The Hudson Independent

To Understand How the Race for Lowey's Seat is Going, Follow the Money

Saturday, April 25, 2020

BY BAR­RETT SEA­MAN

The De­mo­c­ra­tic pri­mary that will, for all prac­ti­cal pur­poses, de­ter­mine who suc­ceeds Nita Lowey in Con­gress next year, is not ex­actly on PAUSE along with the rest of New York State, but nei­ther is it the crowd-gath­er­ing, barn­storm­ing, whis­tle-stop­ping ex­trav­a­ganza one would ex­pect from a bat­tle among eight pretty qual­i­fied, rea­son­ably well-funded can­di­dates.

The prob­lem, of course, is the lock­down that has de­prived the can­di­dates of any pos­si­bil­ity of cam­paign­ing pub­licly or de­bat­ing in ways that give vot­ers and pun­dits alike a sense of how pop­u­lar or per­sua­sive they might be. In­stead, each has pur­sued vir­tual con­tact with the elec­torate. As a re­sult, any true sense of how they’re do­ing is some­where up there in the Cloud, and it’s up to us to go find it.

In March, the pub­lic got a peak at one mea­sure of suc­cess when the fi­nal num­bers of pe­ti­tion sig­na­tures were re­leased. By that very lim­ited mea­sure, As­sem­bly­man David Buch­wald took first prize. Then in mid-April, a more sig­nif­i­cant clue was re­vealed when the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion re­leased fundrais­ing and ex­pen­di­ture to­tals for the first quar­ter of 2020. If you’re look­ing at con­tri­bu­tions raised as a mea­sure of pop­u­lar­ity, then Eve­lyn Farkas came out on top with nearly $460,000.

But if hav­ing money, what­ever the source, is your cri­te­rion, then Adam Schleifer blew every­one else away. He reg­is­tered a whop­ping $1.6 mil­lion in the first quar­ter—given largely by his im­me­di­ate fam­ily. And since the pur­pose of hav­ing money is to spend it, then Schleifer is in great shape go­ing into the last eight weeks of the race with a war chest of $1,515,210.

It’s worth peel­ing back a few lay­ers of the cam­paign, how­ever, to look for less ob­vi­ous clues. But first, here is what rank and file De­mo­c­ra­tic vot­ers are see­ing:

Truth is, if you don’t have ac­cess to a com­puter, you’re not see­ing much of any­thing…ex­cept a hand­ful of TV ads. Dur­ing the breaks of your fa­vorite ca­ble chan­nel, you might catch Adam Schleifer and his spe­cial needs younger brother or David Buch­wald with his two young daugh­ters at their home in White Plains. As the elec­tion nears, you will likely see other can­di­dates pop­ping up on 30-sec­ond spots.

One you won’t see is Al­li­son Fine, whose plan from the out­set has been to con­duct her cam­paign en­tirely dig­i­tally. She con­tin­ues to blast out emails to a list of some 5,000, of­fer­ing prac­ti­cal ad­vice and oc­ca­sional philo­soph­i­cal ob­ser­va­tions. She re­cently held one of her Zoom ses­sions—this one on Earth Day eve to dis­cuss her en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­pos­als. All the can­di­dates had some­thing to say about the en­vi­ron­ment that day, how­ever, and Eve­lyn Farkas had a com­pet­ing dig­i­tal fo­rum ty­ing the coro­n­avirus to cli­mate change.

Farkas also launched an in­ter­net-age ver­sion of the old whistlestop tour by hold­ing Zoom ses­sions in dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties to hear about hy­per-lo­cal is­sues. Play­ing to the strength of her Wash­ing­ton ex­pe­ri­ence, she has also held fo­rums that are some­what like Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions pan­els where she is of­ten joined by de­fense and for­eign af­fairs ex­perts.

Mondaire Jones has also been go­ing the Zoom route but ran into one of the in­her­ent risks of dig­i­tal ex­po­sure on Fri­day, the 17th, when his event got “bombed” by a hacker who posted im­ages of child pornog­ra­phy that one par­tic­i­pant de­scribed as “very up­set­ting.” Jones’s re­sponse: “Tar­get­ing a civic-minded pub­lic meet­ing with the in­tent to trau­ma­tize its par­tic­i­pants and make them fear­ful of gath­er­ing has ab­solutely no place in our elec­tions.” Yet it can hap­pen to any of them.

An­other mea­sure that does­n’t re­quire face-to-face ex­po­sure is en­dorse­ments. Through­out the cam­paign, David Buch­wald has held the ti­tle of Most En­dorsed—cer­tainly by lo­cal of­fi­cials. More than 60, in­clud­ing for­mer ri­val Cather­ine Bor­gia and a re­cent eye­brow raiser in James Sk­oufis, the state sen­a­tor from Rock­land whose dis­trict abuts that of David Car­lucci, have pub­licly backed Buch­wald.

