Voters cut pols slack for early departures
Voters mostly presume that the candidates they choose for public office will stay put for their full terms. You'd never hear a campaign slogan that goes, "I'll serve until something irresistible comes up."
This week Democrat Mark Lesko announced -- 7 1/2 months into a two-year term -- his resignation as Brookhaven supervisor to lead the private Accelerate Long Island organization. A GOP leader's description of this as "the ultimate act of cowardice" rings more than a bit melodramatic, though the question arises whether Lesko damages his long-term political prospects.
"I'm not really thinking about politics in the long run," Lesko replied Thursday. "This is about the region and creating jobs."
Further, Lesko noted that elected officials often leave for private opportunities or to join the staffs of governors or presidents or seek other public offices.
Whatever the partisan fallout of Lesko's early departure, voters do seem magnanimous about holding candidates harmless for their career moves. At least that's the case when popular office-seekers try to move up in public life.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, while seeking a second U.S. Senate term, said rather unconvincingly when asked in October 2006: "I am not looking past this election." Less than three months later, after an easy re-election, she announced her bid for president. She lost the primaries to Barack Obama -- but not for lack of support in New York.
Now, as Clinton's Democratic Senate successor, Kirsten Gillibrand, seeks a six-year term of her own, backers of the Republican challenger, Wendy Long, are posing the "commitment" question, with some speculating on the quite-unlikely prospect of a Gillibrand presidential candidacy.
Michael Long, executive director of the state Conservative Party (no relation to Wendy Long), issued a statement this week saying Gillibrand "needs to come clean. . . . Is she running for U.S. Senate or president?" and claiming Gillibrand has an ambitious agenda "to create a national network of supporters to promote a 2016 bid."
Publicly, Gillibrand has limited her future-presidential statements to urging Clinton to run in four years -- and draws attention to her efforts to raise money for Democratic women elsewhere in the country seeking to oust GOP House incumbents.
Getting mentioned for president, however casually, won't usually hurt anyone -- even with chairman Long likening Gillibrand to the fictional "Tracy Flick," a ruthless and overwrought candidate for high-school president portrayed by Reese Witherspoon in the 1999 film "Election."
Asked about a "full term" commitment in 2009, a spokesman for Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice's re-election campaign said, "There isn't a single person in any profession that can make that promise honestly, because things happen, and life and landscapes change." The next year she ran unsuccessfully in a primary for state attorney general, but seems no worse for wear.
Sometimes the question of voter forgiveness has a different twist..
In his 1992 re-election bid, Sen. Alfonse D'Amato said "three terms was more than enough" for senators and "this will be the last time I run for public office." He won that year -- and later sought another term. But few would attribute his 1998 defeat to Democrat Charles Schumer to breaking a self-imposed term-limit pledge.
Generally, the rules on comings and goings are pretty loose in public life.