The 2017 political campaign season has finally come to an end (unless you live in the South Colonie Central School District where you had to go to the polls again on November 14. Don’t ask me why they didn’t hold the vote last week during the general election, like you, I don’t know either.) Locally, there were few surprises. Nationally, political junkies on the Democratic side think they saw a crack in Trump’s teflon armor, while the Republican excuse makers saw the results as just a continuation of the ‘blue’ states staying blue. Which side of the divide in the analysis of the 2017 elections will prove to be correct will not be known until the congressional off-year elections are held in 2018.
In the Capital District, the biggest surprise was in the town of Niskayuna. The 10-year incumbent town supervisor, Democrat Joe Landry, lost to the Republican candidate, Yasmine Syed. Niskayuna will now have a split party rule with the town board being Democrats and the supervisor being Republican. Ms. Syed told the Daily Gazette that she can “work on a bipartisan level.” One local radio station reported that Syed brought cookies to town hall on Wednesday, but that no one had opened the tray of cookies. Is this a sign of possible gridlock in the governance of Niskayuna? Or, will Syed’s statement that “it’s time to go along and get along” be the guiding light for the town’s new leadership? Only time will tell.
Two other local races of interest were for the next Rensselaer County executive, following Kathleen Jimino’s decision to not seek a fifth term and Saratoga Springs’ vote on a charter change from a commission form of government to a city manager with an enlarged city council form of government. In Rensselaer, Republican Steven McLaughlin declared victory. Democratic challenger Andrea Smyth conceded the race this week. The charter change in Saratoga Springs is also not settled with the “yes” votes ahead by less than 50. The almost 500 absentee ballots will decide the fate of the charter amendment.
As for the rest of the local races, the winners in the city of Albany’s Democratic primary all won their general elections. Of note, Alfredo Balarin became the first Latino elected to the Albany Common Council. In the city of Schenectady, all three Democrats won their city council seats and the incumbent mayors of the cities of Mechanicville and Rensselaer were re-elected. In the city of Saratoga Springs, the mayoral seat stayed in Democratic hands with the election of Meg Kelly.
So, while there wasn’t much excitement locally, voting in some other states took center stage as Democrats won the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey. The New Jersey governor’s mansion becoming the future home of Democrat Kim Guadagno was expected as the current and term-limited governor, Republican Chris Christie, a huge Trump supporter, was at an all-time low in the public opinion polls. Also, New Jersey is a “blue” state, so electing a Democrat as governor was not a surprise. Virginia, also a “blue” state, saw the Democrats keep the governorship with Ralph Northam’s victory. However, the polls in Virginia were showing the race as close as three points during the last week of campaigning, and with Trump’s numerous tweets stating his support for the Republican candidate Ed Gillespie, many politicos thought Gillespie could overtake Northam. In the end, the race wasn’t close and the result sent shivers through the GOP establishment.
The shivers were not so much related to Northam’s victory (Clinton won the state in 2016), but to where a lot of his support came from based on the exit polling. Exit polls showed that well-educated suburban voters, many of whom supported Trump in 2016, voted Democrat in 2017. Some political observers saw the reversal in fortune for the GOP as a revolt against Trump. Pennsylvania Republican representative Charlie Dent said “Voters are taking their anger out at the president, and the only way they can do this is by going after Republicans on the ballot.” The former chair of the state of Washington’s Republican Party, Chris Vance, blamed Trump for the revolt, stating, “Among college-educated suburbanites, he [Trump] is a pariah.”
The New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections were not the only races that set off alarm bells on the national level for the GOP. Right here in New York, Westchester and Nassau counties saw Republicans lose the county executive seats to the Democrats. In the state of Washington, Democrats won a special election and took control of the State Senate. In Georgia, Democrats won two State House seats and a State Senate seat. And, in Pennsylvania’s Delaware County, Democrats won county council seats for the first time since the 1970s. The Democratic slogan in Delaware County, Penn., was “Vote Nov. 7th Against Trump.”
The Democratic Party on the state and local levels in 2017 did not only win, in my opinion, simply on anti-Trump sentiment. They also won because they went back to being the party of inclusion and diversity. Victors of local and state races included a transgender woman winning a state legislative race in Virginia; the first openly lesbian mayoral candidate winning in Seattle; a refugee from Liberia winning the mayoral race in Helena, Montana; and two Latinas victorious in Virginia General Assembly races.
This multi-racial and multicultural class of 2017 Democratic party victors must be the face of the 2018 party if the Democrats are to be successful in the 2018 House and Senate off-year election. The Dems cannot just rely on the anti-Trump vote to win next year. The Republicans are starting to realize that Trump is a party unto himself, and he is not loyal to the GOP. The Republicans, if they want to maintain their majorities in both houses of Congress in 2018, will make adjustments in their strategy for 2018 and run on ‘traditional’ Republican platforms and steer away from the Trump-style of politics – the politics of hate and divisiveness.
The 2017 November general election was not only an alarm bell for the GOP, but also for the Democrats. The party that takes the lessons learned from this November to heart and best uses them for planning for the 2018 elections, will be the victor, and the losers will be left licking their wounds and wondering what they will have to do to win in 2020.