Endorsing Enigma

spencer-rumsey-in-sports-jacketAs I was about to enter Newsday’s editorial board conference room, which I hadn’t set foot in since 2008 when I took the publication’s last big buyout, my Republican opponent turned to me and said he thought it wouldn’t be fair if my alma mater endorsed me because I’d worked there.

I assured him that he need not worry. I was right. They went with the 14-year incumbent although for some reason they omitted his tenure from their laudatory write-up. They made sure to include that fact with all the others. I wonder why.

Of course, I wasn’t the only challenger to get the brush-off, even though they did refer to me accurately as “the grassroots candidate” and reiterated that I will fight for the environment. That’s only part of what I want to do if I’m elected, of course.

Yet out of 22 Assembly districts on Long Island, Newsday endorsed only one bona-fide challenger, a Republican (naturally), who’s taking on the surly septuagenarian Earlene Hooper, the deputy Assembly speaker who’s seeking her 25th term, as the Newsday editorial board helpfully reminded us.

I think everybody on both sides of the aisle can agree that Hooper’s served long enough.

But it was interesting to see how inconsistent the board was about imposing term limits. To me it looked like they were on a fast lane to hypocrisy. Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, right? So let’s think big.

Sure, I was disappointed I didn’t get the nod. But I’d worked there 21 years. I was active in the union. I didn’t expect the endorsement because I believed they wouldn’t want to show “favoritism.” I also knew that they bend over backwards to support Republican incumbents who aren’t serial killers just so they can tell those conservative readers out there that the hometown paper is “fair and balanced.”

I well remember during campaign season overhearing one of my favorite colleagues from the good old days, the former deputy editorial page editor, who was on the phone with a politician within my earshot as I assigned and edited op-eds on a range of international, national and local issues.

“Would our endorsement help you or hurt you?” my friend asked the person at the other end of the line. I had to laugh. I still don’t know what the verdict was. But I appreciate the sentiment.

I’m challenging the status quo for a reason. I know it’s time for a change. The recent arrests of two powerful Long Island Republicans, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, just brought it all home again for every voter to see.

In New York, more politicians are indicted out of office than voted out. I hope this year it will be different. That’s certainly why I’m running this uphill race.

Our State Legislature has the worst reputation in the country because of the federal convictions of former State Sen. Dean Skelos, once the Republican majority leader (whom Newsday’s editorial board used to shower with praise for what he could “bring back” to Long Island) and former Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. And let’s not forget the conviction of Suffolk County Conservative Chairman Ed Walsh on federal corruption charges. If the Conservative Party stood for anything in New York besides slashing taxes and cutting government services, I always assumed it was moral fiber. Wrong again!

I believe in good government. I want to vote on bills for the public good and not find out later thanks to a federal prosecutor that I just lined some hidden person’s pocket. Tellingly, all the Assembly’s efforts for ethics reform—as limited as they are—are currently held up in committee by the Republicans who control the State Senate. It would be nice if my district’s Assemblyman went over to Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s house—they’re almost neighbors—knocked on his door, and said, like two good Republican politicians, “Hey, let’s bring those anti-corruption bills up for a vote, eh?”

As for me, I thought Newsday’s editorial endorsement of my opponent was disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst. I know I can do more for my district as a member of the Assembly’s Democratic majority, which currently holds 106 Assembly seats, than the 14-year incumbent Assemblyman can do as one of 44 Republicans. That imbalance reduces him to being little more than just a well-meaning back-bencher in Parliament. Those poor Republicans can’t even bring bills to the Assembly floor unless Speaker Carl Heastie gives the nod.

As for member items (what some might call pork), the Democrats in the chamber get tons more money to disperse than the minority. I know a Brooklyn Assemblyman who told me he gave out $1.5 million. If I were elected, I could really use that kind of cash to level the playing field for schools struggling under the property tax cap in the Fighting 12th AD.

In August, the Northport Observer reported that our incumbent Assemblyman couldn’t help the village overcome a shortfall in the sewer plant financing—the village officials had to scramble after Assemb. Robert Sweeney retired and took his member item with him. Fortunately Assemb. Steve Engelbright stepped up to the plate. Both Democrats.

I dutifully brought up these details before the editorial board but in the final write-up on Oct. 18 I didn’t get credit for offering enough “specifics.” Oh well. Politics ain’t beanbag.

At one point the incumbent and I were arguing over our policy differences when Rita Ciolli, the editor of the editorial page, interrupted us to say that we weren’t there for a debate—we were there to address the board. Point noted!

But I wish I’d gotten more credit for my idea to set up a state matching fund to help the John Coltrane home in Huntington the way former Assemb. Marc Alessi supported efforts to restore Wardenclyffe, Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory, in Shoreham. Imagine what we could do to spur the tourist trade on LI if these two visionaries finally got their due: Coltrane composed “A Love Supreme” at his suburban house he shared with Alice Coltrane and Tesla built a 160-foot tower as part of his plan to provide free power to the world.

Anyway, it was a gas being back at Newsday as a candidate, rather than an ink-stained wretch plugging away at a bastion of First Amendment freedom as a member of the Fourth Estate. I enjoyed every minute of the audition even if I didn’t get the part. My opponent promises to take me out to dinner where he dined with Gov. John Kasich before the April presidential primary. That will be interesting.

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