A November to Remember

The first time I heard the phrase “retail politics” was when then-Sen. Joe Biden was about to persuade my mother to vote for Sen. John Kerry. Biden had trusted me with his BlackBerry so I could get her on the line. She was at an assisted living facility in Delaware, where I’m from, and my wife and I were at a special event featuring Delaware’s senior Senator in Huntington.

A couple of things went awry with Biden’s ambitious plan. I almost dropped his BlackBerry trying to figure out how to use it. What was worse: I forgot my mom’s number. But I reached her and told her that Joe Biden wanted to talk to her about the election. That’s when Biden turned to my former boss and said with a gleeful grin, “Now for some retail politics!”

greekspencerNow that I’ve been on the “retail” trail in my own campaign, meeting thousands of Long Islanders, I appreciate his enthusiasm because you need that gumption to keep on going door to door. If you don’t like reaching out to people, you shouldn’t be in politics. You have to find a way to connect with total strangers time and time again. Tonight, as I write this, across the country hundreds of thousands of people are engaging in some serious retail politics. The fate of the country is literally on the line.

Here in the 12th Assembly District, the national tension has filtered down to the street level from Eaton’s Neck to Deer Park. Seeing all the houses with their Halloween decorations still up only makes it more surreal. All those lawns scattered with the remains of zombies and skeletons struggling to emerge and walk among us! God, I hope they don’t vote!

One recent afternoon, I approached a lady walking her dog so I could give her my palm card and without prompting she volunteered: “I’m so sick of this election! I can’t wait for it to be over!”

I wanted to say, hey, how do you think I feel? I’m out here sticking my neck out! But I restrained myself. It really puts you through your paces when a guy glares at you, “Are you with Hillary’s people?” As if his eyeballs had death rays about to shoot out.

I’ve learned when to respond and engage in a dialogue, and when to smile and move on. I just want a chance to malegionke progress in Albany, but I know I’m part of something much bigger. People want their government to change. My goal is to make sure it’s for the better. At least that’s how I see it, given my pedigree as a journalist turned politician. My objectivity has guided me to see things not only as they truly are, but as they really should be. When I get the facts, I change my mind. The other day, though, a friend sent me a photograph taken at a Trump rally of a man wearing a T-shirt that said: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” Gotta love that First Amendment! But I digress.

I’m just happy that I’ve come as far as I have. Certainly I’ve defied the professionals’ predictions, and I wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without the support of my friends and family who helped me walk that extra mile. And shake one more pair of hands. I’ve met great people (and eaten great food) at the Greek Festival at St. Paraskevi Church in Greenlawn. I was honored to be at the American Legion Hall and the VFW posts, at the NAACP’s sponsored evening at the South Huntington Library and the League of Women Voters’ forum at Harborfields Library. I spent an enjoyable evening at the Huntington Yacht Club—and I didn’t even have to join!

Who knows what tomorrow night’s returns will bring? Certainly, being a challenger is challenging. My opponent has so much money to stay in power. He’s already been an Assemblyman 14 years and he didn’t even face a Democratic Party challenger in 2012 and 2014, which made him sort of like the Communist Party’s people’s choice!

And I still don’t understand what he does in Albany to earn all that campaign cash since he’s just a member of the Republican minority in a legislative body dominated by spencer-collageDemocrats. He gets free mailing privileges too, and I’ve been inundated with revealing material about him. I’ve learned that he appreciates women and their contributions to Long Island. Who’d argue with that? Today I learned that the incumbent is working every day to give our kids the best opportunities for a brighter future. Every day? Yikes, I hope he paces himself because that’s a daunting task, no matter what he actually does.

That slick educational mailing came into my home thanks to the Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation, which didn’t explain what it was but it did provide a disclaimer that “this communication was not expressly authorized or requested by any candidate or by any candidate’s political committees or any of its agents.” I suppose that fine print is all that’s required.

Speaking of print, I want to give thanks to all the reporters, editors and publishers I met along my way. Let’s hear it for the Fourth Estate! It’s been very amusing to be the subject of a story for a change. And I have to admit I get a big kick out of seeing my bylines all over town on my ubiquitous lawn signs. I love that more I thought. Ahem.

