Gillibrand has dumped nine million dollars into a campaign that isn’t seen as particularly competitive. However, her opponent is no pushover. Wendy Long is a litigation attorney specializing in the Supreme Court. She served as a clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas and later played important roles in the confirmation hearings of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. It’s the first woman versus woman Senate contest in New York; history is being made.
The House of Representatives
Paul Tonko is around Union College a lot; after all, it’s a place he knows pretty well, having represented it for three decades. Before being elected to Congress in 2008, he served for 25 years in the State Assembly. In 2012 Tonko will seek his second term in Congress, running against local businessman Bob Dietrich. Dietrich, a Republican, has an extensive career in regional business and was named the CFO of the Year by the Capital Region Business Review in 2011. Congressman Tonko is a tireless defender of the Obama administration and has voted with his party in Congress almost 95 percent of the time. Dietrich has focused on a small-government message.
The New York State Senate
Incumbent State Senator Hugh Farley, a Republican, has served in Albany since 1977. Entrenched and still popular, his 2010 race against Schenectady County Legislature Chairwoman Susan Savage was expected to be competitive. Farley won by almost 30,000 votes. This year he’ll face off against Democrat Madelyn Thorne, a community volunteer with an active career in senior care. Although she entered the race late, kicking off her campaign in July, we should be happy she decided to run. Almost half of the State Senate races across New York will be uncontested in 2012. Agree or disagree with Thorne’s positions, she has given voters a choice.
The New York State Assembly
In 2010, Republican Jennifer Whalen took 49 percent of the vote against John Reilly, forcing the election to go to absentee ballots. Although Reilly won, when Whalen announced she would run again he chose to retire. This local race is by far the most intense this year. Phil Steck, an Albany county legislator, beat the party favorite in the Democratic primary in September and has focused on a grassroots, bipartisan message. Whalen has repeatedly criticized Steck for being soft on Sheldon Silver during the revelation of a sexual harassment suit cover-up.
Steck has not called for Silver’s resignation. This race will be nasty down to the last day.It’s the lowest elected office on the ballot, but it’s perhaps the most important. In 2011, Vince Riggi broke the one-party control of the City Council, taking a seat through the Alliance Party, founded in 2010 for that very purpose. This year, Union’s own Rich Patierne will square off against Councilwoman Marion Porterfield. She was appointed in April to the seat vacated by Gary McCarthy when he became Mayor. The State Supreme Court will not allow Patierne to appear on the Alliance line because he has three other endorsements, but he’s the strong favorite for bipartisan action.
Be informed, know your candidates and as Bob Schieffer’s mom said, “Go out and vote. It makes you feel big and strong.”