Explaining Geneseo politics across the river in York
When I return to the west side of the river where I grew up, folks often ask me to explain Geneseo politics to them. Like all places, Geneseo has a politics all its own.
Unlike some other towns in Livingston County, Geneseo’s politics is volatile. Elections often produce surprising results. Last week’s village elections are a great example to illustrate how it works.
In the 45 square miles of the Town of Geneseo, Republicans have a significant registration advantage. In order for a Democrat to win you need to see a high Democratic turnout and significant number of Republicans crossing over.
That is the reason why the Democrats always have a second ballot line. It is for Republicans who might cross over, but can’t quite bring themselves to vote on the Democratic line.
Republicans tend to be disciplined and Democrats often forget its election day. Democrats are also more likely to crossover and vote for a Republican. Just to make things interesting, there is a growing segment of the electorate, especially among younger voters, that do not have any particular allegiance to political parties. They agree with James Madison, Father of the Constitution, in believing that political parties will destroy the nation. My sympathy with position grows daily.
Every election in the Town of Geneseo works the same. If the Republicans stick with their nominated candidates and show up at the polls, they win every time. If Democrats show up at the polls and deliver the crossover vote, they can win anytime.
In the Village of Geneseo, the situation is a little different. The Republicans still have an advantage but a much smaller one. To make things more interesting, the village has a significant constituency that is well organized politically around an issue: historic preservation.
This group is comprised of people from both political parties who, God bless them, will vote their issue every time they see a clear distinction between the candidates. I know them well. They voted for me in two elections that I won and against me in two elections that I lost.
To win in the Village, the Democrats need to get out their party loyalists and monopolize the crossover. The curious thing about the Republican Committee is, despite the arithmetic, they insist on running campaigns designed only to get out the Republican vote.
Their strategy works in the Village when the Democrats don’t organize well. If the Geneseo Republican Committee were to organize well and targete a crossover (dare I say, ask Democrats to vote for them) they would never lose an election. But they insist on leaving the door open by running campaigns that pretend there is a 2:1 registration advantage. There is not.
Sometimes Geneseo citizens hyperfocus on issues that don’t really matter. There is a running debate about college students voting. The fact is, they don’t vote in local elections in numbers that matter. If there is a presidential election, they will come out in force, but village elections don’t happen in November.
If the turnout is low enough, college students could influence a local election. If Geneseo citizens want to neutralize the student vote, all they have to do is show up and vote themselves.
Last week’s elections point to a Democratic party sweep in the Village. The final results will not be certified until after this article goes to press. At this point, Ben Gajewski and Bob Wilcox, with heavy support from the historic preservation lobby, are in position to win seats on the Village Board. That would put four Democrats in a supermajority.
John Fox and Tom LaGrou are currently in third and fourth place, despite being majority party incumbents with a record of significant accomplishment. Their marquis project was the Wadsworth Street sewer project which ended years of black gold bubbling up into my neighborhood.
John and Tom also supported rational expenditures for the preservation of the Geneseo Building on Main Street. However the new team has promised to entice the Town Government back to Main Street and bring more tax dollars into that project.
The pendulum swings back and forth in the Village of Geneseo between spending priorities for infrastructure (water, sewer, roads) and historic preservation. We spend on historic preservation until the sewage comes bubbling out the ground. We fix it and swing back the other way.
On Wadsworth Street, we are grateful to John and Tom for the attention they gave to a part of the Village outside the National Historic Landmark District, a part of town that has never been on the radar screen of the historic preservation lobby.
The political party leadership in Geneseo can confuse you, because the issues they care about locally don’t line up very well with the positions their parties take nationally.
Locally, Democrats vehemently oppose big box stores, yet in the last presidential election, Big Box retail donated overwhelmingly to the Clinton and Obama campaigns.
The woman who led the pitch team that brought the Super Walmart to Geneseo was a former Clinton administration official. We forget that both the Clintons and Walmart came to us from Arkansas.
Nationally, the Democrat leadership advocates for infrastructure improvement. Locally, it’s tough to get them to focus on it. Nationally, the Democrat leadership stands up for the little guy. Locally, they advocate for a gated community and look the other way when their own party members lose their jobs.
Nationally, Republicans are shamelessly pro-business. Locally, they will say that privately, but never say it publicly for fear of arousing opposition. When local Republicans try to make that case, they are shoved aside by the leadership of the Geneseo Town Committee that is tied tightly to the historic preservation lobby. That leadership just hung Tom and John out to dry with a milk toast campaign.
I think that it is time for the County Leadership in both parties to take a hard look at what the Geneseo Town Committees are doing in nominating candidates, defining issues, and running campaigns.
It would be much less confusing to the rank and file members of both parties who seem to express little confidence by their poor attendance on Election Day. If the Republicans cleaned up their house first, the Democrats would be forced to move back to the center.