I put a lot of effort (physical, intellectual and emotional) into supporting my friend Joe Fox in his bid to unseat the incumbent, Andrew Hevesi, in the recent Democratic primary for the 28th Assembly District here in New York.
We were fighting long odds, considering that New York has the highest percentage of incumbency re-election in the country. We were fighting an incumbent with a known name. A tainted name to be sure, but known nevertheless. The turnout was low, about 12%. This was not unexpected. It meant that in a district of approx 36,000 eligible Democratic voters, it would take about 3000 votes to win.
Fighting an incumbent in a primary presents some entrenched problems. An experienced local politician pointed out to me that in a local primary, the incumbent starts out with a 1000-0 lead. This is because ALL the people who work at the polls....those elderly women who sit at the tables, ALL vote for the incumbent because they perceive that their paid poll worker jobs come from the incumbent. Between those poll workers, and supervisors, and staff, and people who are active in local politics, you have 1000 people, and the one thing they ALL do is vote.
So, Joe Fox got 40% of the vote and was defeated by Andrew Hevesi. Andrew will be on the ballot in November, against an unknown Republican candidate and an unknown independent candidate. He will probably win, despite the fact that his father, former New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi, just plead guilty to ANOTHER felony involving corruption while in office, and despite the fact that Andrew is implicated in it and Alan obviously plead guilty to protect him. http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/07/hevesi-is-set-to-plead-guilty-to-felony/
I could say a lot about the Hevesi's, and the reasons Joe Fox would have made a great representative (while Andrew will continue to be a disgraceful embarrassment), but I'll save that for a future post.
I want to make some observations about the experience of participating in the Joe Fox campaign:
1. I decided to get involved because I was disgusted with Andrew Hevesi and the local political scene, and respected that Joe wanted to actually DO something about it. I admit it, I secretly wanted to run for the seat from the moment I learned that the local politicos had rigged a special election to install Andrew back in 2005. I couldn't and didn't do it, but Joe had a burning desire to make this run. I knew that I knew enough people, and had enough political savvy, to at least help him in a meaningful way. I appreciated having input in a lot of the behind the scenes decisions in the campaign. There was a stretch of time when I had some fear that if Joe lost, my involvement would "come back to haunt me"......politically, in court, or in some way. That fear left me over time, and now I'll say it for any of the local politicos to see......I helped Joe Fox, I'm proud of it, and I'd do it again.
2. Hindsight is 20-20, and analyzing the campaign, there may have been a few things we could have done to change the results and pull off a major upset. I will not list them here, because if Joe runs again, surely he will use what was learned. I will say this though.....if Andrew is reelected, ends up running again in two years, and remains as ineffectual as he has been, he can and will be beaten.
3. Felicia and I were official "poll watchers" at PS 139. I was present at 6 AM when the doors opened, so I got to witness the poll workers dealing with the new voting machines for the first time. There was some confusion at first, but the system was up and functioning by 7 AM. I thought the system worked well for the most part. People are often resistant to change, but I did not encounter anyone who could not figure out how to vote. The only thing I did not like was a lack of privacy for the voters. I observed situations where people were being "helped" to vote, and this was all out in the open.
4. I spent most of my day on the corner of 63rd Drive and Wetherole Street, attempting to talk to "voters" on their way to and from work. I say attempting because the vast majority of people would not talk to me. There seemed to be a few main reasons......
- Many did not speak a word of English. Living in Rego Park, this was not a big surprise.
- Many were non-citizens, and proud of it. Also not a big surprise.
- Many were entranced in I-Pod isolation. Probably listening to last years American Idol winners, or "rap" (as if it were music).
- Some proudly told me they never vote.
- A few told me they were voting for Hevesi, because his father had been railroaded and "all he did was use State money to take his wife to the doctor".
- A few offered memorable excuses, such as "I already voted" (this was at 7 AM). Another said "I am going to vote....tomorrow."
5. During primary day, I split my time between campaigning out on the street, and poll watching inside the school. This was permitted, as long as I did not campaign inside the school or wear anything that would indicate I was campaigning. This simply meant when I went inside, I had to take off my Joe Fox name tag. I got involved in some poll watching excitement when I noticed Andrew Hevesi campaigning right in front of the school, in the area where you are clearly not supposed to do that. I was outside at the time, and walked right past him on my way inside to report him. I said hello to him, and he said hi back, since he did not know who I was (which REALLY pissed me off). I then did what a poll watcher is supposed to do....I told the policeman on duty and the local election supervisor that Andrew Hevesi was electioneering in the restricted area. I then watched them confront him, watched him argue back, and then leave the area in disgust. Andrew, in case you are wondering how that happened....it was ME.
6. When the polls closed, as poll watcher I got to see the results come off the machines, and was responsible for calling the results in to headquarters. It took awhile for the officials to figure out how to get the results off the machines and post them. After working from 6 AM to 9 PM I was anxious to see the results. Now I know that when they say on election night that "x% of precincts are reporting", they are talking about poll-watchers like me. I was pretty disappointed, though not shocked, when I saw that Joe got about 40% at PS 139. I called it in to headquarters and asked whether this was consistent with results from other polling places. They said it was, and I knew right there we had lost. I was angry for about 10 minutes. My rant was along these lines....."how could people be so stupid? how could people be so apathetic? People get what they deserve....etc" Then, I was concerned about how Joe would take it. When I drove over to headquarters and saw that Joe accepted things like the uber-mensch he is, I began to feel great pride at what we had done.
7. Prior to the campaign, I knew Joe for about 30 years, but I'd say we were casual friends at most, and I knew his family enough to say hello, but that was about it. I now consider Joe and his family my good friends. So, in addition to the actual campaign experience, the personal aspect was enough to make the whole experience worthwhile.
So, the primaries are over and the election season is on.
I foresee some changes and shifts coming, across the State and nationally, and personally I think it is needed.
But here in the 28th A.D., it will be "same old, same old". What a shame.