No 'round-tripper' for Clausi
There were many candidates who weren't successful at the polls Tuesday, but the person who was the biggest loser wasn't even on the ballot.
Vinny Clausi lost three of four.
Not a very good batting average. If Clausi was playing in the major leagues, that .250 percentage would be considered ordinary at best. To retain star status with an average like that, a player has to knock one over the center field wall when it counts most. That didn't happen.
Let's review Clausi's at-bats this election season:
- He enthusiastically supported Tony Phillips' re-election as Northumberland County controller. Had Phillips won, that could have been considered Clausi's round-tripper. Clausi has been the dominant figure in county government for six years now; had Phillips won, it would have enhanced his political cache.
- He also backed Billy Milbrand for mayor of Shamokin. At this writing, Milbrand trails by nine votes, so a quick disclaimer is necessary. Later today, if the absentee ballot count goes his way, Milbrand may yet snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. But it's never a good thing to be behind on election night, and no doubt Milbrand's asking himself how he, once considered an overwhelming favorite, ever got in this position.
- There were no Clausi-paid political advertisements backing Leo Mirolli for coroner, and some may consider it unfair to charge the commissioner chairman with this particular "at-bat." But when Clausi's commissioner colleague Stephen Bridy said during a press conference at the county administration center that voters should defeat the incumbent county row officers ("career politicians") who sued the commissioners over the officials' recently imposed salary reduction and Clausi agreed, that agreement, for all practical purposes, counts as "choosing a side." When the majority commissioners recommend a candidate be defeated and the candidate is convincingly re-elected, well, what more can you say? At best, voters think for themselves; at worst, they resent hearing the recommendation in the first place.
- Justin Dunkelberger, whom Clausi supported, was elected prothonotary and clerk of courts. Did Clausi's support help Dunkelberger, or was that outcome preordained, no matter what? Everyone knew that race was always going to an uphill fight for Meg Bartos.
And truth be told, the same was true for Leo Mirolli in the coroner's race. No objective political observer or, for that matter, any partisan with a drop of realism in his or her bloodstream seriously expected Bartos or Mirolli to win.
True, Chris Grayson ran a great campaign for controller, so he deserves a large measure of credit for the victory. It would have been impossible to defeat Phillips with a candidate who was not up to the task. But does anyone doubt that Phillips might have pulled it off had he not been perceived as being too close to Clausi? It certainly caused him problems in his own party. Phillips' real troubles started when the commissioners exempted the controller from the draconian salary cuts and when Clausi attached so much importance to his re-election.
As far back as last spring, there were questions whether Clausi's support for Milbrand ended up hurting, rather than helping, the Democratic city councilman. Obviously, there must have been other considerations, not the least of which was Dan McGaw's surprising late-campaign surge, but in a race that close, the "Clausi factor" mattered. As far back as last spring, there were suspicions that the Clausi endorsement was a mixed blessing for Milbrand, and quite possibly, not a blessing at all.
The lesson is, politicians who strive to play the role of kingmakers better be darn sure there are enough loyal subjects to pull it off.
The coattails effect worked during the days of Henry Lark and John Mazur, but this is an era when people are cynical when it comes to being told by the powers-that-be how they should vote. State Rep. Bob Belfanti's counterproductive endorsement of George Zalar in 2010 should serve as an object lesson for people in high places who think their opinions on how an election should turn out will hold sway with voters. Clausi must not have been paying attention.
Elections, they say, have consequences, and it will be interesting to see how the 2014 county row battles affect the 2015 campaign for county commissioner which, for all intents and purposes, has already begun. The 2013 results, which are bound to be interpreted, at least in part, as a repudiation of Clausi and Bridy, are bound to embolden their critics.
(Betz is an assistant editor of The News-Item.)