Oppo researchers for Republican Congressional incumbent Chris Gibson got another early Christmas present this week, as Sean Eldridge’s own team handed over more material which helps his opponent paint the Democrat as a standoffish outsider.
“Congressional challengers typically seek maximum media exposure; Eldridge allows few chance encounters with the media. His campaign frequently posts pictures on his Facebook page of the candidate out and about in the district, but local reporters say they’re usually not made aware of his public schedule ahead of time. He declined to be interviewed by Politico, and the door to his campaign headquarters in Kingston was locked on a recent visit. No one answered a call on an intercom.”
Previous to that decision, Eldridge’s staff attempted to get this writer to agree to a gag order as a condition of meeting with with the candidate and other Columbia County residents who have been active in local organizing. On principle, I refused to make any such promise, though I had no prior plans of writing about it. The meeting, whose guest list I had helped assemble, was eventually canceled by the host in frustration.
Eldridge’s latest media blunder has spurred something of a pile-on both nationally and locally. The Washington Postheadlined its own story about the Politico story, “Sean Eldridge teaches a master class in how to fuel a negative story.” Alex Parene of the liberal-leaning Salon agreed, saying that Eldridge “earned his Politico hit piece”:
“Sean Eldridge deserves it. He’s a man with no reason to be in Congress beyond being rich enough to throw money around a district—a district that was his second choice after his first one didn’t pan out. He represents every self-regarding super-rich would-be do-gooder who parachutes into a community with no understanding of the lives of its residents and expects them to recognize his inherent suitability for high office.”
Slatelikewise chose, the headline: “Six Months Into His Campaign, Sean Eldridge Is Still Best Known as a Rich Guy’s Husband.”
Possibly most damaging for Eldridge, in terms of his potential base of support in the 19th Congressional District, are observations from liberal opinion leader Alan Chartock of WAMC—one of the few media members who has managed to obtain a lengthy audience with Eldridge:
Chartock came away without any real sense of the candidate. Eldridge sounded like “what a young person thinks a politician should sound like,” the radio host said in an interview. “He’s right on all the issues, but what I think people are looking for is a person. He’s extremely bright, has all the assets that you need to run. But it’s cookie cutter.”
When Slate, Salon, and WAMC are all questioning the Democratic challenger, there’s a problem. (Though of those three, Chartock is by far the most independent voice.)
The Eldridge campaign likely is gun-shy after its earliest brush with the media, a long New York Times piece last summer which was pounced upon by his opponent, incumbent Chris Gibson.
That article highlighted Eldridge’s initial purchase of a $5 million house in a different Congressional district further south in Garrison. Eldridge and his husband, the near-billionnaire Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes, were married in that house. But after the 18th district was won by Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney, the couple set their sights instead on a $2 million purchase in Accord, in NY-19.
The strong appearance of district-shopping, paired with the Times’ focus on the couple’s youth and wealth, may have convinced Eldridge to avoid the media. The Times also picked up on neighbors’ view of Eldridge as an interloper:
“Amy Shields, a mother of three children who lives a few miles from Mr. Eldridge, cannot get over the fact that he has just moved into town and is already planning a run for Congress. ‘It’s a little bit presumptuous,’ Ms. Shields said. ... How can he expect to represent people he doesn’t know?’”
At this point, Eldridge’s attempt to avoid negative media and control his message by avoiding the press appears to have become counterproductive. The Kingston Daily Freemanpicked up on the Politico piece, amplifiying some of its harsher observations for a local audience.
“Democratic congressional candidate Sean Eldridge is evasive, ‘a little immature,” and “not ready for prime time,” according toa short video profile by Politico, a journalism powerhouse in national political circles. [...] “Isenstadt said the Democratic candidate is surrounded by high-priced campaign professionals who are very protective of him. Isenstadt also said political figures and voters in the district to whom he spoke characterized Eldridge ‘as kind of a stranger to us.’”
Had Eldridge agreed to talk with Politico, no doubt some of these characterizations would still have appeared. But they would have been balanced more by Eldridge’s own positions and spin, and the story would have been far less likely to go viral in other media (and, on Twitter).
Such gaffes are all the more baffling, considering that Hughes is credited with steering Barack Obama’s 2008 online presence, which was in many ways the smartest part of his media campaign.
The surest way to antagonize people who (in Dead Tree Media parlance) buy ink by the barrel is to deny them access. As a result, what began as an initial misstep now has snowballed into a self-created distraction, one which his opponent can use to further paint Eldridge’s campaign as both inexperienced and aloof.
All of this plays into Gibson’s ideal culture war narrative—namely, that a decorated military veteran, district native, and family man who still lives in the middle-class neighborhood where he grew up, gets challenged by a young, rich, haughty interloper born in Canada who is trying to buy a Congressional seat...
Will Eldridge correct course by going on a media charm offensive, or allow this narrative to continue to spiral out of his control?
The Columbia County Board of Supervisors voted tonight by a wide margin to approve the “Porreca Plan,” limiting negotiations with Meadowgreens to easements on a small number of acres.
Only Supervisors Michael Benson of New Lebanon, John Reilly of Gallatin and Erik Tyree of Taghkanic voted against the resolution, with Matt Murrell of Stockport abstaining due to his conflict of interest. Hudson’s Rick Scalera, who was a rumored “no” before the meeting, qualified his “yes” vote by saying he hoped the plan could be modified at a later date.
