The five State Senate races in Western New York illustrate in microcosm why government in the Empire State is a rolling disaster. Of five races, only one is at all competitive. In two cases, the choices are so disspiriting that we have decided neither candidate merits an endorsement.
57th District: No endorsement
This election pits a three-term Republican incumbent with virtually no interest in reforming a broken system against a one-issue political novice who was uninterested in the race until the Democratic Party asked him to run. Either way, voters lose.
Patricia McGee has held this Southern Tier seat since 1999, and while she acknowledges problems in the operation of the Legislature, she is clearly a captive of its dysfunctionality.
She denies that she cedes authority to Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, even though a recent academic report clearly demonstrated how rank-and-file lawmakers routinely approve chamber rules that concentrate unhealthy power in each chamber's leader. She also refuses to acknowledge that Bruno is part of the problem in the state, insisting that he's "a good guy," even though every expensive law approved in Albany carries his imprimatur.
In a year when reform of the Legislature itself is at least as important as fixing problems such as a runaway Medicaid program and soaring pension costs, McGee is not up to the job.
Unfortunately, neither is her opponent, Democrat Michael Barris, a former medical school professor and author of scientific papers. Barris' campaign is overwhelmingly devoted to somehow leveraging a New York State Senate seat to create a national health care program. His election could send a message to the Republican majority that voters are dissatisfied with how the state is being run, but it will accomplish nothing else for the residents of this poorly represented district.
58th District: No endorsement
Democratic incumbent William Stachowski is the unlikeliest of incumbents: a largely disenfranchised member of an ineffective Senate minority who also defends a broken and even corrupt legislative system.
Stachowski, who has held this seat since 1981, argues mildly for some reforms, such as a committee system that could help take power away from the leaders of each chamber, but denies that the Senate's rigged system weakens his ability to represent his constituents. What possibility for legislative reform can exist when even the minority party members are so indifferent to their political emasculation?
His Republican opponent, Julieanne Mazurkiewicz, is not running an active campaign.
60th District: Byron Brown
This race is the perennial rematch, with Democrat Byron Brown facing Republican Alfred Coppola, who won a special election to the seat in early 2000, but lost it to Brown later that year. Brown defeated Coppola again in 2002.
It is an open secret that Brown is planning to run for mayor of Buffalo next year, so voters should be aware that he may not finish out his term, or even give state issues the focus they require over the next 12 months. Nevertheless, he is an able representative, while Coppola seems increasingly to be running because it's what he does.
61st District: Frank Longo
Republican incumbent Mary Lou Rath has served this district for five terms, and with some effectiveness. But she votes with her majority even when it hurts the state or the region, and along with other Republican senators, was unable to win approval of an energy bill that is crucial to Western New York.
In a year when reform of the Legislature itself has bubbled to the top of the public's state agenda, Rath's insistence that the Legislature's leaders "aren't the problem" shows her election to a sixth term will do little to force change in Albany.
Her opponent, Frank Longo, is not the ideal candidate, but he can be a capable senator whose election could send a bracing message to the Republicans who have mismanaged the State Senate for so long. Longo is a law guardian who was asked to run by the Democratic Party, but who says his interest in the race has grown since he agreed to take it on.
He would support a plan to merge Buffalo and Erie County if residents wanted that. He has a firm grasp of the problems of state government, including the fact that bills are never defeated in a floor vote.
"Why do we need all these other senators if this is the way it's going to be?" he asked. It's a good question whose foundation is an uncompetitive chamber where minority party Democrats can be easily ignored. Longo's election could help change that. We endorse him.
62nd District: George Maziarz
The Niagara County senator is one of the region's most effective, and while he shies away from any forceful acknowledgment of his chamber's inadequacies, his record is sufficient to merit re-election over the enthusiastic college student who is opposing him.
Maziarz has stood fast for a responsible use of Niagara Falls' share of casino proceeds and for reform of such inequitable laws as the state's antiquated "vicarious liability" statute that has killed traditional car leasing in New York.
He says he believes the Senate will adopt rule reforms this year, but won't seek to hold Majority Leader Joseph Bruno accountable for leadership that has hurt the state through such programs as the nation's most expensive Medicaid system.
Maziarz's opponent is Matthew Bova, a 21-year-old biology student at Buffalo State College with a record of political involvement. He has some credible ideas for change in Albany, but he is simply too green for this position.