Tuesday, September 10, 2013

5 Things to Watch in Rockland's County Executive Primary

The polls close in less than an hour in the Democratic primary for Rockland County Executive.  Two Democrats are on the ballot- David Fried, a former county legislator and Spring Valley justice and Ilan Schoenberger, a current county legislator.  Both have been around politics their entire adult lives (Fried is younger, though) and have virtually identical stands on the issues-- to the extent they have taken any.  A pitched November battle with the Republican standard bearer, Ed Day, awaits and what passed in a low interest primary won't hold up under the General Election glare.

But, for now, here are 5 things to watch in tonight's results:

1. Results in the Town of Clarkstown- Clarkstown voters are fickle between the parties and this will be a key battleground in November.  Day represents a Democratic heavy district here, despite running and winning as a Republican.  A decisive win by either Schoenberger or Fried in Clarkstown would demonstrate an ability to effectively compete in Day's base in November.  If there is very low Clarkstown turnout today, Democrats have a rough ride in the next two months and will need to spend money fast to close that enthusiasm gap among the party's most loyal voters.

2. Hudson v. Hasidim- Fried expanded his traditional base among Spring Valley's black and Haitian-American voters to include the very liberal, activist riverfront communities (Nyack, Piermont, et. al.).  Fried's vote there is being driven, in part, as a reaction to the strong support Schoenberger has in the Orthodox community.  Facebook postings by riverfront activists have protrayed Fried, who always enjoyed support from the Hasidim, as someone who will stop the growth of the Hasidic community.  The Hasidim feel betrayed by Fried's embrace of many of their political adversaries and have not been shy about saying so.  It is a dangerous fault line between Democratic constituencies that will need each other in November.  Strong turnout among both constituencies with lopsided results would indicate a polarized party.  If Schoenberger prevails, he will need to persuade progressive activists that they will have a voice in his administration or risk losing them to the Day campaign.

3. Local primaries- The County Executive race has been shaped in part by other primaries in Rockland municipalities.  The Spring Valley circus-like mayoral campaign could lead to a victory by the incumbent, Noramie Jasmin, who is under federal indictment.  There was a lot of joint promotion of Fried and Jasmin in Spring Valley and that may alienate general election voters countywide.   The sharp personal and ethnic divisions between the mayoral candidates and within the Haitian-American community could come into sharp relief tonight; a unified vote from Democrat-rich Spring Valley is essential for the Democratic candidate this November. The tug-of-war for control of the Democratic Party in Haverstraw is also a factor.  The establishment Haverstraw Democrats did not include an endorsed candidate for County Executive on their literature, widely perceived as a slap at Schoenberger.  If Fried wins Haverstraw, look also for a stronger than expected showing by Rita Louie, who is opposing the incumbent Supervisor Howard Phillips and is endorsed by the Sierra Club.  Her key issue is fighting a proposed desalination plant on the Hudson.  A strong Louie vote will also be noticed by the Cuomo Administration, which is reviewing the project.  A Louie victory would doom the proposal.

4. Day's Write-Ins- Preserve Ramapo, an anti-development group that embraces anti-Hasidic rhetoric, launched a write in campaign for Ed Day in the Democratic Primary, declaring that it would not accept Fried as the "lesser of two evils" from the Ramapo Democratic Party. But Day's campaign has been quiet- smart, because they do not want to become invested in a difficult and unpredictable effort like a write-in.  Lots of write-ins, though, and Day can claim he will benefit from a wave Democratic discontent.  If the pickings are slim, he can deny that any real effort was expended.  But Preserve Ramapo has offered a tell of its strength- always a risky proposition in a business where perception is often reality.

5. Open Bar and Music- Neither candidate is having a party tonight aside from supporters, soda and chips at their respective headquarters.  That means one thing-- both campaign have blown through a lot of cash.  A dry primary night tap usually means a 7 a.m. start to general election fundraising calls the next morning.  The victor at 9pm will confront Ed Day's $250,000 warchest and months of repressed Republican energy.