2014 Elections: It’s lights out for Nan Hayworth
The 2014 Election Cycle was interesting in watching the number of candidates who “hedged their bets” by catering to the voting blocs controlled by the Hasidic community of Kiryas Joel. The biggest loser in that race was Congressional candidate Nan Hayworth.
This publication, and many people across the Hudson Valley in the 18th Congressional District, reached out to each of the candidates for public office asking the one simple but seminal question for this election, and crucial to Orange County:
What is your position on the Kiryas Joel Land Annexation issue?
The candidates that took a firm stance on this issue got vote backing, and perhaps would have received more had this issue been better understood as one impacting everyone in Orange County.
Winners & Losers:
For State Assembly, only one candidate took a position running as an independent and garnering over 8,000 votes, effectively splitting the voting between the 2 candidates supported by Kiryas Joel’s leadership in the electoral primaries. Those voting along party lines are still awaiting the result, which as of this writing remains too close to call between Elisa Tutini and Karl Brabenec. Without Castricone’s candidacy, and given the voting patterns in Orange County, Brabenec would be the likely victor since Tutini did nearly no campaigning.
Candidates who went on record against the annexation issue included State Senator Bill Larkin and Assemblyman James Skoufis, both of whom benefitted from positive records and support among those who also were not in favor of annexation.
At a local level in Monroe, the community most impacted by the annexation proposal, the candidate against annexation — Dennis McWatters — won over the Harley Doles-backed candidate — Blanca Johnson — in a race that demonstrated the political power of the grass-roots United Monroe organization just one year after running their first slate of candidates.
But nowhere was the impact of the Kiryas Joel bloc vote more apparent than in the race for the 18th Congressional District seat, pitting freshman incumbent Sean Patrick Maloney against his 2012 rival, Nan Hayworth, who held the seat for one term before him. Both candidates were questioned on their position on the proposed annexation, and neither major party candidate would respond with a clear position either pro-or-con. An independent dark-horse candidate named Scott Smith from Goshen, NY entered the race with a clear position against the proposal, a move that earned him enough votes and support to draw a margin of victory and counter the Kiryas Joel bloc support in the district. And it was Mr. Smith’s presence in the race that proved to be the deciding factor.
With the Democratic and Republican nominees actively courting that voting bloc, neither would risk taking a stand counter to Kiryas Joel’s interests for fear of alienating a highly effective swing vote in a closely contested election. That silence was deafening, and left nearly 100,000 voters in the district out of the conversation, costing them to lose the backing of other political groups who might have otherwise endorsed them actively and campaigned for them in get-out-the-vote drives.
By the time Hayworth had expressed any opinion on the annexation, her statement was in the form of a last-minute robocall across the district urging people to cast their votes and accusing Maloney of making deals to capture Kiryas Joel’s endorsement. To the people who were seeking answers from the candidates for months prior, the message rang too hollow and too late, and came only when Hayworth knew that she hadn’t captured their votes. Had Hayworth shunned the position and courted those actively against KJ’s expansion plans, the swing voters and those who voted for Smith based on his position might have come over into the Hayworth camp.
It was a hard lesson to learn, and one learned far too late in the process. Because the bloc vote can be so pivotal in a tight race, politicians will promise favors in order to curry its favor. It’s a position that disenfranchises the remaining voters, not allowing them to know where each stands — with the voters of Kiryas Joel or with the rest of the voting district outside the village. And not only are there two factions of voters across Orange County — those either supporting or opposing the annexation for their individual reasons — but there are divisions internal to Kiryas Joel as well. Some of those voters don’t necessarily support the expansion plans for their village. So simply because one group of voters might take a position, it’s not a given that the entire village will swing votes in a specific direction as evidenced by the splits on Assembly and Town Council candidates.
What’s the answer?
The answer, quite simply, is transparency to the voters. Let’s not kid ourselves that politics is a generally messy affair, and promises are made to gain votes that have ramifications beyond the voting booth. But by coming out in opposition to a position held by Kiryas Joel, several candidates demonstrated that they could force enough support to also swing an election in the same manner as KJ’s powerful bloc voting power. In effect, it creates a second bloc vote based on the knowledge of the candidates’ positions.
In Nan Hayworth’s case, her silence backfired, and by the time she could take a stance it was already far too late for those who’d made a decision — whether Smith or Maloney — and cast their vote. Perhaps they also supported other issues in addition, but that one polarizing issue — your view on KJ’s influence — is now a defining issue in Orange County politics and sets the foundation for a topic on which future candidates will likely be challenged. Do you stand for one constituency, or do you stand with the rest of the voters in Orange County?
The new reality will be defined by not only what you support, but also by who. And as local issues become more a factor in our elections, the questions won’t end. It forces those to address the question rather than evade it.
- For Karl Brabenec, it may have cost him an election for a gain of only 1,800 votes.
- For Nan Hayworth, it cost her an election by a margin attributable to both of her opponents and apathy toward her campaign.
- And for those who challenged the political trend, it demonstrated that another bloc vote is gaining traction.
As 2014’s election cycle closes, it brings with it the promise of 2015’s elections and another opportunity to make some very tough decisions: Will our political leaders stand with their constituents, or will they pander to a political deal? Next year might truly be the voters’ turn to decide for them.