Two Republicans and one Democrat walk into a room. This could be the beginning of a joke, except it is not. On Jan. 1, 2022, Traci Bax, David Zajac and Donta Myles will swear in as newly elected council members. Bax and Zajac are both Republican. Myles is the sole Democrat. How did Republicans become the majority on the council in a city with more active enrolled Democratic voters than active enrolled Republican voters?
The New York State Board of Elections (NYSBOE) website supplies voter enrollment data by County, Election, Senate, Assembly and Congressional districts from 2008 to date. I am an armchair political analyst fascinated with voter data. I reviewed the most recent Niagara Falls voter enrollment. As of November 1, 2021, the active voter enrollment for the city was: 14,907 (Democratic), 5,461 (Republican), 436 (Conservative), 325 (Working Families) 1,316 (Other) and 5,204 (Blank or unaffiliated). Unaffiliated voters are unregistered with any political party. In New York, they cannot vote in primaries; they may only cast ballots in general elections. However, the number of active enrolled unaffiliated voters grows a little each year.
The data also shows that the total votes cast for the 2021 city council race was 14,126. The total number of active enrolled voters is 27,649. That means almost 50% of active voters did not show up to the polls. Bax and Zajac received a joint total 5,991 votes or 42% of ballots. The three Democratic candidates, Myles, James Abbondanza and Colin Ligammari, received a combined total 7,037 votes or 49% of the total ballots. These figures do not include the absentee and affidavit ballots. The Niagara County Board of Elections should announce the tally for the outstanding votes next week. I doubt it will change the outcome for the city council race.
I attribute the feckless result of the Democratic candidates to several factors. One is the Niagara County Democratic Committee arm-length support for party candidates in city races. Two, is the number of crossover and unaffiliated voters who may have voted Republican. Three, is the strength of a candidate’s qualifications.
The margin between five of the six candidates was very narrow. Jim Perry only received 126 votes, not a big deal. The voter participation for the last episode of “Dancing with the Stars” likely resulted in a higher voter turnout than Election Day in Niagara Falls. However, several hundred votes here and there certainly made for a tight city council race.
Can any political candidate running for office in Niagara Falls afford to lose their base to another party or not woo the unaffiliated voters?
Myles, Abbondanza, and Ligammari campaigned as the Democratic trio. Yet Abbondanza’s and Ligammari’s message did not resonate enough with Democratic voters to win the other two seats. Did their self-interest in short-term rentals turnoff the city’s voters, many of whom rent in high crime and low resource neighborhoods? Did they struggle to appear knowledgeable about kitchen table issues working-class residents face? Did Abbondanza’s public criticism of Democratic Mayor Restaino alienate a portion of the 46% of residents who voted for him 2019?
Campaign spending does not appear to explain the losses. Both candidates sent mailers and distributed plenty of lawn signs. Ligammari collaborated with Myles on a campaign video on YouTube. He won. She did not. Abbondanza probably spent more than the other two Democratic candidates combined. Yet, his voguish lawn signs and bespectacled I-190 billboard still could not secure his win.
Sound bites and catchy slogans have worn out their welcome. Popularity without a coherent message and an actual plan is so 2020.
Perhaps next year the Niagara County Democratic Committee will do a better job of teaching new political acolytes about party unity, how to read the room and get out the vote.
Sharon Bailey is a Niagara Falls resident. You can email her at email@example.com