My partner and I have both pre- and post-voting rituals. I usually vote early in the morning; she votes after work. Before she goes to the polling place, she asks me to remind her who everyone is, what the ballot questions mean, if there are any, etc. She is sharper than I am but I pay closer attention, so she asks and I tell her. In some cases, I tell her it doesn’t matter how she votes, because there is no choice—candidates run unopposed, or all options are awful.
In those cases, she and I write in the names of people we admire who we wish would serve in public office. After she has voted, we compare write-ins. Sometimes we are delighted to discover a two-person groundswell for a particular candidate in a particular office. Sometimes we bicker: You chose Julia for Supreme Court? But what about Gil? You didn’t fill in the blank for City Court? What line did you vote on? In this matter, as in all things, we are competitive, always straining to come up with an ingenious candidate whose aptitude for the office will impress the other.
I took nearly five minutes yesterday puzzling over a ballot that could have been completed responsibly in 30 seconds, just to come up with one novel write-in: our neighbor, Erik Hartnett, for Erie County legislator. Hartnett was founding president of our very active block club; he is organized, shrewd, possessed of a sharp sense of ethics and community obligation. He gets things done. In the fantasy world in which only write-in votes are counted, Legislator Hartnett might make a real difference to his district.
Likewise my candidate for City Court judge, Gillian Brown, who has run for the position before but lacked the political machine patronage generally required to win a seat. Brown is an excellent lawyer with a thorough understanding of housing issues in the city; he was interim executive director of BMHA in a period overlapping the tail end of the Masiello regime and the beginning of the Brown administration. He’d make a great housing court judge.
My partner wrote Brown in for state Supreme Court. I understand the choice—more prestigious, better pay—but I argued Brown should get the judgeship he has long had his eye on. She also wrote in Julia Hall, the international human rights lawyer who lives on Days Park, for state Supreme Court. That was an inspired choice. I wish I’d thought of it.
For that office, I wrote in William Altreuter, a local lawyer with good politics and a good sense of humor, and Mark Sacha, the former prosecutor fired by his boss, DA Frank Sedita, after he publicly criticized Sedita for refusing to investigate his ally, political operative Steve Pigeon. I don’t know what kind of judge Sacha would make: I respect him, even consider him friend, but he’s got a temper. I wrote him in primarily because a seat on the bench was being handed to Sedita, and no one deserves a free ride to high office, perhaps especially not Sedita, who has been getting free rides into office his entire career. In that fantasy world in which only write-ins count, I knew that Sacha winning a judgeship would make Sedita’s head explode.
In that fantasy world, the bars to public service—the gantlet of party officials in committees, the need to raise funds and campaign—are removed. In the real world, little changed at the cost of a great deal of money and, in some cases, integrity. Ted Morton’s campaign spread untruths about Debra Liegl in his bid to keep his seat on the Erie County Legislature. He succeeded, allowing the Republican-Conservative-Independent coalition ot retain its majority. (In the only other seriously contested Legislature race, incumbent Tom Loughran beat challenger Guy Marlette handily without spending too much of his time or raising too much money.) In the City of Buffalo, almost every race was run unopposed, in fact or in practice. No offense intended there to the also-rans for Common Council: Terrance Heard, Dave Howard, Michael Woolford, my pal Charley Tarr, and my business partner Peter Rouff. In his bid for the Delaware District seat against Democrat Joel Feroleto, Rouff spent a lot of money and went negative early, as insurgent campaigns often do. That won him 1,408 votes, or 29 percent of the dismal turnout in the district. Not bad for a Republican running against a guy who, like Sedita, has the entire political cosmos aligned in his favor. Heard, who challenged Common Council President Darius Pridgen, won nine votes out of 2,174 cast. If there are voters like me in the Ellicott District, and I believe there are, there may have been more write-in for friends, family, and pets than votes cast for Heard.
For the most part, the political firmament is unaltered by yesterday’s election, for the better (Mark Poloncarz remains a capable county executive) and for the worse (a guy like Sedita being handed an office, a guy like Joe Lorigo running unopposed). Indeed, it appears unalterable.
I always write in my partner for some office. This year it was a judgeship on Erie County Court. I expected her to be pleased when I told her; instead she cocked her head, as if to say: County? Was state Supreme not on the ballot?
Look, sweetheart, even in the imaginary world of fill-in-the-blank, you’ve got to start somewhere and work your way up. State Supreme? I said, sounding like an old ward-heeler. Not your turn, kid.
Who’d you do a write-in for yesterday? Tell us in comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org.