In your backyard

Five things you need to know about local politics this election season.

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1. Staten Island could turn blue

Why you should care: Every last U.S. Congress member from New York City is a Democrat—except for the one from Staten Island (the 13th district, which includes all of the island and parts of Brooklyn). The seat had been owned by ten-year vet Vito Fossella, but after a DUI/love-child scandal back in May, he announced he would not re-up, ending a 30-year red reign on Staten Island and leaving the field open for a new blue face. So? A blue city plus a blue House (and possibly even a blue President) could mean more green for the city. (Hello, better ferry service!)

The players: In the Democrats’ corner, there’s a playoff between City Councilman Michael McMahon (auspiciously backed by just about every Dem in the city, several unions and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) and Brooklyn lawyer Steve Harrison, who lost to Fossella in 2006 but is back for Round 2. In the Republicans’ corner, the local GOP has turned to Robert Straniere—after their first pick died of a heart attack in June. Straniere is a hot-dog restaurateur who served 24 years in the State Assembly before being ousted during his 2004 reelection campaign amid allegations that he actually lived in—gasp!—Manhattan.

The prediction: Surprisingly, mixed in with all those cops and firemen, Staten Island has more registered Democrats than Republicans (116,249 to 78,606). They tend to be more conservative than in other boroughs, but given a disgraced incumbent and a tarnished GOP candidate, Democrats, running on bread-and-butter issues such as improving transportation, could finally pick up the seat—and the sweep.

2. Kevin from The Real World is running for Congress

Why you should care: On the serious side, it represents an old-timer-versus-newcomer battle among Democrats (the Hillarys versus the Baracks, in a way). On the less serious side, dude is from The Real World! This is Kevin Powell’s second time running—he dropped out of the same race in 2006 due to, depending on whom you ask, involvement in a community-activism project or unpopularity (both his controversial essays on race and his admitted past violence against women have attracted critics).

The players: In the 16 years since he clashed and then bonded with his Real World loftmates , Powell has penned books about hip-hop, race and black literature, and worked as a community activist. Now he’s challenging 13-term incumbent Edolphus Towns in Brooklyn’s 10th congressional district. “Just because you’re an incumbent doesn’t mean you’re entitled to the job,” says Powell. If Towns’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he was the superdelegate who insisted on backing Hillary Clinton despite his constituents’ preference for Obama.

The prediction: Regardless of his celebrity and endorsements from philanthropist George Soros, Gloria Steinem and Afeni Shakur (mother of Tupac), funding and name-recognition issues continue for Powell. At last count, Towns had raised almost $1 million, compared with Powell’s $47,000. But with increasing angst over economic disparity, unemployment, crime and violence, Powell has a shot. “Frustration is mounting,” he says. “People are sick and tired of going to the polls and seeing the same name. People want change.” Towns doesn’t appear stressed, though. After all, he never got all up in roommate Julie’s face on reality TV.

3. Paterson wants to cut the budget now. Your state representatives, not so much.

Why you should care: It’s the economy, stupid. The choices and capitulations your state legislators make now will affect you for years.

The players: The instigator is Gov. Paterson, who—much to the dismay of his fellow lawmakers—forced the issue of the state budget into the spotlight by asking them to come back from summer vacation early to slash the budget by 7 percent this month. The problem is that many of those men and women are running for reelection. Pissing off voters with tax hikes and school-funding cuts is not a great idea right before votes are cast in September’s primary. But Paterson has his own agenda (shaking off the “accidental governor” tag and winning reelection in 2010), and now voters are going to be watching to see what each side does.

The prediction: Despite perpetrating the Albany equivalent of “you got served,” Paterson has a tough battle ahead. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (who’s up for reelection himself, and facing two challengers in the primary) has already poured cold water on the idea that he and his cronies need to act quickly to avoid an economic crisis. “Let’s sit around for a few more weeks and analyze a little more data before we act precipitously,” he said on talk radio days after Paterson’s speech. Who’s served now?

4. Can and bottle prices might go up

Why you should care: Your Snapple is at stake. But so is the future of the world! Proponents of the Bigger Better Bottle Bill want the state to make money from water, iced tea and energy drinks. You know the 5¢ deposit you already pay on beer and soda containers? That cost would be extended to noncarbonated beverages as a way to encourage recycling. The bill also requires that unclaimed nickels (roughly $85 million–$90 million annually), which are currently kept by the beverage industry to ostensibly help cover the cost of recycling the empties, be given to the State Environmental Defense Fund to pay for other recycling efforts.

The players: The eco field is split. “People just get it in terms of the environmental benefits,” says Laura Haight, senior environmental associate for the New York Public Interest Research Group, which is promoting the bill. “It’s a win-win.” Not so, says Jon Pierce of New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform. His group—which represents grocery stores and chains, restaurants, and beverage manufacturers and distributors—counters that the bill is a “money grab” that will hurt consumers by increasing the overall price of bottles. Instead, Pierce recommends expanding municipal recycling.

The prediction: The bill passed the Assembly in June, but died in the Senate—former Majority Leader Joe Bruno opposed it. Haight hopes that under new leadership from Dean Skelos, of eco-friendly Long Island, the bill will become law. “We’re going to try to make another run on this,” she says.

5. Democrats could sweep the State Senate

Why you should care: You (a) are a die-hard Democrat waiting for total state domination, (b) hate Albany and want state government to move down here (upstate is so Canada) or (c) a Republican who needs an excuse to drink.

The players: Democrats have been whittling away at the Republicans’ majority in the State Senate over the past few election cycles, and now they stand just two seats away from taking over (well, just one if you discount Joe Bruno’s currently empty seat). The future, it could be argued, hangs on two races in Queens: the 15th district (Howard Beach, Maspeth and Middle Village), where Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. and Queens lawyer Albert Baldeo are challenging 20-year old-timer Serphin Maltese; and the 11th district (Flushing, Jamaica and Whitestone), where Councilman James Gennaro is taking on 30-year stalwart Frank Padavan.

The prediction: Should Addabbo and Gennaro win, the victories would put another Queens senator, Minority Leader Malcolm Smith, in position to become majority leader. If that happens, the legislature and the governor’s office will all be controlled by New York City politicians. Democratic New York City politicians. And with that, the pieces will finally be in place for us to declare independence. Goodbye, Empire State. Hello, United Boroughs of Awesomica.


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