By Mark David Blum, Esq.
Last night I got a rare treat by being an invited guest to the Oswego County Republican Party judicial candidate selection meeting. It was a rushed meeting because the Governor recently created a new Family Court judgeship in Oswego County and everybody is scrambling for a slice of that taxpayer pie and power.
Now, me being at a Republican anything is on its’ face a scary thing. It is the same feeling I get being a Jew and walking into a church. I always expect windows to blow out, statues to bleed, and a lightning bolt to come down and strike me dead. As I crossed the rubicon and entered the dark cave of republicanism, I had visions of immigrant babies being sacrificed and their blood drained and drank as part of incantation. My mind was racing at what I feared could be the sudden announcement that WMD had been found in Fulton and an invasion was imminent. I expected a full patdown, strip search, cavity search, background check, and brief questionnaire about field stripping an M203 blindfolded in an haboob.
Fortunately, none of that happened (except for the cavity search which was kinda fun). What I got was much better. I was witness to bare knuckle politics at its most basic level. If you know me or have followed my thoughts and opinions, then you are probably familiar with my love for my republican brothers and sisters. The fact that I was an invited guest of a self proclaimed tea partier made the irony all the more sweet. As they say, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
So, I walked in the door and did as instructed; I found a dark innocuous corner to sit in and just watch. I was warned that they would use any excuse they could to throw me out. My telephone was turned to silent and yes, if you can imagine, I actually kept my mouth shut throughout. I cannot count the number of times Bacchus and others glared at me and were whispering and pointing at me. Backatcha, boyz.
Two fascinating things about republicans I noticed upon arrival at the Eis House. The first is that without exception, they are all lilly white. Not even a sun tan among them. With my tan, I was the house $#%^&*er. Not a minorority to be found. The second thing I noticed was that the average age was somewhere between 95 and 100. It was immediately obvious that there is no reason for democrats to campaign against republicans. Just wait ten years and they along with their reactionary ideologies will all be dead.
Now I understand why that party is always rushing to pass more laws, make the world more protective, get rid of any body or behavior that is even slightly out of the norm, and imprison anybody and everybody for any annoying habit. Fear, panic, and insecurity are the hallmarks of feeble old age. It may explain much of what has happened to the nation in the past 35 years since the Reagan revolution. Look at what is being protected and what is under attack.
Anyway, my good friend, Fulton attorney Salvatore Lanza and I were talking one day after the governor had announced the creation of a new family court judgeship and I learned how much Sal would love a chance at that job. We were talking about all the horrors we have seen in our combined more than 50 years of experiences on the front lines in family court. He was wishing aloud how much he wanted to make the world a better place for all litigants; to protect them from the various hells that we both have seen the system create. Bad parents, out of control children, systemic failures and shortcomings, and outside threats are bad enough but when the courts themselves also fail, the damage can be exponentially worse. Mr. Lanza and I can bear witness to this and how we have seen families destroyed. One such case in which Sal and I are involved ended in a suicide.
So as Sal is telling me how much he understands the problem and how he would really try to make a change for the better, I said, “run, Forest, run!”
He told me couldn’t. When I asked why not, I heard the whole sordid tale of how the Oswego County Republican party has one policy: Either you are in or you are out. Over the years and because he is not being the type to cowtow to the control of party hacks, Mr. Lanza ended up falling into disfavor with the party machine. So much so that the party has openly worked against him despite him being a loyal and true member thereof.
The fundamental unfairness of the whole situation really irked me. It is a national epidemic that like a virus, has attacked the very core of our nation.
Political parties no longer operate for the best interests of their constituents. Instead, they have morph’d into machines that function only to protect and serve those who are inside the machine through patronage, family, quid pro quo, or connections – not merit. Anybody not so connected is summarily dismissed and the machine organizes itself against the auschlander. Mr. Lanza has been a constant target of just such party smears.
Well I don’t stand by and let my friends fight alone. Already disgusted with the whole idea of “my party, right or wrong” thing, I decided it was time for me to take a stand. Change the world one piece at a time, one mind at a time. No, I am not a republican and as a general rule, I have very little interest in much of what they offer. But dammit, every person who wants to serve the nation should have the chance. The decision whether they are the best person for the job should always be made by the People. Party bosses should not be making these decisions. When my friend is implicated, a line was drawn in the sand. Either we talk the talk or we walk the walk. So, I drew the line in the sand and set out to see if I could effect change.
So here is the play: Prior to Wednesday night’s meeting, the County Party chairperson, Mike Bacchus had hand picked who was going to be party nominee. That person is Oswego Family Court Attorney James Eby. So sure was Bacchus that he had enough votes to secure his candidate, that he had the chutzpah to call other candidates and tell them to back off. He continued to badger candidates to quit for Eby’s sake even as votes were being counted at the meeting.
I have my suspicions but for the life of me, I will not understand this blind support by Bacchus. Mr. Eby, a well respected attorney, is I believe 65 years old. The job for which he is running is a ten year term with a MANDATORY retirement age of 70. So why would he and the party machine push so hard for him to get a job he cannot even finish? Why should the taxpayers fund TWO special elections? That issue, along with his work as family court attorney which will shut him down in conflict on many family court cases, leaves a candidate with not much value. I would hope Oswego could find themselves a full time judge instead of the county and family court judges who come and go on a part time basis because of conflicts and politics. Stability is important for a community. It doesn’t make sense for reasonable people to be pushing so hard when their candidate is clearly crippled from performing the job for which he is applying.
