It has been a while since I have been able to write on the issues facing the City of Binghamton, County of Broome, and even wider political issues. My efforts on several non-political Boards and Committees to address and create solutions to local/regional issues has taken my time that otherwise would be dedicated to commentary. But, with the success of the most recent event and considering the importance of the latest local political development, I felt a need to comment again.
The 2017 Binghamton Mayoral race has begun in earnest with the gathering of petitions and announcement of candidates for the Parties. But it is the selection of candidates that has concerned me. Specifically the process and choice of the Democrat Party. This process can only be described as an active and purposeful denial of freedom, in my opinion.
On June 6, 2017, candidates for the Binghamton Mayoral race were able to begin collecting petitions to be able to gain access to the ballot for the September Primary and eventually the November election. Republicans had already declared that incumbent Binghamton Mayor Rich David would seek re-election. The Democrat Party was silent. No candidate was presented to the public, until on June 10th an obscure stopgap measure was taken. Broome County Democrat Chairman Tim Grippen declared he would use his name to “placehold” petitions for an unnamed Democrat to run in the mayoral election.
“My name will be on the local petitions as a candidate for Mayor only so that Binghamton Democrats can preserve their right to choose a great candidate in the very near future.” – Chairman Tim Grippen
This is an issue. It is a political oxymoron. While technically legal, the question that must be asked is how can this action “preserve the right to choose”? By definition, gathering signatures of an unknown candidate actively nullifies the ability of Democrats to select a candidate. By definition, this technically legal action subverts the intention of the rule to allow a handful of Democrat leadership to select a candidate in place of the public. The rule was meant for the extreme case where a candidate is unable to run, due to illness or death, or other severe unforeseen circumstances. But, as Chairman Grippen openly admitted, this is a purposive redirection of petitions, without input of the public.
The backlash was immediate by the Republican Party, with Broome County Chairman Bijoy Datta stating,
“It’s completely unethical and deceptive for Tim Grippen to pull this bait and switch on the voters in order to get Ryan, Abdelazim or anyone else on the ballot.”
The key from that statement are the names of former Mayor Matt Ryan, and former Planning, Housing, and Community Development Director Tariq Abdelazim – who previously ran and substantially lost a bid for Broome County Executive in 2012. Political insiders were already aware of the buzz coming from Citizen Action to place either of these individuals as a candidate in the race. In fact rumors to this extent were heard as early as March 2017. Equally well known among political insiders was the fact that neither individual, nor Citizen Action, had significant support in the local or County community. The action by Chairman Grippen was the solution to the lack of support – deny Democrats an option.
Effectively, signatures would be gathered for Chairman Grippen and he would then select behind closed doors a candidate that otherwise may be rejected by the public. Rank and file Democrats lose their voice in the election process, as once the signatures were given, the power of that signature was handed to Chairman Grippen. Thus Democrats would be nullified by their own Party, just as they were in the 2016 Presidential Primary, and forced to either blindly vote for the choice of Party elites or avoid the election entirely. Its a tactic that was commonly used by the former Soviet Union, where they would place a dead politician and the elite’s choice – effectively providing no choice for the electorate. Hardly a democratic process.
Yet Democrat Party elites rallied to defend this nullification of voter rights. Former Chairman James “Jim” Testani took to Facebook to highlight how this was both necessary and in the spirit of free choice. As seen in full on Facebook (this excerpt of which was provided to Bob Joseph of WNBF on June 15, 2017), this is an unedited copy of part of that conversation [emphasis added by me for this commentary]:
Michael Vasquez: James Testani, I well understand that the local Party (I never said this was a local person) has great difficulty presenting a viable candidate at this time. I am aware of 2 or 3 people planning to run, none of which have passed a petition. It is explicitly deceptive to pass a petition without even hinting to public who in fact will run. Yes anyone could run, but without support we all know they will go no where, as does anyone who would consider a run.
James Testani: The signature requirement is not that high. A candidate with three good friends could qualify over a weekend. The local GOP has created a false issue to try to force an unopposed election. When have Democrats ever listened to the Democratic Party?
Michael Vasquez: Your right, the burden is not that high and yet no one has come forward for Dems. I don’t think everyone in your Party lacks good friends, and there are plenty of weekends, so why the blind candidate placement? The not subtle implication is that the final choice will be unpalatable, and this process locks in diehard Dems.
The net result has been the announcement on June 30th, at the beginning of the last weekend for petitions and a major national holiday where many local residents are out of town, of Tarik Abdelazim as the Citizen Action and Democrat elite leadership choice for candidate in the Binghamton Mayoral race. Not a single political insider was surprised. The timing was apparently keyed for the least public response. It allows for the least reaction from rank and file Democrats. It negates the opportunity for open discussion. Equally, based on the selection, any Democrat that does not share the radical views of Citizen Action, but signed a petition for Chairman Grippen has been locked in, and competition defeated.
Thus, it must be asked, how is this not a denial of freedom? How have rank and file Democrats not been deceived and nullified? How is this the spirit of open and fair elections?
As our nation prepares to celebrate our independence, with one of the most important realities of that freedom being the ability to vote without coercion and with open choice, the Democrat Party has once again stood in stark contrast to the keystone of our lives. The slap in the face, to all Americans, is as hard and harsh as it is self-evident that the Democrat Party has become a symbol of inclusiveness only if there is blind, unquestioning, zombie-like worship to the whims of political elites. Contemplation of this is sure to scar the celebration of any Broome County Democrat that takes a moment to consider this.