In this special, off-year election of a Member of Congress, it is good to remember how did we get the three candidates now on the ballot ?
Because John McHugh was going to resign to take his post as Secretary of the Army, events were set in motion that put three names on a ballot...names not really vetted or ratified by the people registered in the party they represent.
Democrat Bill Owens has never been involved in elected office and appeared suddenly to sweep away the field at a closed door meeting of Democratic Chairs held this summer in Blue Mountain Lake, a scenic but remote spot not known for its bevy of political analysts. After the meeting, Owens refused to talk to the only TV crew there from News 10 Now.
There was no announcement of candidacy...no meetings of local people and leaders..no organizng of a campaign...no opportunity for primary (thats the way the law is for a special). How did 11 county chairs spontaneously ratify the choice of such an unknown?.
The only rationale explanation is word from on high (Whte House). Mr. Owens was the pick of the folks who engineered the vacancy and he was their pick to take the seat...the man they wanted to put their money behind.
On the Republican side, the candidate was better known for sure, but Diedre Scozzafava's designation again came without any kind of scrutiny or vetting that occurs when there is a primary. In her case the closed door meeting of county chairs came in Potsdam where weighted voting is used. Each chair casts a number of votes based on votes cast in a recent election.
I am told on the first ballot, three chairs from Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Clinton counties backed Scozzafava. That amounted to 48% of the vote. Challenger Matt Doheny had the bulk of the remainder with a favorite son candidate from Franklin County, Paul Maroun, preventing a majority for either.
On the third ballot, the impasse was broken by Lewis County, and she was the designee. One would think the two issues that have dogged her (too liberal, can't raise enough money) could have been sorted out in a primary. Instead, four people picked her.
Now, all of this was within the rules set. The issue is the legitimacy of the choices.
As for the minor parties, its even less inclusive.
Conservative nominee Doug Hoffman is the result of one man, Chairman Michael Long, saying "enough already" and refusing to cross endorse what he saw as an egregiously liberal GOP nominee. Long picked Mr. Hoffman and submitted the paperwork to put him on Line D.
The Independence Party State Chair Frank MacKay has the power over multi-county districts as well, and had planned to endorse Darrel Aubertine as part of a plan to remove the popular state senator from Albany so the GOP could win back the 48th District. When Aubertine bowed out, who got the nod was less consequential, and Ms. Scozzafava was named. Most of the counties in the 23rd have no chairs or active organizations. The move was run by Joe Baruth in Lewis and me in Jefferson, although I am not on the County Executive Committee. We both agreed it was a good choice, as we both knew her and she was local.
In the Working Families Party....much the same. One or two people in NYC control the line and the issuing of cross-endorsements. It is no surprise Bill Owens is the nominee as the party virtually always does Democrats, except for the now infamous endorsements of Ms. Scozzafava in her Assembly races. Those endorsements, while not noticed at the time, are a big part of what made Scozzafava toxic to Chairman Long.
Well, the point is not to suggest anyone has done anything wrong, or that any of these three are bad people.
Just remember, that when people talk of the party's candidate, they are not talking about a large number of like-thinking people hearing from and deciding on a candidate to represent them.
This is about a very closed and restrictive process where the choice you get is controlled by a very few.