This is not David beats Goliath. This is more like David's little brother takes down the giant.
If the numbers hold through the recount and absentee ballot tally, and Mark Grisanti knocks Antoine Thompson out of the State Senate, it marks an almost unthinkable upset. Truman beats Dewey, Buster Douglas bests Mike Tyson, Tastes Great over Less Filling -- it all pales in comparison.
The return rate for state legislators hovers around 95 percent, thanks to a rigged system that insulates incumbents from voter outrage on Election Day. That is especially true in the 60th State Senate District, which runs from Buffalo to Niagara Falls.
It is home to almost five times as many registered Democrats as Republicans (126,347 to 26,248). People tend to vote along party lines. Factor in Thompson's obscene advantage in money -- according to Board of Elections filings, he raised $599,388 since Jan. 1, 2009, to $12,398 for Grisanti -- and the playing field tilted vertically in Thompson's favor. Game over. Except that it wasn't.
Grisanti holds a 598-vote lead, with about 3,000 ballots yet to be counted. If the lead holds, it means more than the voter jettisoning of a blunderful state senator with mayoral aspirations. It helps to nail down the Republican retaking of the State Senate.
It is tough to screw up a sure thing, but Thompson appears to have done it. He claimed that the media were out to get him, but he served himself on a platter. A perfect storm of his own making created a backlash.
The guy has been Exhibit A for Albany's abuse of taxpayers. He has a hefty staff of patronage hires. He recently published a self-promotional book on the taxpayers' dime. He pocketed $8,600 in donations in the AEG casino bidding scandal. He jetted to Jamaica on a trade-mission junket. He is chauffeured around in a black SUV as if he were royalty.
An East Side activist told me Thompson's behavior eroded his core support in the African-American community.
"I heard it from ministers, I heard it from businesspeople that the guy has just not delivered," activist Clarence Lott said. "Their attitude was, 'We are not going to help you if you haven't helped us.'
"The money that [Thompson] wasted on that [self-promotional] book could have bought new uniforms for Little League teams," he added. "But that is not where his head was at."
Thompson's apparent defeat exposes more cracks in Buffalo's Grassroots political machine that spawned Thompson, Byron Brown and other officials. Last year saw the resignation of Common Council Member Brian Davis, another Grassroots product, after elections law violations. Mayor Brown's drawn-out termination brawl with Human Resources Commissioner Karla Thomas, also from Grassroots, further undercut the group's political clout.
"You are embarrassing us as a community -- that was the message," said Lott, who split from Grassroots years ago. "For the past four years, Thompson was the headline -- and not for successes, but for missteps."
UB political science professor Joshua Dyck agreed that turnout played a huge part in the tide going against Thompson. "The likely explanation is, turnout was low in the parts of the district that support Thompson," Dyck said, "and high in the parts that support Grisanti."
Grisanti voters were drawn to the polls by Carl Paladino. The Republican gubernatorial candidate was pounded statewide but took Erie County by 20 points. He drew not just Republicans, but mad-as-hell Democrats who jumped the fence for Grisanti.
The system is rigged to protect sitting legislators. The odds in Thompson's favor were astronomical. Despite it all, the voice of the people -- if the numbers hold -- was heard. Once in a while, democracy gets injected into Albany.