Also chas­ing lo­cal en­dorse­ments is Mondaire Jones, who ap­pears to have cor­ralled many of the area’s pro­gres­sive groups, like the Irv­ing­ton Ac­tivists. He also won the back­ing of Irv­ing­ton Mayor Brian Smith who, not too many years ago, was a reg­is­tered Re­pub­li­can. His biggest name en­dorse­ment comes from no less than Eliz­a­beth War­ren.

When it comes to big names, how­ever, no one comes near Eve­lyn Farkas. For weeks, she’s been drop­ping names like for­mer am­bas­sador to Is­rael Daniel Shapiro, for­mer de­fense sec­re­tary Leon Panetta, for­mer Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee chair Carl Levin and for­mer sen­a­tor, sec­re­tary of state and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date John Kerry. For ic­ing on the en­dorse­ment cake, add ac­tors Rob Reiner and Jane Lynch.

One could ar­gue—and Farkas’s ri­vals do—that mar­que names don’t carry the weight that lo­cal leg­is­la­tors and vil­lage may­ors carry in terms of trans­lat­ing into votes on June 23rd. Farkas’s cam­paign coun­ters that only ten per­cent of her do­na­tions come from her Wash­ing­ton ties. There should be, how­ever, some re­la­tion­ship be­tween en­dorse­ments and money, as in putting money where your mouth is.

At least by the mea­sure of first quar­ter fundrais­ing, there is a cu­ri­ous dis­con­nect with the Buch­wald cam­paign. Ac­cord­ing to FEC fig­ures, only Cather­ine Parker raised less money dur­ing those three months. His cam­paign would ar­gue that he was too busy do­ing his thing, which is leg­is­lat­ing in Al­bany—a much bet­ter in­di­ca­tor of what kind of a con­gress­man he will make. Per­haps, but with only about half a mil­lion dol­lars in cash on hand, the for­mer tax at­tor­ney may be scrap­ing the bot­tom of the bar­rel go­ing into the fi­nal few weeks if he is to pro­duce ads and gather mean­ing­ful polling data in time to make ad­just­ments.

Equally cu­ri­ous are David Car­luc­ci’s num­bers. Not only did he raise only $119,000 in the first quar­ter, but his cof­fers cur­rently have less than $100,000—15 times less than Adam Schleifer’s bank ac­count. Con­sid­ered early on to be a con­tender be­cause he pur­port­edly “owned” Rock­land County, the state sen­a­tor would seem to be be­hind in en­dorse­ments, es­pe­cially in Westch­ester; and now in money.

Al­li­son Fine is also low on cash—be­cause, she says, she stopped fundrais­ing at the same time she stopped pe­ti­tion-gath­er­ing, that is, when the lock­down got un­der­way. But she will recom­mence fundrais­ing and, be­cause she is fore­go­ing TV buys, her over­all bud­get does­n’t need to be as high as those who go the tra­di­tional route.

Look­ing purely through the prism of money then, the eight-can­di­date field breaks down into three seg­ments: Asha Castle­berry-Her­nan­dez did­n’t file for the quar­ter (though she later re­ported rais­ing a lit­tle un­der $14,000 for a to­tal of about $66,000). Along with her at the back of the money pack would be Cather­ine Parker, Al­li­son Fine and David Car­lucci.

In the thick of the race are Farkas, Jones and (still) Buch­wald, each of whom has roughly half a mil­lion in cash on hand. But out front in the money race, lengths ahead of the pack, is Adam Schleifer. Not only has he out­spent his ri­vals two to three times over, but he has that much more cash on hand go­ing into the fi­nal eight weeks. As po­lit­i­cal blog­ger Dan We­in­feld (https://​www.ny­cd17.com) of Harts­dale points out, in the first quar­ter, Schleifer out­spent all seven of his com­peti­tors com­bined.

“Money does­n’t nec­es­sar­ily buy po­lit­i­cal races,” writes We­in­feld. “Michael Bloomberg just proved that. Money, how­ever, can buy me­dia time and pay for mail­ings, which in turn, build name recog­ni­tion. In a race where there is no in­cum­bent and no can­di­date can claim broad name recog­ni­tion, Schleifer’s will­ing­ness to in­vest his per­sonal wealth in his cam­paign to out­spend ri­vals in buy­ing me­dia time and mail­ings is a ma­jor ad­van­tage.”

The next pole in the race will be polls—the clos­est in­di­ca­tor of where can­di­dates stand other than the ac­tual vote. Car­lucci and Schleifer have line items in their ex­pense ledgers for polling. Jones and Buch­wald are pay­ing for con­sul­tants who may in turn poll for them, and Farkas may be in the process. Of course, we may not see polling by in­di­vid­ual cam­paigns un­less the re­sults favor their can­di­date.