One thing I like about Gary McCarthy, the acting mayor of Schenectady, is his straightforwardness. He’s engaging in a little bit of the political warfare at which he has long excelled and rather than pretending otherwise, he admits it. Admits even with a certain relish.
It has to do with an obscure matter that only a true political animal like him would even be aware of, but of course that’s what makes him successful, that he’s at home in the dimmer corners of electoral politics.
The dim corner is commissioner of deeds. Do you know what a commissioner of deeds is? Don’t worry, very few people do. It’s similar to a notary public, that is, someone who is authorized to take statements and verify signatures, but less restricted, with no test required. You just have to be a bona fide resident of a city, or own a business in a city, and you can be a commissioner of deeds upon request, as long as the city’s legal limit on the number of such personages has not been reached.
In Schenectady the limit is 800, and there are only 100 or 300 recognized, depending on whom you ask, but in any event well below the limit, so there’s plenty of room for more.
As acting mayor, McCarthy, who is also the Democratic candidate for real mayor, has been turning down applications for commissioner of deeds, and specifically has turned down several requests from people associated with his opponent, Roger Hull, who formed his own Alliance Party and is also endorsed by the Republican Party.
The relevance is that in order to gather signatures on the designating petitions of recognized parties you either have to be enrolled in that party or you have to be a commissioner of deeds.
Roger Hull needs 631 signatures to get on the ballot as the candidate of the new Alliance Party, but any registered voter can collect those signatures, so that’s not to the point, but he also needs 308 signatures to get on the ballot as the candidate of the Republican Party, and only enrolled Republicans or commissioners of deeds can collect those.
Exercising his mayoral authority, McCarthy granted commissionership to several people, including to Hull himself and to Vince Riggi, a Hull ally who is running for City Council, and to two of Riggi’s family members. But he denied the applications of Hull’s son, of Hull’s campaign manager and of Jay Sherman, an ally of former Mayor Al Jurczynski.
It looked like a bit of gamesmanship, and I was hoping to trick him into an unguarded, partial admission, but no need.
“I just don’t want people working against me,” he said as candidly as you please.
Regarding Sherman in particular, “He’s always just been a negative person, when he was director of non-development,” he said, with a dig at Sherman’s role under Jurczynski. “This is part of the campaign. They want to bring the Jurczynski-Robinson team of people back to run the city.”
Does Roger Hull have any recourse?
“The recourse is in the court of public opinion,” he said at first, but then added that taking the matter to a court of law is “certainly an option,” and, “unless [McCarthy] reverses course, that’s what we’ll wind up doing.”
He added that in his view McCarthy is “acting dictatorial.”
“He’s fit to be a campaign manager,” Hull said, “he’s not to be mayor.”
Sherman, actually, is an enrolled Republican, so he would already be able to circulate Republican petitions, so the handicap in that case is hard to discern.
We’ll just have to see how this plays out. I am of course enjoying it very much. We have a candidate in McCarthy who knows where all the political levers are and is happy to pull them or push them, and we have a candidate in Roger Hull, the former president of Union College, who is a political neophyte but is learning quickly. It promises to be a lively season.
As of this writing, New York state is one vote away from approving gay marriage, Sen. Roy McDonald having come out in favor after a long period of soul- (or poll-) searching, which might lead you to wonder where our other local senator, Hugh Farley of Niskayuna, stands.
I asked him by e-mail, and he responded, “My position is that I am in favor of traditional marriage between one man and one woman. I voted ‘no’ on the 2009 bill … I intend to vote ‘no’ again this year.”
An interesting position to be in, in an alleged democracy where one legislator’s vote is usually of no consequence. If Sen. Farley digs in his heels, gay people in New York state will continue to be denied the right — if it is a right — to marry. If he changes his mind, they will have the same standing as straight people.
An awful lot rides on his thinking and his sentiments.
For my part, I simply note how fast the world has changed. Fifty years ago homosexuality was a mental illness per the American Psychiatric Association (some of whose members must have been homosexual themselves), and the acting out of it was a crime almost everywhere, under so-called sodomy laws.
New York’s sodomy law, criminalizing homosexual activity, was overturned by the Court of Appeals as recently as 1980, and the remaining such laws in other states were invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court only in 2003.
Why, at the founding of our great Republic, the penalty for homosexual acts was death, later modified to life in prison.
And now look where we are. Hugh Farley may not be there, but look where the rest of us are — homosexuality is widely accepted as a perfectly normal variation of human sexuality, gay people are accepted as friends and neighbors, and we are calmly and rationally debating whether gay people ought to be allowed to marry.
What a huge shift in social sensibility. Any country today that has the same laws the United States had at its inception, prescribing death for homosexual acts, like Nigeria, or Sudan, or Afghanistan, is regarded as disgustingly barbaric.
Regardless of how our state Senate winds up voting, we have come a long way in a short time, and I can’t help thinking that in a little while more we will look back and wonder that there could ever have been a debate at all.