ALBANY – The state’s influential teachers union, a potent financial weapon in political contests, has scuttled a television advertising campaign it was about to run on behalf of underfunded Democrat Michael L. Amodeo in his uphill race against Republican State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti.
New York State United Teachers, which was eyeing at least a $150,000 advertising campaign in the Buffalo market, at the last minute yanked its television ad designed to promote the Hamburg lawyer, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter.
The decision came in the wake of a new poll released this week showing Amodeo badly trailing Grisanti.
As Amodeo seeks to overcome the bad polling news, the Cuomo administration Thursday wasn’t helping the fellow Democrat. In an Albany radio station interview, a top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo bashed Amodeo, the Erie County Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate, for not getting 100 percent on board with the governor’s 2011 property tax cap law.
Cuomo has not yet endorsed Grisanti, as some Republicans hope will occur in a district with a 2-to-1 Democratic enrollment edge over GOP voters. But the verbal bashing of Amodeo by Larry Schwartz, the secretary to the governor, came as Cuomo has been publicly praising Grisanti and not protesting Grisanti-funded television commercials that have featured him hugging the Republican.
While Grisanti’s 60th Senate District was once seen as a key battleground race for control of the Senate, both parties in Albany – at least for the time being – appear to be focusing their political energies on Senate races in other parts of the state. Whether Democrats, already facing major infighting within Erie County, can do anything in the remaining four weeks to undo Grisanti’s lead in the polls remains a major question for Democrats and Republicans in Albany deciding how to spend central party campaign dollars.
NYSUT officials in Albany, citing rules the union must abide by involving independent expenditure campaigns on behalf of political candidates, declined to confirm or deny the cancelation, or even existence, of ads on Amodeo’s behalf.
Whether the union starts a smaller ad campaign on behalf of Amodeo in the coming days is also uncertain; movement in polls by Amodeo against Grisanti, who has angered teachers unions over a number of policy matters, could push NYSUT to quickly rethink its strategy, Democrats and Republicans in Albany noted. Moreover, with a month to go in the campaigns, both parties are trying to determine the races on which to expend money and energy.
Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner said Thursday he was too busy to be interviewed, and Amodeo did not return calls to comment.
Nicholas Langworthy, the Erie County Republican Party chairman, said he had heard chatter about NYSUT pulling its ad campaign but did not have any direct knowledge about the matter. But two other sources with direct knowledge, who insisted upon anonymity, said NYSUT backed out of a 10-day campaign that was set to begin earlier this week.
“I think what we’re seeing in public polling is Sen. Grisanti is a very strong candidate, and I know NYSUT is incredibly opposed to some of the reform measures Sen. Grisanti supported,” Langworthy said, pointing to the property tax cap measure and a bill this year to make pensions more expensive for newly hired government workers.
“I think NYSUT wants to make a point in one of these state legislative races, but I’d imagine that Sen. Grisanti’s strong polling would give them some pause,’’ Langworthy said.
The broadside against Amodeo by the senior Cuomo adviser on an Albany radio station appeared to be no accident. Schwartz, whose job is akin to chief of staff to the governor, made his remarks after The Buffalo News reported earlier this week that Amodeo disagrees with portions of Cuomo’s property tax cap plan and a pension cost-control law also promoted by Cuomo.
Amodeo said he is concerned about the property tax cap mandate because it requires 60 percent of local voters to approve any override of a cap plan – instead of what he called a more “democratic’’ simple majority in ballot matters – and that it comes at a time when Albany should be providing more money to schools to help them keep taxes low.
Schwartz said on the radio that if Amodeo does not support the tax cap, then “that’s just the wrong message, and we don’t want people coming to Albany if that’s the way they think.’’
Cuomo has been especially supportive of Grisanti ever since the lawmaker broke with Republicans to join with three other GOP senators last year to back Cuomo’s gay marriage law. Senate Democrats privately say Cuomo has already all but endorsed Grisanti, especially by approving new Senate district lines this year that made Grisanti’s district much less Democratic than the district he ran to represent in the 2010 elections.
Local NYSUT leaders are trying to get rank-and-file members into the effort to help Amodeo, who was unanimously endorsed by the NYSUT’s leadership board. In an email Wednesday to local teachers union leaders, Michael Deely, regional director for NYSUT, said the Grisanti campaign has been running against Amodeo, in part, because of “NYSUT’s support for the Democrat.
“He really needs our help,’’ Deely said of Amodeo, urging area union leaders to get teachers to attend nightly phone banking operations on Amodeo’s behalf at three area locations and to Saturday morning voter canvassing missions. Deely was unavailable for comment Thursday.