The ugly race for the 98th NY State Assembly District.
Is there truly a winner or supportable candidate?
It’s little wonder that Orange County voters are disenchanted with politics based on the ugly tone of the race for the 98th NY State Assembly District seat, held by incumbent Karl Brabenec. Between dirty tricks, mud slinging, and trades of personal attacks on all sides of the Republican ticket, the local race makes the national Presidential contest appear quiet and dignified.
Brabenec predictably had a challenge raised to the Republican primary petitions from Monroe resident John Allegro. Note: The Ramapo Republican chairperson raised the challenge, though it clearly benefitted the incumbent. Quips were traded by the campaigns early on, including Allegro’s request that Republicans not challenge the legitimacy of the petitions. This was for naught since the challenge was quickly dismissed, but later resurfaced in different form.
United Monroe grassroots organization has fielded candidates for a variety of offices, or backed several others in past years. 2016 was no exception. United Monroe had usually been first in line to present their petitions to ensure that no one stole their ballot line. Apparently, 2016 was the exception for early rising as Karl Brabenec beat the organization to the door by four hours to lay claim to the United Monroe ballot with 1,900 petitions. While United Monroe was highly critical of the move in social media, it never directly responded to why they did not mitigate the known risk that Brabenec would make such an opportunistic move.
Supporters will probably never get an explanation of why they turned up late or didn’t have a plan to avoid these dirty tricks.
The case to voters
And the result is requesting more money in donations to support an attorney to challenge Brabenec’s move.
With both sides pleading their case on the use of the United Monroe line, the campaign rhetoric has escalated. The tone of both campaigns, but in social media and in the press has become undesirable to many voters who’ve chosen to abstain from the primaries or not get involved.
In testing those lows, supporters of the Brabenec campaign released a photo of Philippe Convers protesting outside a Brabenec fundraiser in Greenwood Lake. The photo was captioned with derisions about the physical appearance of Convers’ wife, United Monroe Chairperson Emily Convers, a move that fueled the flame on the Facebook page of the grassroots group. The result has ratcheted up the attacks and derisions of both candidates, and painted Brabenec as a candidate desperate to keep his office.
For his part, the Freshman legislator distanced himself from the personal attack. But he has continued to embrace his use of United Monroe as a ballot line, calling the move “perfectly legal”.
Observers questioned how Brabenec could so easily steal the ballot line, given the United Monroe name recognition. The Times Herald-Record conducted their own investigation by reviewing the petition signatures collected. Their analysis uncovered a large number of town names corrected to reflect towns in the voting district, while the street addresses were not. It appears that Brabenec and his supporters were brazen enough to modify the petitions themselves to create “qualifying petitions”, all of which collected well outside Monroe, and often outside the 98th NY State Assembly District.
For its part, Allegro has continued to rally support toward the misuse of the organization of which he is a committee member. Though the negative rhetoric continues to detract from the issues of the campaign.
And it continues to erode support toward Republicans, who might be more inclined to sit out the race than take a strong position toward either candidate.
On the other side
This leaves the two Democratic challengers vying for the November ballot line in the 98th NY State Assembly District: Former Rockland-County Legislator Aron Wieder, and Monroe resident Krystal Serrano. While we know little about Serrano, the press is full of references on Wieder’s stances as a legislator. That includes his positions against state oversight of the embattled East Ramapo School District. Also, several stances more aligned with indicted Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence than the voters of the Lower Hudson Valley. Wieder, who is ultra-orthodox, stands in stark contrast to the other three candidates who would seem less able to capture the Kiryas Joel bloc vote that was given to Democrat Elisa Tutini in 2014.
Serrano’s apparent strategy is to take no public positions and not make any waves until the primaries are over. In this campaign season, it might be the right strategy. But when faced with normally anemic primary turnouts, her opponent is a more likely victor if Serrano does not herself from the controversial Wieder.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face off against the winner of the Republican primary and any third party candidacy in November for the 98th NY State Assembly District.
Is there a winner?
The short answer is “probably not”. The voters in the 98th NY State Assembly District appear to have only the choices between two Republican contenders more intent on battling against each other than making their case with voters. The bruised and bloody victor will face a Democratic contender — likely, Aron Wieder — who seems to be banking on the alignment of the KJ bloc vote and voter apathy to sweep him into office once Allegro and Brabenec have been damaged from their primary. For Wieder, it’s a smart move.
If Brabenec wins in September, he’s likely to try pandering to that same bloc vote. Allegro could easily use that against him as a 3rd party candidate and pick-up on Anti-KJ sentiment in the county. But as we’ve seen, Brabenec refuses to take any position that appears against KJ interests.
If Allegro wins in September, it is effectively game-over for Brabenec. He will have lost his Republican coalition and have damaged his credibility with the 3rd party move. He would need to reinvent himself to appeal to those voters, who are unlikely to pull a third-party lever.
For Wieder, it’s likely an easy campaign ride provided he makes no controversial statements, and provided that other candidates don’t paint him as “the KJ candidate”. But Wider’s history is one of nothing but controversial and polarizing statements. And Wieder’s politics and divisive rhetoric won’t play well with the majority of the 98th NY State Assembly District.
And for Serrano, in the very remote chance she wins the primary — something she has not done previously — it means taking a position with the voters. Which is likely why she’s remainder silent thus far.
As for the residents of the 98th NY State Assembly District…there really are no winners. They’ll have endured a typical New York political campaign of holding their noses to avoid the stench.
Brabenec is a political opportunist gorging at the public trough. Wieder is an opportunist who is divisive in his rhetoric and politically unpalatable to most district voters. If he is elected, it will be the result of other voters staying home. Serrano is known for being an unknown political rookie. Allegro, perhaps the most electable of the group, appears associated entirely with Monroe and doesn’t stand out beyond that image to voters.
We’re waiting. And hoping.