As I've mentioned before, local elections are for the most part wide open when it comes to shady campaign dealings. On the state and federal level, campaigns receive a higher amount of scrutiny from the media, whereas local races receive very little. The local papers might send a reporter to a candidate forum or two, but most of the time they simply report the results and that's that.
In other words, you can get away with a hell of a lot at the local level because no one is really watching.
Which is why it's worth reading the Smoke Out's series of posts regarding the dirty tricks pulled on then-Town of Rochester Councilwoman Manuela Michailescu during her 2009 campaign for the county legislature. It starts with her letter to her GOP colleagues:
Dear fellow Republicans:And they did everything they could to prevent her from running, and thereby challenging the candidacy of Bernardo. The local Rochester GOP, which is in the hip pocket of the Bernardos, even went so far as to endorse three Democrats over fellow Republican Michailescu:
Please allow me to share with you a potentially explosive situation – before you become aware of it at the Republican Convention on Tuesday.
My name is Manuela Michailescu and I’m Republican Councilwoman in the Town of Rochester; I was a member of the Republican slate which won in its entirety in November 2007.
I expressed my intention to run for one of the four Legislator seats in District One, but I’ve been strongly “discouraged” to do so. I was boldly told that the Ulster County Chairman of the Independence Party – who happens to live in our town – wanted to make sure that his wife is presented with a Legislator seat, so he struck a deal with Chairman Catalano to block any Republican who intends to run in District 1.
IN DISTRICT 1 (Marbletown, Rochester, Wawarsing), Republican voters will choose from among five candidates for four spots on the Republican line. Democratic incumbents Joseph Stoeckeler, Mary Sheeley and T.J. Briggs, all of Ellenville, and Terry Bernardo, who is registered in the Independence Party, have the backing of the Ulster County GOP. They are facing a primary challenge from Kerhonkson Republican Manuela Michailescu.Why did this happen? She's not part of the Bernardo club, that's why.
We've seen weird endorsements (of the opposition party, no less), bait-and-switch tactics regarding candidate petitions, and what appear to be knowingly bogus signatures (even allegations of people coming back from the grave to sign).
Anyway, it's quite the story, and it shows you just how ruthless people can be when it comes to getting their time at the public trough.
What it also shows is how important blogs like this one, and the Liberty Coalition, and the Smoke Out -- and even the idiotic Mojo -- are when it comes to ensuring that there is real public scrutiny in local races. Good people can disagree on policy all day long, but they should do so with a spirit of compromise -- and all should agree that the playing field shouldn't tilt in one direction or another.
And a note to our elected officials on both sides of the aisle: We're watching.