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Tom Wrobleski Inside Staten Island Politics

Strictly Political for March 8, 2009

Posted by twrobles March 08, 2009 10:00AM




Democratic Rep. Mike McMahon is hoping to pass along his old North Shore City Council seat to his former chief of staff, Kenny Mitchell.


But Mitchell is locked in a tight battle for the seat with Debi Rose, who narrowly lost a Council primary to McMahon in 2001.


Some believed that the McMahon forces would prevail without much difficulty in the Mitchell race, given McMahon's big House win and the fact that the race was being run on their home field.


After all, who was riding higher than those in the McMahon machine? Who better knew where all the voters were in the district, given that they'd turned them out in droves for the boss just four months ago?


McMahon would surely leave no stone unturned, observers believed, in making sure that the Council seat stayed "in the family" and served as a building block of the new McMahon power base in the Democratic Party and in Staten Island politics as a whole.


And make no mistake: The Mitchell campaign was a McMahon operation, managed by old McMahon hands like Carmen Cognetta, John Vitucci, Kevin Hunt and George Caputo.


But things haven't worked out that way, leading some to wonder whether the tightness of the race has been a blow to McMahon's political prestige.


"Not at all," McMahon told us. "The goal was to get 5,000 votes. And what did we get, more than 4,000?"


Ms. Rose, McMahon said simply, "got out more votes that we anticipated."


"Maybe we undershot," he said.


Part of that was attributable to the fact that union organizations split in the race, with some backing Mitchell, some Ms. Rose. Their ground support no doubt boosted Ms. Rose's total.


But McMahon did not deny that the seat means a lot to him.


"I'm very much invested in that office and that district," he said. "I want to see somebody that I've worked with continue on with the work."


However, McMahon was quick to add, "I didn't see it so much as a personal test for me."





You hear so many technicalities debated in the course of an election recount that you feel like you should get a GED in election law at the end of it.


Especially when an entire election is conducted on paper ballots, as was the North Shore balloting.


The city Board of Elections went to paper after John Tabacco was restored to the ballot the day before the election. The board determined that they couldn't rejigger the voting machines to include Tabacco's name, which eventually led to 10,000-plus paper ballots having to be recounted by hand.


John Lavelle, son of the late North Shore assemblyman, had a simple solution for it all.


"They should have just put Tabacco on the ballot in the machine," Lavelle said. "The simplest way was to have him on there and then lock the lever so nobody could pull it for him."


Attorney Marty Connor, a Democrat who used to represent part of the Island in the state Senate, agreed.


"There's no way to tamper with those machines without leaving a trace," said Connor, the former Senate minority leader who is lawyering for Mitchell during the recount process.


Having the paper ballots also brought another interesting dynamic into play: What happens if the number of ballots in an election district is greater than the number of signatures in the voter books at the poll site?


Simple: BOE workers randomly remove ballots, in the presence campaign witnesses, so the numbers match up.


In a positively Colonial era procedure, seven ballots were removed from "overvoted" districts during the first day of the recount.


The ballots were shuffled by hand like playing cards and placed in a plastic bin. Then Republican and Democratic BOE officials turned their backs and took turns removing ballots.


The ballots were folded without being examined and sealed in an envelope.


Attorney Chris Nalley, also working for Mitchell, just couldn't help himself.


"I saw it," he said after the first ballot was withdrawn.


BOE general counsel Steve Richman said that the removed ballots would be held on file for two years and then destroyed with the rest of the ballots, unless court action required them to be preserved.


And Connor said that the removal method isn't a perfect safeguard against possible fraud.


"It could still reward poll workers who stuff the ballot box," he said.


Despite tabulation errors and other mistakes made at the poll sites on election night, some poll inspectors received praise from the BOE and the candidates.


Whoever closed the poll for the 12th Election District of the 61st Assembly District presented such a good package of results to the board that someone said, "This person gets a gold star. They should give inspector classes."





Count former GOP Borough President Guy Molinari among those who feel that President Barack Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan and the continued federal bailouts of financial firms like AIG will only drive the economy into a deeper ditch.


"We're getting ourselves into one great big hole," said Molinari. "It's going to take decades, not years, but decades, to recover."


Critics say that the Obama plan will increase the deficit and fuel inflation to such a degree that any benefits the stimulus might bring would be rendered inconsequential.


"Sometimes you're better off letting the system work itself out," said Molinari. "What would happen? Some banks would fail, others would be absorbed. Still, that would be much preferable to some of what we're seeing here. We don't even know what's in that entire stimulus package."


Said Molinari, "We've never had a time in history when so much money has been thrown around. Where's the bottom of the barrel?"