Primary Elections: Much Ado About Nothing
We conducted candidate interviews in the very few Primary Election races on the ballot this election season. In the 13th Senate District Primary (l. to r.): challenger Luis Rosero, Publisher Michael Schenkler, incumbent John Sabini. Tribune Photo by Ira Cohen.
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
It just isn’t easy!
You spend months leading the journalistic charge pointing out how abysmal the New York State Legislature really is.
You take abuse from an elected old-timer. You get calls from a large number of elected officials applauding your effort, all of whom clearly state they agree with you, but not one will allow their name to be used.
You are fed up with 20 straight years of late budgets and excuses, legislative inaction and bi-partisan redistricting and rules to protect incumbents and disregard the people.
For a year you call the New York State Legislature the 50th best (read worst) in the nation and demand change of leadership – at a minimum. Then, the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYC School of Law actually does a comparative study and names the New York State Legislature as the worst in the nation. Other papers, even the dailies, begin to join in finally printing messages similar to the one your readers are now getting tired of seeing.
You believe there is hope.
You know change comes slowly but truly believe the honest and courageous members of the State Legislature will take note of your writings and others, and heed some of the suggestions of the Brennan Center.
You also sincerely hope that some of the members of the stale, tired and morally bankrupt legislature will be challenged by strong up-and-comers with principles and conviction.
You hope for change. Although you’re not a praying man, you even consider praying for change, because the economic, social and moral well being of New York State depends upon it.
You know the people’s opportunity to vote change, at least in Queens, comes at the Primary Election – and rarely at the November General Election. And so you wait until the powerful legal arm of the Queens County Democratic Organization is done with petition challenges to deny ballot access and you survey the field.
And you are sad.
In the next week’s Primary Election, of the 25 elected members of the State Legislature from Queens, only two have Primary opponents. Of those two, only one has an opponent who has demonstrated to us that he understands the workings of the government and the needs of the people.
In short, we spend almost a year extolling the virtues of change in the State Legislature, and finally just about every good government group and editorial page joins us. We receive extensive, quiet applause from many elected officials and louder support from readers. And in the end we discover what we probably knew at the beginning: making things change is a bitch.
And this time around, it just ain’t gonna happen.
In the two contested races, the 13th Senate District and the 22nd Assembly District, we invited all the candidates to come meet with us.
13th Senate District
In the 13th Senate District, we introduced you to challenger Luis Rosero last week. With an impressive background, hard work, an ethnic advantage and apparent assistance of Councilman Hiram Monserrate, Rosero comes to the race as a viable option to incumbent John Sabini.
The incumbent John Sabini is, however, an exception in that very stale upstate Albany milieu.
On the floor of the Senate on March 31 of this year, Sabini took aim at all of his colleagues who were silent and passive as the budget missed its deadline for the record 20th consecutive year.
He cited members self-interest, special interest group pressure and pointed to the “three men in a room.” He, unlike his Assembly colleagues, blamed both parties.
He pointed to one member – we could guess whom, because we too were told we couldn’t understand how Albany works and told the following story:
“And it is bipartisan in its failure, and it is bicameral in its failure,” Sabini said on the floor of the Senate. “And a member of the Assembly who belongs to the majority party, my party in that body, said to me the other day: ‘You know, you just don’t understand how Albany works.’ And my response: It doesn’t. It doesn’t.”
Sabini, in writing and word, has lambasted both houses and his colleagues. It is certainly easier for a member of the minority party, as Sabini is in the Senate, to take such a brave step – there is little to lose. Minority Party members have few perks or member items for leadership to threaten them with. But John Sabini has been a stand-up guy calling on his colleagues to change the dysfunctional legislature.
Our quest for change in that abysmal body should not, would not be appropriate if aimed at Sabini.
22nd Assembly District
In the 22nd Assembly District the incumbent, Barry Grodenchik, has been our friend for many years. He has a credible record of service to the people of the borough when he served as Special Assistant to Queens Borough President Claire Shulman. He is a knowledgeable advocate for the community.
However, he is clearly a part of the problem in Albany.
Grodenchik during our interview praised the leadership of Sheldon Silver, the Assembly Speaker who has steered that house for half of the 20 record years of late budgets.
Silver is part of the entrenched leadership that has failed this State and caused NYU’s Brennan Center to recognize its dubious achievement. It has been on Silver’s watch that the Assembly has failed. Praise? C’mon Barry.
Our friend Barry Grodenchik has not bothered to read the report and recommendations of the Brennan Center – the Center says they distributed copies to all members. Friend or no friend, this paper is not going to support anyone who cannot recognize the failure of the State Legislature.
I think Grodenchik best offer was, “We could do better.”
Although the times were different and the moment more explosive, I recall the words of the late Eldridge Clever in “Soul On Ice,” a book chronicling that black man’s revolution in the 60’s: “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”
I’d place Grodenchik and all of his colleagues – to varying degrees – in the category as being “part of the problem.”
The legislators must read the Brennan Center report. They must open up their process. They must challenge failing leadership. They must be a part of change.
Clearly Barry Grodenchik doesn’t have what it takes to be an advocate for change in the current oppressive Assembly.
But sadly, neither do his opponents.
One was well meaning, well intentioned and on target in pointing out the difference between him and the incumbent. Challenger Ben Singer looked at Grodenchik and said, “I have a bigger set of balls.” And with that blunt and unrefined line, summed up Grodenchik’s failures.
However, Singer’s knowledge of government, legislative process or the workings of Albany is a true blank page. The septuagenarian has done nothing to prepare himself for service to the people of his district. He has not watched, studied or sought information about the workings of the State Legislature. He readily admits he was drafted to run by a disgruntled Democratic Club. While we found his candor and eagerness to challenge the failures of the system, as well as Albany leadership, refreshing, while we found his intellect stimulating, we only wish someone had prepared him for the job. And finally, we wish he had a chance, so in spite of all his shortcomings, that we could consider him.
In this district, where the balance of voters is quickly becoming Asian, ethnicity is the biggest factor in mounting a challenge to unseat an incumbent, and Jimmy Meng, the lone Asian candidate, failed to show after confirmation by his staff. Meng, shortly before the appointed time, had his office call and cite personal matters. There was no followup contact by Meng or his office.
Meng has sat down with us only once and two years ago was an angry and uninformed candidate.
We can’t judge him today.
We met with both Grodenchik and Singer, and this paper cannot recommend either. Our single contact with Meng and his failure to show at the scheduled interview with no attempt to reschedule makes him likewise unacceptable.
Therefore, as you have read on the editorial page, this paper has no endorsement in the 22nd Assembly District.
In summary, we’ve yelled a lot and accomplished little.
The worst legislature in the nation will remain the worst with little or no change. The people of Queens have little or no opportunity to express their dissatisfaction at the polls. The system has failed the people.
Perhaps some of those folks who are reelected to return to the dysfunctional State Legislature can and will read, think and join the ever-increasing demand for change.
All the voters can do is every time they see their State Assembly member or Senator is to shout, “Shame on you!”
We’ll continue to watch and write. We’ll let you know who is perpetuating the failed system. And perhaps we’ll even take up prayer.
Vote like your future depends upon it.