Chris Lee, the Republican in NY-26 who was probably going to duke it out with Tom Reed after redistricting, just got caught with his shirt off. I assume Lee, who is married, will be damaged by this scandal, leaving Reed to inherit a safe Republican district in Western New York.
I wonder if there's even been a politician who has benefited more from the peccadilloes of others.
Update: Rachel Barnhart is reporting that Chris Lee has resigned.
Frankly, I'm surprised and disgusted. I understand that he had no political future once this story broke, but couldn't he at least have served out his term instead of leaving his constituents without representation for months? Unlike Massa, there are no allegations that he harassed his staff.
I don't think it's a big mystery why Reed lost his hometown of Corning. Before Massa melted down, Reed made a simple calculation that the only way to win the election was to be pretty far to the right of Massa, especially since the possibility of a Tea Party spoiler was a real one (as Janice Volk showed). One of the tenets of the Tea Party is that stimulus money is bad and should be refused by politicians. So, even though Reed had supported Corning's request for $210K in stimulus money to buy some new buses, he switched positions and opposed those buses as soon as he declared his candidacy for Congress.
Being for something one day and then changing one's position when it's politically convenient is bad enough, but doing it in a way that harms the people you represent is even worse, and Reed committed that political sin in order to advance his career. The fact that Reed took what could pretty fairly be considered "stimulus money" to remodel the Bath Masonic Temple made it even worse.
Tom Reed's 56-44 win in the general election is a pretty decent showing by Matt Zeller, who only had a few months to fundraise and campaign. It's interesting that there was around a 10,000 vote undervote in the special versus the general, indicating some confusion on the part of voters.
I got a call from the Zeller campaign around noon today asking me if I was going to vote. I've gotten a few calls from Democrats this year, so the Democratic GOTV operation is working.
I voted around 6:30 in Pittsford and the poll workers said that they'd been pretty busy all day. They estimated that turnout was already 50%. That's good news for Zeller - he needs to obliterate Reed in Monroe County to have a chance to win this race.
The Corning Leader has profiles of Zeller and Reed in today's online edition. Reader Elmer was good enough to send the printed version (here, here and here [pdf]) which have more art and shows the kind of play the 29th race gets in the Corning paper.
And the Democrat and Chronicle predictably endorsed Reed. While they generally endorse Democrats, the D&C hasn't been able to endorse a Republican in the 29th District, and I don't think the reason has anything to do with editorial integrity or a careful evaluation of the candidates. The D&C is simply looking for editorial cover, and the 29th serves as the token district where they can say they endorsed a Republican in a competitive race whenever they're accused of being a "Democratic" paper.
Many of the Zeller and Volk supporters posting in the comments point out that Tom Reed is a debt collecting attorney. Well, my brother happens to be an attorney who makes part of his money from collecting debts (in another state). He's an honorable family man, just like Reed, but at least he acknowledges the main reason people go into debt and can't get out -- medical bills.
And he also realizes one of the reasons that people have a hard time with medical bills is that the deck is stacked against the self-paying individual. If you or one of your family members ever happens to go to the hospital, take a hard look at the bill. If they're insured, the insurance company has cut deals with the hospital for a discount, and it's nothing minor. For example, I know someone who had to have multiple high-res MRI scans of the brain. There's only one machine in Rochester that can do them, and the price for the uninsured person is around $5,000. For someone with insurance, the price is about $1,600, because Excellus has negotiated a discount with the University of Rochester.
Let's imagine that you're a young person who just paid your way through college. You're working a part-time job because the economy is bad, and you can't afford insurance. If you have an unexplained seizure, which isn't that uncommon, you really have no choice. You pay $3,400 more than someone who's insured for a high-res MRI. Then, you either go into bankruptcy, at worst, or get a call from Tom Reed, at best.
According to my brother, when Reed finally comes to collect this bill, he'll probably knock off a few thousand bucks and cut a deal. Our college kid will probably end up paying a bit more than what the insurance company did, but he'll have to ruin his credit rating to do it.
Under evil, nefarious, socialistic Obamacare, which Tom Reed's party has pledged to repeal, our new graduate would get a subsidy to help him pay for insurance, and his insurance would pay for his procedure. If the seizure was caused by a chronic illness, our new graduate could not be denied insurance for the rest of his life. These are the awful things Democrats like Zeller want.
Like Tom Reed, my brother and I both make plenty of money and can afford good insurance. Unlike Reed, my brother and I both support Democrats because we believe that this country owes the working poor a chance to get ahead in life without facing life-destroying medical bills. There's a lot of rhetoric about personal responsibility being thrown around when we talk about healthcare reform. The reality is that uninsured people who will benefit from healthcare reform are generally working poor. I have a hard time being very judgmental about people who are poor and holding down a job.
So, don't knock Tom Reed for being a debt collector. Knock him for not wanting to give people who work but can't afford insurance an opportunity for the same coverage that he can afford.
“You’ll get representation from Rochester or Buffalo or Syracuse,” Zeller said Wednesday. “I’ve already been told by state Democrats if I win this thing, the seat stays pretty much the way it is. If I lose, this seat goes bye-bye. The people of Corning will be represented by someone from Rochester or Syracuse or Buffalo.”
I think this is probably true. The reality of reapportionment is that New York is going to lose seats, and with that loss, there are probably enough Democrats in Western New York to create a new set of Congressional majority-Democrat districts. If Zeller held the seat, the Democrats would want to keep him in, so they'd gerrymander around him. If it's Reed, they'll move the borders in a way that makes him run against, say, Maurice Hinchey. Or they'll create a district that would have Chris Lee and Tom Reed fight it out for the nomination, and the district would still have enough Democrats that the winner of that fight would have an uphill climb to keeping their seat.
After reapportionment, those of us living in the Rochester suburbs probably won't be represented by Tom Reed. My guess is that we'll have one Monroe County district instead of the four-way mess (NY-25, NY-26, NY-28 and NY-29) that we have now.
Janice Volk's campaign people are pointing out that Janice Volk will attend the Bath candidate forum on October 12, and are characterizing this as a debate. I attended this event in 2006, and it's not a debate -- there's no back-and-forth between the candidates. It is a candidate Q&A, where each candidate takes audience questions that are pre-screened by the League of Women Voters.
Also courtesy of the comments, here's the Hornell Evening Trib's run-down of debates and candidate events.
Thanks to the commenters who pointed out that there's a new Siena poll out showing Reed leading Zeller by 14 points. Here's the important part:
A majority of district residents said they aren’t familiar with either candidate. A total of 57 percent of responders said they don’t know or have no opinion of Reed, while 82 percent of those polled either don’t know have no opinion of Zeller.
It's hard to poll a race where over half of those polled don't know either candidate, and a race where nobody knows either candidate can be influenced by advertisements from one or the other. If Zeller had the money for a big media campaign, he'd be able to acquaint some of that 82% with his candidacy, and I'd wager that the gap would close. The same is true, to a lesser extent, for Reed.
It's also true that a big negative media story could sink Reed's or Zeller's boat.