New York is one of only eight states that perpetuates the antiquated system of “electoral fusion,” an arrangement by which two or more political parties cross endorse a candidate, and of those eight states, it’s only commonly practiced here. As a result, several peculiarities that are unique to our elections set us apart, locally and statewide.
The most obvious, perhaps, is that not a few judicial elections are “done deals” long before voters have a say in the matter, hand-picked candidates being anointed by men in smoke-filled rooms to run on both Republican and Democratic party lines.
Which leads to another phenomenon springing from electoral fusion: minor parties seemingly serving as vassals for the major parties, rubberstamping their candidates. While the motivation on the part of the other 49 states in outlawing cross endorsements over the past century was to diminish the influence of third parties, New York’s major parties have evolved a different approach, which is to stock key committee posts in the Working Families, Conservative and Independence Parties with individuals who are like-minded at best, or outright subversive at worst.
The minor party’s choice of which major party candidate to support, therefore, has become more of a fait accompli than a bargaining chip, also having the effect of attenuating minor party power and influence.
Last but not least, voters in New York are treated to the spectacle of politicians accepting the nominations of minor parties which hold platform positions completely antithetical to their stated values and beliefs. For example, a Republican may seek the Green Party nod even though it espouses single payer health care and a living wage. Likewise, it’s not unheard of for a Democrat to run on the anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality Conservative Party ticket. They do this on the theory that, the more ballot lines, the more of their little circles may get filled in.
Our position at the Reporter is, if a candidate accepts the nomination of a party that holds radically different viewpoints, either philosophically or in practical terms, that politician cannot be accused of standing on principle.
Such is the case with Councilman Andrew Touma who, alone among three Democrats, also ran on the Conservative Party line in the general election for City Council last month.
By seeking and obtaining the nomination of the Conservative Party, Mr. Touma lent his name to a third party that, according to its website, “…support(s) law enforcement agencies efforts utilizing all effective law enforcement techniques, such as profiling, surveillance and stop, question and frisk,” and “(is) opposed to… efforts to establish early voting in New York State.”
In addition, “Neither Medicaid nor School Aid can be excluded from meaningful cuts,” “President Obama has gone from defending America to making an alliance with Iran… in a harebrained attempt to secure our nation,” and “We support construction of a security wall on our border with Mexico,” are among other gems to be culled from the website.
“When it comes to the city budget, we have many, many concerns,” Niagara County Conservative Party chairman and Niagara Falls resident Daniel Weiss told the Reporter in a phone interview. “The city can’t continue to spend without any repercussions,” he added.
Mr. Touma did not gain the local Conservative Party endorsement by means of a primary election – he was chosen based on an interview by its selection committee. Mr. Weiss emphasized that, when it came to the local level here in Niagara Falls, the overarching criteria for choosing Mr. Touma was fiscal responsibility.
“The big issues obviously have to do with the budget,” Mr. Weiss continued, “When Mr. Touma left, our understanding was that he would look for responsible ways to cut spending.”
While it’s true that Mr. Touma voted for several cuts to Mayor Dyster’s proposed 2018 budget, he also voted two weeks ago to allow the city to exceed the state-instituted tax cap of 1.84%, which would appear to fly in the face of the reason given by Mr. Weiss and the local Conservative Party for putting their imprimatur on his candidacy.
In addition, Mr. Touma, who was recently elected to a second four-year term on the council, has been an avid and enthusiastic supporter of Mayor Dyster’s spendthrift ways over the past four years, voting to fund the new Boundary Waters sculpture which ended up costing $619,000, as well as directing $100,000 of the city’s bed tax share to the Discover Niagara shuttle, the fare-free conveyance that functions to transport tourists out of downtown Niagara Falls to Lewiston and Youngstown.
In the final analysis, despite the police positions he voted to cut, the 2018 city budget that ultimately passed under Mr. Touma’s watch increases property taxes by 2.3% on homeowners and by 6.6% for businesses, exceeding the state-mandated tax cap by around a half million dollars.
Some questioned the wisdom of eliminating positions from the Niagara Falls Police Department, given that the rates of both violent and property crimes here are the highest of any city in New York State with population over 25,000, according to FBI statistics.
“Andy was really pissed because the police union didn’t endorse him, and this was his way of getting back at them,” one political insider told us. “He’s that vindictive?” we asked. “Yes.”
“Tough decisions need to be made,” says Mr. Weiss, “We’ll be keeping a close eye on what happens moving forward.”