The assumption was that if the meeting voted by weighted vote, 51% in favor of any one of the four declared (there were 5, but one dropped) candidates, then the party would endorse that person as their official candidate and all others are shut out. The ones shut out could primary, but they could get no support from the party and would have to do it on their own. I believe Mr. Lanza already tried that unsuccessfully in previous elections
My goal was to give my friend a chance to be heard by the People. That was going to happen in one of two ways. The first and most obvious was to get him 51% of the weighted vote. That was not going to happen because of “party politics” or what horse people call, “barn drama”. The second option was to make sure nobody got 51% thus creating what is called an open primary where anybody can run in a republican primary and any republican can help and support any republican candidate. To me, the latter is the best option because it puts the decision making in the hands of the People.
So there I was, sitting in the corner, watching the barn drama swirling all around me, when in a moment of true boredom, I saw the ByLaws of the County Committee laying on the table. To me, it looked like good whacking material, “lawyer porn” as I call it, so I picked it up and began perusing.
Any attorney who has ever handled a matter involving an organization and whether it is following proper procedure, knows when looking at one, when a constitution or bylaws have a BIG GAPING hole in how to proceed in certain situations – and it is usually the situation in front of them. I have been involved in cases with organizations that had unclear laws and rules which resulted in huge barn dramas, removals of entire Boards and seated officers, and new and improved constitutions and bylaws. As I read the Oswego County Republican Party’s bylaws, I noticed something. I saw that it has specific rules and procedures as to who can vote and what weight is given to votes in elections for Town offices, City Wards, and Legislative seats. There was not a single rule or procedure as to how to select judicial nominees. (There is a rule in law that says when a law is written with a specific list, anything not on the list was specifically intended to be so). So all the stories I had heard about weighted balloting and how Sal was going to be creamed because Bacchus claimed to already have 45% of the vote in his back pocket for Eby before the meeting even started – suddenly began to leak. Houston, we have a problem.
I pointed this out to someone who matters and who had access to the floor. I urged them to show the other five lawyers in the room. When he made a motion to be heard on the issue and the motion was seconded, the county chairperson Bacchus shut down the speaker. Bacchus simply refused to allow the motion to be heard, let alone discussed or voted upon –despite rules which so require. So after Bacchus shut him down and ignored the motion, it was made clear we were going to be in court tomorrow morning.
Even though the majority of votes had already been cast by proxy, still the candidates were given five minutes to state their case to those present. Like oral argument at motion term, I doubt a single mind was changed. It was however, a learning session. I got to see the true face of hypocrisy – and it was everywhere. For example, James Eby pointed out how he had been working in the courts and the county attorney’s office for about 25 years. Then he went on to talk about all these amazing wonderful terrific fantastic programs he wants to implement if elected “to save the children”. Of course, he provided no specifics. I wanted to do my Sam Kinnison impression and say, “but you have been in government office for TWENTY FIVE FREAKIN YEARS – WHY HAVENT YOU DONE SOMETHING ALREADY?!?!?!?!? OH OH OH OHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!” He also said something quite funny – citing the love the Dept of Probation has for him considering that a couple hours beforehand I had been with several probation officers who had a very different impression of him.
Thom Benedetto, also a dear friend and law school classmate of mine made the best and most inspiring presentation of the night. Like the Grinch, my heart grew ten sizes for him after hearing him speak. But, he too lacks any experience dealing with families and children as a litigant. He has been an assistant DA, a law clerk, and a politically appointed court referee. I don’t think he has ever represented a mother, a father, or a child in a family court case. I don’t think he has ever had to stand up for someone other than the State of New York. He is a kind gentle and good man and my opinion of him is very high. I am glad I don’t vote in Oswego County.
That left Ed Iszyk and Sal Lanza. Each made their case. It was pointed out well that only these two candidates have any real experience down in the mud working with children, working with parents, and know how to negotiate the mine field created by the permanent civil service class. If I had to vote, based on what I know now, any reasonable person would select from this second group than the first. You want a judge who has walked not one mile, but hundreds of miles in the shoes of others.
Well, it was long, it was loud, and it got ugly. The sheriff stood up at one point as if he was going to come over and “do something” to someone sitting at my table. It would not have been a one on one or a fair fight. Republicans apparently play dirty and fight dirty. They arent alone.
What do people who play the ponies say; ‘when the odds are split between the two front runners, bet on the longshot.’ Let’s say that everybody was assuming an insurrection against Eby in favor of Lanza. People do not like the party machine telling them what to do. Talk to any Oswego resident not dependant on the County for their employement, and you will hear unpleasant thoughts about Oswego party politics. When shown that Eby is not a viable candidate but members of the committee are terrified of the harm that can be done to them because the party leadership also controls county government and their employment, they had to be given an option other than someone who has fought the Bacchus regime with such open hostility. Just show people the light and they will see.
So yes, there was an insurrection. No candidate got 51%. It was done by giving people an option to not have to back Mr. Lanza who is wildly unpopular with the machine politicians but popular among the People. It allowed people to block the Eby 51% vote and still get that open primary. It worked. Teamwork! Booyah.
So now the People of the County of Oswego, and not the republican party, get to select their next Family Court judge. Only because no women stepped up, I say “may the best man win.” Good luck.