For the first time since 1977, the 1st District will not be represented in the State Senate by Kenneth LaValle, who is retiring after a legendary career. That puts a lot of pressure on his successor, and on the voters who have to choose him or her.
It is, sincerely, a difficult choice. Both candidates are attorneys, but in so many other ways they differ on key issues. Who is the one to carry on the work of Mr. LaValle?
There is no wrong answer, and settling on a candidate was this year’s biggest challenge. But, in the end, Republican Anthony Palumbo more effectively made the case that he’s suited for the role vacated by a man called “a statesman” by so many.
In truth, Democrat Laura Ahearn has a position on many issues more in line with this newspaper organization’s values — and Mr. Palumbo, notably, does not. He is conservative on many social issues, as was Mr. LaValle. On one key issue in this year’s race, bail reform, the two candidates are remarkably similar in their calls for changes to the revised policies out of Albany, but Mr. Palumbo favors a repeal of the bail reform package, to go “back to square one,” which frankly seems like a way to reverse it and walk away, calling it too difficult to fix.
But it’s notable that Mr. Palumbo, like Mr. LaValle, is analytical, he loves a good debate, and he is open to hearing counter-arguments. He has that reputation in Albany — for instance, he and Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Mr. LaValle’s longtime partner in so many pieces of local legislation, have worked across party lines on legislation many times in the past. On bail reform, and other issues, Mr. Palumbo should stay flexible and seek bipartisan answers, rather than ideological ones.
Ms. Ahearn is an advocate. As such, her reputation is one of passion, of battling hard for her charges, and her career successes are admirable. But she’s not known as an easy partner to work with. It’s also notable that she has alienated a great many South Fork Democrats after a scorched-earth primary campaign that severely targeted one local candidate, Tommy John Schiavoni, in a way that is rarely seen in an internecine battle for office. Her defense — literally, “He started it” — suggests that the whispers about her being difficult to work with might carry some weight.
Ultimately, the more local the race, the less party should matter when voters decide who to send to represent them. In replacing a social conservative who nevertheless proved a friend on so many key 1st District issues, Mr. Palumbo seems better suited to carry the torch forward.