Upstate turnout looms as election wild card

| The Daily Star

With a hotly contested congressional race and several statewide races to be decided by voters today, political experts are hoping for a robust turnout at polling places throughout the region.

New York polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. today.

The National Weather Service forecast that temperatures will reach the mid-50s this afternoon, with mostly sunny skies and light winds, making it difficult for anyone other than those with sun allergies to to use the weather as an excuse for not voting.

Millions of dollars have been spent on a blizzard of campaign advertising in the race for New York’s 19th Congressional District, which pits incumbent Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, against challenger Sean Eldridge, a Democrat residing in the Ulster County hamlet of Shokan.

Gibson, 50, has portrayed himself as an independent-minded lawmaker who isn’t afraid to break ranks with GOP leadership, while questioning the qualifications of Eldridge, 28, and his motives for moving into the district only recently.

Eldridge has argued Gibson is no friend to those who favor abortion rights, and has sided with Republican leadership and the business lobby on such issues as the minimum wage and natural gas drilling.

Noting today marks the 48th election day he will have participated in as a voter, Anthony Casale of Cooperstown, a former state assemblyman and a state Republican Party strategist, predicted brisk upstate turnout, while arguing the turnout in the New York City area will be “very low.”

“There is nothing going on that really excites people there,” he said, a scenario that could provide an opportunity for Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino to chop the big lead that polls have indicated Gov. Andrew Cuomo has held for months.

Casale and other Republicans said GOP voters and even many gun-owning Democrats remain infuriated with the N.Y. SAFE Act, the gun control measure Cuomo shepherded through the Legislature shortly after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in late 2012.

Adding drama to the governor’s contest is the fact that Cuomo, who has forged close ties to the state Senate GOP conference, faces a challenge from the left in the person of Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate and a UPS truck unloader from Syracuse.

Hawkins has criticized Cuomo’s delay in making a decision on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Hawkins has said he would ban it, while Cuomo has said he is awaiting the results of a prolonged study into its health impacts. Astorino supports fracking.

Lou Allstadt of Cooperstown, a retired Mobil Oil Corp. executive who has become a supporter of renewable energy and supports Hawkins in the governor’s race, said he believes a high upstate turnout will hurt the incumbent Cuomo, as it means more Hawkins and Astorino backers will be casting ballots.

Otsego County’s Democratic elections commissioner, Hank Nicols, said he senses there will be a strong turnout in the region, largely because of the Gibson-Eldridge contest.

“It’s always in the races that are hotly contested that turnout is best,” Nicols said. “I’m optimistic that the turnout will be strong this year.”

Nicols said he’s skeptical of Hawkins’ chances against Cuomo, arguing Democrats would not want to help Astorino’s chances by casting a vote for a third-party candidate. He pointed to the 2000 presidential election, when then-Texas Gov. George Bush needed a U.S. Supreme Court decision to defeat then-Vice President Al Gore after Green Party candidate Ralph Nader rolled up enough Florida votes to wound Gore’s effort.

Nicols said the Board of Elections staff is hoping to get some Otsego County results by 9:30 p.m. after sheriff’s deputies ferry computer memory cards from the polling places back to the county elections agency’s office.

Other races that will be decided today include the battle between state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and John Cahill, a Republican who once headed the state Department of Environmental Conservation before becoming the top assistant to former Gov. George Pataki.

Another down-ballot statewide race pits Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a former Democratic assemblyman who first got the job when his predecessor, Alan Hevesi, was prosecuted on corruption charges, and Robert Antonacci, the Onondaga County comptroller and a Republican.

Also predicting a strong upstate turnout today was Maria Kelso, the Delaware County Republican chairwoman and a Davenport resident.

Kelso said a preview of voter discontent came in September with the Democratic primary, when Zephyr Teachout, the anti-fracking Fordham Law School professor, won 31 of New York’s 62 counties, though Cuomo still coasted to victory with the help of strong support from New York City Democrats.

“What Teachout accomplished tells you voters are disgusted and and ready for change,” said Kelso, who noted she will be voting for Astorino today. With today offering the first statewide election since the SAFE Act was passed, Kelso said many voters are eager to register their opposition to that law and the possibility that Cuomo could follow it up with even more gun control.

Schoharie County Treasurer Bill Cherry, a Republican, said the congressional race will likely motivate many voters to turn out, and that Rep. Gibson will likely get strong support in Schoharie County.

Delaware County Social Services Commissioner William Moon said voters, for good reason, have become increasingly cynical about inaction from both Washington and Albany.

“I sense a tremendous amount of frustration at all levels with what appears to be gridlock,” said Moon, who is retiring this year. “The first thing that comes out of the mouth of every elected official is what a wonderful job they are doing for us. But what I’ve seen is the thousands of thousands of dollars that Albany now sucks out of the system that used to be used to reimburse the counties. It’s now being diverted to other projects in Albany. Then they send these tiny little checks to the taxpayers at election time. I have become so cynical about this.”

Voters will also be presented today with three ballot questions, the first of which would authorize the creation of a new commission to oversee redistricting of legislative lines. Advocates of the Cuomo-backed measure say it would ban gerrymandering, but critics argue it would make the situation worse and would give political parties a strong say in the outcome.

• Proposition 2 seeks to get rid of the requirement that legislative bills be printed before state lawmakers vote on them. It has no known opposition, and proponents say it would save $53 million in printing costs.

• Proposition 3 would allow the state to borrow $2 billion for educational technology. It is supported by Cuomo and the teacher’s union. The Empire Center, a conservative think tank, has called it a “blank check” to the state’s education bureaucracy.

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