The vote came after Benson made yet another morning-before-the-meeting attempt to stall the process—the same process he had once tried to accelerate or short-circuit.
This time Benson had the planning firm Clough Harbor do what he called a “voluntary peer review” of his preferred airport plans, based as best as one could tell solely on information he had spoonfed them. Apparently no one was buying these antics anymore, including the Republican Caucus—which met in private before the meeting, and reportedly heard a presentation from the New Lebanon Supervisor.
Meadowgreens principal Carmen Nero was denied a chance to address the Board just before the vote. A motion by Tyree to let him speak was shot down. (Some proponents of the Porreca Plan, despite not wanting to derail the vote yet again, felt that Nero should have been allowed to speak, on general principle.)
This observer would estimate that among the “yes” votes, about 1/3 voted that way because they were convinced it was the right thing; about 1/3 wanted the controversial topic off their desks and followed party leadership, and the last third think that the vote will force Nero to revise down his offer to sell the whole property. In any case, further attention by the public may prove necessary in coming months and years to prevent various County employees, officials and consultants from watering down or undermining the outcome.
Stuyvesant dog camp owner and local activist Will Pflaum has won a round in court in his long-running struggle to compel Columbia County to disclose public records.
This ruling from the State Supreme Court (3rd Department) involves the denial access to records demonstrating what work was done for the Columbia County by lawyer Tal Rappelyea. Pflaum sent a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to the County, which was denied by County Attorney Rob Fitzsimmons. The denial was made on the dual basis that Pflaum allegedly did not adequately describe the records specifically enough, and that they constituted privileged work product. The court rejected both bases, instructing the County to allow Pflaum to inspect the records (in person if necessary to protect any redactable material).
Pflaum had researched and published billing records gathered from around the region which appear to show a backbreaking workload by Rappelyea, including bills from a one-day period to various government entities which totaled excess of 24 hours of work—which of course, would not be humanly possible.
Three Columbia County committees have voted this past month to proceed with the so-called Porreca Plan for the Ghent airport. Yet one lone supervisor, Mike Benson of New Lebanon, is continuing his Baghdad Bob dead-ender routine, trying to extend a process in which he has barely participated (and in fact tried to short-circuit at its outset).
Despite missing more than 70% of his airport committee meetings, Benson continues to fire salvos from the virtual safety of his computer keyboard. In a Wednesday email, Benson railed against the use of eminent domain, calling it “a trampling of constitutional vested property rights and the eventual destruction of an enterprise.”
But any supervisor who harbors an ideological objection to eminent domain had a golden opportunity to vote their conscience in October 2013.
That’s when Art Bassin introduced a resolution to table the use of eminent domain in its negotiations with Meadowgreens. Supervisor Benson voted against that resolution, thus continuing the eminent domain process—despite a lack of research and data at the time about its potential impact.
As Mr. Bassin noted at the time, Mr. Benson’s vote was a vote “against getting the facts before deciding to proceed with the eminent domain process … based on incomplete and possibly inaccurate information.”
Ironically, having voted for eminent domain based on incomplete information, then attempting to cut the Airport Committee’s investigations short, and finally ignoring the extensive research gathered in that process, Benson suddenly acts troubled by the possibility of using eminent domain. Having tried to get the committee to go into Executive Session to end its deliberations during the first meeting, he now thunders that further investigations need to continue—and pretends as if the burning questions he wants answered were not answered—when he was absent. Is he playing dumb, or has he remained willfully ignorant of all that has transpired across nearly a dozen meetings?
Regarding the Constitutionlity of eminent domain, many people of different ideological stripes agree that it should be used sparingly. But the battle over its legitimacy is pretty much done.
The governmental power to acquire private lands when necessary for a public purpose has been legitimized repeatedly by the Supreme Court, across many different eras, by justices appointed by both Republicans and Democrats. Most recently, the use of eminent domain to serve important public purposes was upheld in the sweeping Kelo v. City of New London case before the Supreme Court, decided in 2005. Cornell has a decent summary of the decision here.
Benson, interestingly enough, has lost at least one lawsuit challenging government’s regulatory authority, this one involving a project by his company, BCI Construction, in Loudonville. According to the Times-Union,
Benson argued in the lawsuit that the town’s action did not follow its own rules and violated a vested right in the property he had obtained. Justice Eugene P. Devine rejected every argument and dismissed the lawsuit earlier this month.
Moreover, as Mr. Bassin has pointed out, and as those who actually attended the meetings have come to understand, the acquisition of easements to enforce existing FAA regulation already in place, is far less intrusive a “taking” than forcing the sale of 15 acres outright —or, as Mr. Benson now seems to prefer, taking the entire 95 acres from Mr. Nero.
One notes with further irony, regarding the rights and interests of business, that Mr. Benson’s preferred option would actually shut down a popular business, described by some as the most affordable place to golf in the County. The New Lebanon Supervisor does not seem to realize, or perhaps does not care, that government seizing the entire property is far more transgressive than paying the owner for easements on a small portion to remove tall trees, allowing owner Carmen Nero to retain ownership.
(The vehement yet inconsistent positions taken by a few hold-outs almost force one to wonder if they belong to some competing club which hopes to poach Meadowgreens’ membership.)