Meet the New Boss
More Hacks, Loons & Other Candidates
By William Bryk
In the State of New York, the election law protects the people from innocent idiosyncrasy, though never from corruption, theft, and deceit. Conviction of a felony, though appealed, immediately separates an elected official from public office (though not from his lucrative pensions).
On January 30, 2016, His Excellency the Governor issued proclamations for special elections to fill the vacancies created in the State Assembly and State Senate by the convictions for corruption of The Hon. Sheldon Silver and The Hon. Dean Skelos. Both men have yet to be fitted for orange suits.
The power to issue such a proclamation lies within the discretion of the Governor. In the past, the same Governor has permitted vacancies to endure until the usual September primaries and November elections because, we were told, he did not wish to impose the expense of a special election on the local governments. Thus, districts whose voters might need the assistance of a legislator to wade through bureaucracy simply had to wait. Obviously, the Governor has suddenly changed his mind about the wages of democracy.
One consequence of the Governor's exercise of his discretion is that the same political machines that had nominated and succored these men may now nominate their successors without any kind of primary. Alice Cancel, a district leader from Manhattan's Lower East Side, was anointed on Super Bowl Sunday (perhaps to avoid excessive public interest) by the Harry S. Truman Democratic Club, Silver's organization, as the Democratic nominee for the Assembly. She has said of Silver, post-conviction, "For us, he was a hero." She works for the City Comptroller, who has nonetheless endorsed another candidate.
The party meeting at which the nomination was bestowed on her was graced by Silver's wife and Silver's former chief of staff, Judith Rapfogel. It's unclear whether her spouse put in an appearance: last November Mr. Rapfogel received work release after serving 14 months of a three-to-ten year sentence for looting a charity. A harmless street pharmacist will do more time for peddling decent weed.
Of course, the voters may nominate independent candidates outside the party system by obtaining thousands of signatures on petitions, which will then be challenged by the machines' lawyers, requiring the independents to hire their own lawyers, and so it goes.
In many other states, a vacancy such as those created by the convictions of Messrs. Silver and Skelos would require a special primary, held shortly after the creation of the vacancy (with the coincidental effect of the public's attention being focused on institutional corruption), followed by a special election. Under such circumstances, the system might be rattled by outraged voters. Happily, New Yorkers are protected from that.
Just as happily, other states are less inhibited about innocent idiosyncrasy.
Four years ago, in the great state of Iowa, Mr. Jerry Litzel, a businessman of some means residing in the fair city of Ames, qualified himself for the Iowa Presidential ballot by obtaining 1,500 signatures on his petitions. His brother Jimmy, who lives in the next county and is quite distinguished in appearance, was chosen for vice president. His wife, son, and son-in-law were reportedly among his slate of electors. One of his hobbies is Presidential memorabilia and he wanted a ballot with his name on it to frame for the wall, along with a copy of the election results. He was successful in this.
Mr. Litzel, I gather, is something of a popular local figure, though not taken entirely seriously: the local newspaper refers to him as "The Pride of Ames." Mr. Litzel had run for office before -- state legislator, county supervisor -- though never for the big one. In 2012, he polled 1,027 votes, coming in 24th of 30 candidates (including the Nevada option of "None of These Candidates," which came in 13th). Mr. Litzel polled nearly twice as many votes as The Reverend Jack Fellure, the Prohibition Party nominee, who polled 518 votes. Clearly, it was a year in which most folks needed a drink
Another candidate Mr. Litzel outpolled is Mr. Jeff Boss of New Jersey, who this year is running for President for a third time. Although he claims he will enter the Democratic primary, I suspect he will instead appear on the November 2016 ballot in the Garden State on his own ticket, the "NSA Did 9/11" party. Mr. Boss was present while National Security Agency operatives were plotting the 9/11 attack, he says. He has a fondness for putting EVERYTHING ON HIS WEBSITE IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Of course, as one might expect from someone possessed of such extraordinary information about government secrets, Mr. Boss fears for his life.
Nonetheless, not a year goes by but Mr. Boss carries his message to the voters in a succession of campaigns for President, Governor, U.S. Senator, Congress, the State Legislature, or Mayor of Guttenberg (his ballot label in the 2013 mayoralty was the somewhat redundant "Free Ferry to NY, Dogs Free"). He does not poll many votes. When he ran for State Senator in 2011 against The Hon. Nicholas Sacco, who is distinguished largely for drawing three public salaries as State Senator, Assistant Executive Director of the North Bergen Public Schools, and Mayor of North Bergen, Mr. Boss polled 4% of the vote in a two-way race.
Unhappily, the Nihilist Workers party founded by Jim Knipfel and his friend Grinch shows no signs of filing petitions this year.