Not So Special Election

With Democrat executive candidate Pat Ryan holding what may be a historic advantage in fundraising over Republican Jack Hayes and a scorched earth ground game, Democrats will be looking for a clean sweep at the polls this November.

In some ways this brief sprint to a preliminary decision was disappointing. (The verdict on a full, four-year term will be rendered in November. The winner of this race serves out the year.) Having covered the now historic Mike Hein administration for a decade, I was looking forward to a critical examination of Hein’s record, the good, the bad and most certainly the ugly.

We didn’t get much of that at all. What we got was a form of shadow-boxing, two candidates talking broad generalities and political philosophy. Ryan acknowledged Hein’s setting the foundation, but didn’t offer much on the superstructure or how he went about doing it. Hayes, the challenger, groused about “gag rules,” true enough (believe me!) but nothing much to excite the voters.

We’re left with a murky slate and the hope that whomever wins this thing – most likely, almost certainly the Democrat – has the talent to quickly assume command of a $330 million operation with some 1,300 employees.

Democrats caught a break in Ryan, a made-to-order seasoned candidate, ready, willing and able and capable of raising money by the bucketload. On the campaign trail, he’s personable, friendly, and an attentive listener. People like him, even if they don’t agree with views that resonate with his progressive base, but not necessarily with mainstream voters.  

Perception is often reality in politics and this one has long been seen as a cakewalk. Media are not party to internal polls, but the buzz is around 65 percent for Ryan with maybe a 25 percent turnout on Tuesday. Hayes, who to his credit hasn’t accused his opponent of “trying to buy the election,” says he’ll soldier on into November regardless of this week’s outcome. If so, Republicans might better turn their attention to the only race they have a puncher’s chance of winning: district attorney between Democrat Dave Clegg and Republican Mike Kavanagh. Kavanagh carries a proud and respected name – his father was a district attorney for 20 years, but as one Republican stalwart put it, “the only people who are going to vote for Kavanaugh this year are dead.” Young Kavanagh, as he’s known, will run on his own impressive record as a chief assistant DA with a hard time on the front lines of law enforcement. Kavanagh won’t have to demonstrate that he can do the job; Clegg does.

I hate to bring the county legislature into this conversation, but they created this mess. Legislators might consider revisiting county charter rules for this special election which had the unwanted and confusing consequences of dictating (potentially) three elections for county executive in the same year. The special will cost taxpayers an additional $220,000, coincidentally, around the same amount Ryan has raised since January. And no, there are no plans for Ryan to donate a substantial sum of the money he doesn’t now need to offset those expenses.

Campaign notes – Former executive Hein seems to have gotten a free pass even after a decade in office and more than a few controversies. Space doesn’t allow a rehash; let’s just say he broke a few eggs, built a few buildings….

I found Ryan’s flyers depicting the grandfatherly Hayes as some kind of right-wing nut off-putting in comparison to the respectful way he treated his opponent in head-to-head public appearances. It was Jekyll and Hyde. Hayes is a decent man who has served his community well in various capacities, from state trooper to county legislator…

Unless Hein issues some kind of 11th-hour endorsement of his party’s all but certain winner, his absence from this campaign can only be seen as conspicuous…

Given that the former executive has moved on, one can only wonder about a transition to an elected executive with almost no experience in county government taking charge. My guess is that with few, very few exceptions, Ryan will keep the seasoned Hein team in place, which is to say, more of the same.