And I’m eternally grateful to the Northport Observer for endorsing me. I understand why it was a “touch choice” as the editorial put it:

“The Republican incumbent Andrew Raia is a likable person who has amassed great
seniority in Albany, but unfortunately because he is in the Republican minority in a chamber dominated by Democrats, he can’t get anything done. He can’t even get the most basic of legislation to reach a committee for consideration—a sad but true problem in the process of government in Albany.

“Voters should consider sending someone to Albany who will be able to introduce a bill, who will have a voice and be part of the dialogue. Mr. Raia is being challenged this year by Spencer Rumsey, of Northport, a career journalist. Mr. Rumsey, a decisive underdog who has had trouble even getting his own party engaged in the campaign, is hardworking, knowledgeable, a quick study and independent.

The Observer has no knock on Mr. Raia, but we endorse Mr. Rumsey in this race because it is about time to have affirmative representation in Albany.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

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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.

Trumping the Incumbent

As principled Republicans recoil from the latest outrage perpetrated by their presidential candidate, the spotlight falls on the elected members of the Grand Old Party who won’t repudiate the dirty old man at the top of the ticket who has repeatedly demonstrated what a disaster he’d be for the country, if he were to occupy the White House. Sadly, I must add my opponent, Assemblyman Andrew Raia, to that list because he told me in front of the Newsday editorial board that he is supporting Donald Trump. And he’d earlier hosted Gov. John Kasich at the Paramount for a Fox-aired town hall before the presidential primary. At least Kasich knew enough to let the poor folks in Ohio gain some health insurance coverage from Obamacare. But Kasich let Ohio women down by defunding Planned Parenthood. How Raia can look women in the eye in the 12th District and justify backing Trump is beyond me.

But then my preference has been clear in this race for more than a year.

 

 

The Fighting 12th

spencer-longisland

I want to thank the hundreds of registered voters who kindly (and sometimes warily) answered their doors when I recently came knocking to ask for their signatures so I could get the chance to run for the State Assembly in the fall. I’m honored they listened to this old newspaperman explain why I’ve grown so tired of writing about corruption that I felt I had to do something about it.

So many people wished me luck that I’m energized by their spirit. Some wanted to know my platform. I wanted to say that I believe in the principles of the Age of Reason, that I support the arts and sciences, that I believe in social and economic justice for all, and that I intend to protect our environment for future generations of Long Islanders. But usually I only had time to say that I’m for ethics reforms: When I vote on measures for the public good, I don’t want to discover later, thanks to a federal prosecutor, that the legislation lined some hidden person’s pocket.

Of course, in my quest, I did meet a few folks who took one glance at my green petition sheets and looked like I was offering them a moldy jar of sour pickles. That’s democracy; I get it. These are troubled times for our republic and our state. From Albany to Hauppauge the feds have been probing into the darkest corners of the corridors of power to uphold the rule of law. I understand voters’ anger and disgust. But apathy is not an option for me.

And so that’s why I enlisted my wife, my sons and my friends to join me as we knocked on a thousand doors. I personally walked over a hundred miles in less than a month (119.42 miles to be exact, but who’s counting? After all, that figure does include shopping as well as retail politicking).

At first, I was told I just needed more than 500 signatures to qualify as a candidate, then 600, then 650, then 700 and more. Why so many? Because knocking candidates off the ballot is also part of the tradition, shades of Tammany Hall, and the political machines do it one signature at a time. From what I’ve gathered, it sounds like alchemy is involved when somebody’s name is suddenly deemed invalid. Sometimes there’s more to it.

Look what just happened to Philip Pidot in Nassau County’s Congressional primary. He had more than the 1,250 signatures he needed to get on the Republican ballot and run against State Sen. Jack Martins for the seat held by Rep. Steve Israel. From what I’ve been told, Nassau GOP Boss Joe Mondello allegedly went shopping for a county judge who owed him a favor and apparently found one who arbitrarily ruled that a hundred signatures no longer counted so Martins could run unopposed. Pidot fought back, but his legal victory came too late because the ballot had gone to print. U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Bianco took Pidot’s side, and the New York State Board of Elections won’t certify the June 28th results because of the shenanigans, as I understand it.

What will happen to me in Suffolk I trust won’t be the same, but I’ll find out one way or the other. And in the meantime, I promise to pursue my quest to challenge the status quo, to speak truth to power, to ask questions, to listen and to learn as much as I can so I can choose wisely if I get the chance to serve the people of the 12th Assembly District in our state’s capital.

Spencer Rumsey, Northport