If past is prologue, losers of elections today likely to end up winners - The Buffalo News

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If past is prologue, losers of elections today likely to end up winners

Don’t cry too many tears for today’s electoral losers.

The sting of defeat will bruise egos, and it will disappoint families and campaign volunteers who put in countless hours calling voters, putting up lawn signs and walking door-to-door.

But many losing candidates will land on their feet, with some ending up in better-paying jobs than the ones they sought at the ballot box. In fact, the list of defeated candidates who parlayed government experience or political connections into gainful employment elsewhere is long. Among the examples:

• Former Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, who now works as a vice president at M&T Bank after losing her re-election bid last year.

• Former State Sen. Antoine M. Thompson, who lost his seat in 2010 and then was appointed by Mayor Byron W. Brown to run the Buffalo Employment and Training Center in 2012, a position that pays $79,757.

• Former State Sen. Marc A. Coppola, who was defeated by Thompson in 2006 and now has a $101,600 post on the State Parole Board.

• And former Erie County Executive Dennis T. Gorski, who lost a bid for a fourth term but then went to work for BlueCross BlueShield as a consultant and then in government affairs at McCullagh Coffee.

Granted, some of the defeated candidates on today’s ballot will fade into history, never to be heard from politically again.

But for those who went into races with good connections or whose political party controls patronage positions, they could end up in well-paying jobs, or be attractive to a public or private employer or lobbying firm because of the skills they acquired in government or because they have valuable relationships with powerful players.

This is especially true in state and federal contests. But even in years when the contests are mostly local, like this one, there are defeated candidates who find that Election Day is the beginning of a brighter future.

Some dust themselves off after a loss and are successful in their campaign for a different office.

When then-Common Council Member Michael P. Kearns of the South District lost his mayoral bid in 2009, he knew his political career wasn’t over.

“Even though it didn’t work out the way I wanted to, in making that run, it showed I had an independent streak and I was there for the people,” Kearns said.

He lost to Brown in a Democratic primary but said he learned a lot about the city and met a lot of people, which helped him in a special election for the Assembly in 2012, where he ran on the Republican and Independence lines and won.

“You have to learn from your race and do your best the next time,” he said.

This year, Republican mayoral candidate Sergio R. Rodriguez is waging an energetic, if not well-funded, campaign against Brown and received little party support.

Rodriguez has been a GOP committee member for years, but given the party’s general lack of interest in his campaign, it’s not clear what kind of opportunity he will find after today.

One thing is certain: His name recognition is much greater now than it was a year ago.

“It depends on what he wants to pursue,” said former Erie County Republican Chairman Robert E. Davis. “Maybe he’ll want to run for a Common Council seat next time.”

Rodriguez said Monday that he hasn’t thought much about what he will do after the election.

Political rewards for candidates who run are not uncommon.

Former Erie County Legislator Maria R. Whyte, who ran for county clerk and narrowly lost in 2011, was then hired by County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz as his commissioner of environment and planning. Poloncarz cited Whyte’s experience in regional planning when he announced the hire.

On the other hand, Democrat Jim Twombly, who ran for Amherst Town Board in 2001 and lost, said there was talk among party officials after that election that he would land in a short-term job based on his political connections, but that didn’t materialize.

The Town Board position is part-time, anyway, so candidates for these posts aren’t relying on them for full-time income, but sometimes gaining name recognition in a run for public office can help candidates that have private businesses, Twombly said.

Incumbents who lose and go on to other jobs in government shouldn’t always be criticized, he added.

“These are individuals who are known entities from their work in government,” Twombly said. “Their experience can be put to use for the taxpayers.”

The problem is if someone who is out of elective office tries to peddle influence in government, he said.

At the state and federal level, there are laws restricting what is known as “the revolving door.”

Other times, defeated incumbents are given government jobs by political friends in order to help them secure a better pension through the state retirement system, he said.

Twombly, who taught at the University at Buffalo at the time he ran, is now an associate professor of political science at Elmira College.

His friends told him he was the “real winner” when he lost because at the time, the Amherst Town Board was known for being combative and prone to personal attacks, and meetings routinely ran very long.

He said he has not run for public office since and has no plans to do so.

As Hochul works at M&T Bank, her political future doesn’t seem to have suffered much since her defeat. She has recently been mentioned as a possible successor to Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy or as a future candidate for mayor of Buffalo.

Sometimes, government and its patronage mill mean good things come to incumbents, even those who lose.

In Lackawanna, there is something of a tradition of mayors landing the top job at the Housing Authority, a post that pays $82,000 per year – or 46 percent more than the mayor’s salary. While the current Housing Authority executive director, Norman L. Polanski Jr., was term-limited, other mayors who have lost their bid for re-election landed there, too.

The State Legislature, which pays lawmakers $79,500, has seen many people pass through its doors and go on to better jobs after defeat, with Thompson and Coppola two of the most notable examples.

Other times, a loss for one office quickly fades as a candidate finds the strength for another run and is successful.

Hochul’s defeat in 2012 signaled a kind of rebirth for someone else’s political career: She was succeeded in Congress by Chris Collins – who had lost his bid for re-election as county executive in 2011.

email: jterreri@buffnews.com

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