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'Uncharted waters' and the politics of Covid-19

Robert J. McCarthy

“Uncharted waters” – one of the new catch phrases of the way we are suddenly living our lives. And even in the unpredictable politics of New York State, we are entering uncharted waters.

There are those who say politics doesn’t mean much when a mysterious virus is claiming lives, or when the stock market crashes, or when people lose their jobs. But politics – and the governments it supports ‑ does matter.

Residents of Erie County are anxious to hear what Mayor Byron Brown, County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Trump say on a daily – even hourly – basis. We elect people to lead in situations exactly like the one in which we find ourselves.

Here are a few observations about our suddenly “uncharted” politics:

• Even normal critics are lauding Poloncarz and Cuomo for their leadership roles. Cuomo has always demonstrated an ability to be on the scene, taking command. Sometimes he dons his “governor jacket” and rushes to Buffalo just to combat a few flurries. Other times, such as during the November snows of 2014, it was important that he simply showed up.

Back then, the governor took command at the Thruway’s division garage in Cheektowaga and ventured into Orchard Park’s seven feet of snow, even as his father – former Gov. Mario Cuomo – was entering his final days in New York City. Poloncarz also likes to don his official county executive jacket and take command. He may have stumbled through early transparency issues – and some remain – but the community relies on him, especially given the county’s key role in maintaining public health.

• Amazingly, Cuomo and Trump appear to have entered a period of detente. They’re sniping at each other, to be sure. But each seems to recognize their mutual need.

• Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, never known to enjoy a few beers together, have also co-existed. But at week’s end, some of that relationship frayed as the mayor contemplated a “shelter in place” order and the governor expressed doubts about such drastic action. The crisis will require the pair to find a way to work together.

• Fundraising has virtually ended for the campaigns that will eventually resume. In the big 27th Congressional District contest scheduled (for the moment) on April 28, Republican Chris Jacobs may have scored an early advantage. He raised significant dollars on March 10 at the Capitol Hill Club, a Washington lair for the GOP, while primary opponents Beth Parlato and Stefan Mychajliw must postpone events on their schedule. Chalk up another advantage for Jacobs, who carries the party endorsement, continues to air ads on TV and will have enough money to compete with or without DC fundraisers.

• Still, everybody gets a break in gathering signatures for designating petitions. Using his emergency powers, Cuomo reduced the number of required signatures in the 27th to a mere 375 (from 1,250). Already, problems dogged volunteers circulating petitions in the snow and dark of February under the political calendar adopted last year by Albany’s new Democratic leadership.

Now the executive order means even those with a history of failing to make the ballot – like Democrat Eddie Egriu in his primary challenge to Rep. Brian Higgins – may succeed this year. A compressed calendar for collecting petition signatures may also result in a surprise candidacy or two.

• Fundraising is also hamstrung for Democrat Nate McMurray as he prepares for his April 28 showdown with Jacobs. But even apart from the pandemic and its effects, former Vice President Joe Biden’s apparent success in winning the Democratic presidential nomination presents another hurdle for McMurray.

McMurray had hoped energized Democrats streaming to the polls on Primary Day could overcome the Republican enrollment advantage in the 27th. Now, an-all-but-over Democratic contest presents another challenge to McMurray.

• Politics continues in New York and the nation. The News will keep you informed.

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