Winners, losers, and Hudson Valley political capital: Part 1
It was announced and confirmed on December 11th that the long contended race for New York’s 98th State Assembly District — a race pitting Democrat Elisa Tutini against Republican Karl Brabenec — was concluded after a protracted recount and legal battle over disputed ballot signatures and absentee ballot counting. Brabenec, the Deerpark Town Supervisor won by 38 votes in a 3-way race largely split by the presence of three (3) candidates in the race. As of this writing, the Board of Elections is still pending certification of the court’s decision since no further legal obstacles exist.
Over 8,000 votes went to third party candidate, Dan Castricone, in a race that showed district-wide the potential for change in the long-established two-party political landscape. As with the Congressional Race in New York’s 18th District, the differences in the decision could be easily attributable to the presence of third party candidates in the mix pulling enough votes away from those who’ve previously felt captive to the established two major parties. The difference in those votes, presumably, would have transferred to one of those two major parties and materially changed the outcome of the vote. In the Congressional Race, it pulled enough votes away from either candidate, and Republican Candidate Nan Hayworth’s last minute attempt to capitalize on anti-Kiryas Joel sentiment was too little, too late for many whose minds were set days or weeks earlier by candidates with a much clearer stance.
For the 98th District, Castricone was the election spoiler, pulling more than enough votes away from the two candidates who’d been nominated in the primary elections. The margin of his vote draw, however, was even more telling.
With over 8,000 votes, Castricone’s result outstripped all of the votes cast in Kiryas Joel (KJ), who split their vote largely along Democrat lines. 1,900 of those KJ votes, however, went to Brabenec, resulting in a razor-thin victory and even more court wrangling for the candidate who earned a reputation for court challenges during the primaries and run-up to the general election.
In the Town of Monroe, United Monroe-backed candidate Dennis McWatters won by a larger margin over Harley Doles-backed candidate, Blanca Johnson. 1,800 of those votes came from a group known as the Kiryas Joel Alliance, a breakaway faction of the Satmar community that does not always back KJ-Leadership endorsed candidates.
But the 2014 political season, now officially over, shows a marked change in how Hudson Valley political capital is measured.
While the more obvious winners are the victors who came away with hard-fought but slim-margin victories — Sean Patrick Maloney, Karl Brabenec, Dennis McWatters — the voters of Orange County are the less-obvious victors.
The KJ/Harley Doles-backed tickets of Tutini and Blanca Johnson show that the bully-grip that Doles has on Orange County’s most politically volatile community is at risk. His constituencies couldn’t carry either of his candidates to clear victories, and if taken in total, more than 60% of the 98th Assembly District voted against Tutini once all votes were counted.
The result that requires a step back to analyze is the balance of political power in the voting districts that include Monroe, as well as Orange County and the 18th Congressional District as a whole.
- The fracturing of the vote in Kiryas Joel shows a clear break with the direction set by KJ-leadership.
- It also reduced the magnitude of the mandate that KJ can demand as a result of their candidates’ election to office. Their block didn’t guarantee the win as it had in prior elections.
- Given the vote for the 3rd party candidate in the Congressional Race equalled the KJ-Leadership turnout for Maloney, it counted for only a partial offset of his slim lead over Hayworth. The Brabenec/Tutini split was even more telling, as was the Blanca Johnson turnout.
Every one of these factors points back to the impact of the remaining electorate in Orange County political races, and that the KJ-Bloc vote isn’t the warm security blanket that candidates once expected. It underscores the emergence of third-party candidates and their impact on major races, especially if the 2 political factions in KJ split their allegiance as they did in this election. It depicts the chinks in the political armor and the change in Hudson Valley political capital, and the potential for shifting political power away from long-held KJ power-brokers.
In Part Two of this series, we’ll break down the election by the numbers and identify what those figures mean apart from these deductions, as well as explain the reasoning.