When Democrat Michael P. Kearns stumped the experts back in 2012 by winning the 142nd Assembly seat on the Republican and Conservative lines, he planted a big target on one of Albany’s top leaders – then-Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Democrat Erik T. Bohen duplicated part of that strategy Tuesday while also running with Republican and Conservative support, squeaking past endorsed Democrat Patrick B. Burke with 52 percent of the vote in another special election for the same seat. But this time Bohen singled out an even bigger Albany figure – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
In a slew of mailers sent with GOP backing to homes throughout the district, Bohen piled on the governor. He promised to “stand up to Andrew Cuomo,” fight “more taxes and fees” proposed by Cuomo, and stop “Andrew Cuomo’s radical liberal agenda.”
Republicans say the strategy worked. In one of upstate New York’s bluest Assembly districts, they tied Burke to Cuomo and won.
“It was a referendum on Andrew Cuomo,” said Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy. “It’s a big indication of things to come in November here in Western New York.”
His Conservative counterpart, Ralph C. Lorigo, added that efforts by teachers' unions in Albany fizzled compared to the Cuomo links. One mailer from Albany backing Burke pictured him as reflecting “Westchester values” in an obvious upstate-downstate mix-up.
Other Burke mailers linked Bohen to South Buffalo’s Carl P. Paladino, the controversial former School Board member and 2010 GOP candidate for governor. Lorigo said many of Erie County’s Democrats espouse conservative values and that his Conservative Party once again supplied the winning plurality in a close race.
“The bogeyman wasn’t Carl Paladino; it was Andrew Cuomo,” he said.
And Lorigo said the erosion of the traditional alliance of past years between many Democrats and the Conservative Party now shunned by most Democrats has exacted a price.
“It’s a Democratic district, but it’s a conservative district, and that's what I keep arguing about Erie County,” he said. “Here again, the Conservative Party makes the difference – the same Conservative Party that Democratic Headquarters tells their potential candidates not to seek.”
But Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner calls all the Republican crowing and Cuomo bashing “hogwash.” He points to the paltry turnout that typically marks special elections and says Tuesday’s was no different. The Bohen camp should look at the numbers, he said.
“Six percent of voters in the district came out to vote for Erik Bohen, and 5 1/2 percent for Pat Burke,” Zellner said. “This is by no means a mandate, it’s a fluke.
“They won, but barely won,” he added. “It was razor thin.”
Now the victory has resulted in unintended and negative consequences, the chairman said, after Assembly Democrats appear ready to shun Bohen when he reports to Albany next week. The Buffalo News reported Thursday that his support from Republicans and Langworthy makes him unwelcome within the Assembly’s Democratic conference.
“He spent six weeks smearing Democrats,” Zellner said. “Now Erik Bohen seems like a babe in the woods. Now he’s hit with reality.”
Sources close to the election say Bohen’s anti-Cuomo mailers were fueled by polling data. And while statewide polls show Cuomo faring well in his expected match-ups with Cynthia Nixon in the Democratic primary and Republican Marc Molinaro in the general election, support is eroding. With attacks from his left and right, the latest Siena Research Institute poll shows Cuomo’s favorable ranking tied with his worst-ever showing since becoming governor in 2011.
Meanwhile, Nixon has cut into his large lead since she announced her bid against the two-term governor. In March, Cuomo led Nixon 66 to 19 percent. In the new poll, his lead stands at 58 to 27 percent for Nixon among registered Democrats.
One Democratic strategist assisting Burke who asked not to be identified said Bohen triumphed due to his family’s ties in South Buffalo, outsider unfamiliarity with the district reflected in the mailings, and literature highlighting his endorsement by Kearns, who represented the area in Albany for almost six years before his election as county clerk last November.
The same insider also recognized the Cuomo effect.
“The negative vibes associated with Cuomo are bad and were effectively used to motivate a group of primarily Republicans in places like Orchard Park,” the Burke supporter said. “With the turnout so low, the anti-Cuomo stuff was bad."
“And there was no response,” the Democrat added. “Once again, Republicans beat Democrats in a district they should have had.”