October 30, 2006
Nixing the negativity
Attack ads from both parties turn off voters
Photo illustration by Joe McIntyre and Bob Ellis/staff photographers
HOMER — Lunch hour Tuesday afternoon at Kory’s Diner on Route 281 in Homer was going along peacefully — coworkers joked with one another, retirees sipped coffee and shared dessert, husbands and wives chuckled over a hot lunch.
Then the recent onslaught of negative political advertisements flooding the airwaves was mentioned, and the peacefulness quickly dissolved, replaced by frustration and aggravation.
“They’re driving me crazy, I’m so sick of them,” said Wendy Bergman, who was having lunch with her aunt, Ida Rosen.
“I think they’re all nuts,” Rosen said.
“It’s just plain disgusting, you try to watch a good program, and this is what you get,” said Ed Roberts, who was eating with his wife, Dorothy. “And it’s confusing, too — you want to be able to tell who’s the best guy, but you just can’t anymore.”
Many of those eating at Kory’s were angry that the number of negative advertisements seems to have increased this election year, but the increase was inevitable, said Bob Spitzer, distinguished service professor of political science at SUNY Cortland.
“You’re often going to find negative ads in a close race — and we’ve got a very close one going on here — where both candidates are jockeying for any advantage they can get,” Spitzer said, referring to the congressional race between state Sen. Ray Meier (R-Western) and Oneida County District Attorney Mike Arcuri, the Democratic candidate.
“The idea is to drive the negatives of the opponent up so that even if people aren’t driven to vote for you, they might just vote against your opponent — it’s an old tactic, a familiar one, so its certainly not a surprise.”
The Republican National Congressional Committee and its counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, are producing the majority of attack ads on television and acerbic fliers being circulated by mail.
The two national committees are not allowed to coordinate with the candidates, but can spend freely and produce their own ads.
To date, the RNCC has poured about $1.7 million into the Arcuri-Meier race while the DCCC has spent $1.1 million, with the majority of the money on both sides going toward attacking the opposition.
RNCC spokesman Ed Patru said he stood behind every ad his committee had put on the air.
“Every claim we made in the ad was true and factual, supported by records,” Patru said of a particular ad claiming Arcuri used taxpayer dollars to dial a phone-sex line, an ad that several television stations refused to air.
Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the DCCC, also said she stood behind questionable ads being run by her committee attacking Meier’s spending records as a senator, but she drew a line between the DCCC’s tactics and the RNCC.
“I think there’s a clear difference between laying out Ray Meier’s record in Albany and the type of character assassinations the Republicans are dealing in,” Psaki said.
The Arcuri and Meier campaigns tried to separate themselves from the ads being run by their national committees, and both said the negative information being circulated was a distraction from the campaign.
“I think its disturbing and disappointing that false information is being dispersed by TV commercials and by the mailings,” Meier spokeswoman Nicole Austin said, referring to DCCC fliers that she said have seriously distorted Meier’s record on fiscal responsibility. “Its unfortunate the media as well as the national parties are focusing on negative things, instead of the issues at hand.”
Arcuri spokeswoman Hayley Rumback said her candidate was getting frustrated with both national committees.
“His intention is to try to amend McCain-Feingold right from the start,” Rumback said of the legislation — formally known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 — that set up the rules for financing of political campaigns. “If you’re a candidate and you are so outraged by an ad being run by your party’s committee, you should be able to have some kind of veto power to make sure that ad doesn’t enter the campaign.”
Both Rumback and Austin said their respective campaigns have tried to produce fact-based advertisements, but for many of the locals at Kory’s Diner, the flood of information (or misinformation) being distributed has clearly muddied the waters.
“You see these negative ones and you don’t know anymore where the accuracy line is,” said Tully resident Diana Burchhardt.
Burchhardt’s husband, Bob, said finding true information was becoming increasingly difficult.
“None of this stuff is giving us the information we need to make an informed decision, so I guess were being manipulated any way you look at it,” Bob Burchhardt said.
Dorothy Roberts said she had been leaning toward Arcuri in the congressional race, but that she had recently heard some dirt on the Democratic candidate that had made her question that.
“I’m not even sure what it was I heard exactly, but it seems like I’m hearing more of this stuff than ever and it just gets harder and harder to make a choice,” Roberts said. “The bottom line is, we’ll be glad when the elections are over.”
Negative ads in the 24th District congressional race may have hit a low point Oct. 20 as the Republican National Congressional Committee ran an ad that claimed Democrat Mike Arcuri was using taxpayer dollars to call a phone sex line.
Both Arcuri and opponent Ray Meier denounced the ad, Meier requested that the RNCC remove it, and a number of television stations refused to air it.
The ad no longer is being aired.
Since the ad was released, the Arcuri campaign has discredited it with the following facts:
l The call in question, which was made from a hotel room in New York City where Arcuri was meeting with his staff, lasted just a few seconds.
l Within one minute after the original call was made to 1 (800) 457-8462, a call was placed to a nearly identical number — (518) 457-8462 — the number for the state Department of Criminal Justice Services in Albany. “Basically, somebody picked up the phone to dial the Criminal Justice Service and they thought it was a 1-800 number,” said spokeswoman Haylee Rumback.
l The 1-800 number has changed hands at least once since 2004, when the call was made, meaning it is not even clear if the number was a phone sex line at the time.
While both candidates decried this particular ad — it was ultimately removed — a number of other attack ads have been circulating for weeks, and the Cortland Standard gave each side the chance to identify one ad that was particularly misleading and set the record straight.
The Ad: ‘Ray Meier spends like a drunken sailor’
Meier spokeswoman Nicole Austin said there were too many distortions to name, but noted that mailings from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had been particularly frustrating to Meier’s campaign.
One particular mailing, which Meier mocked in a lighthearted commercial in which he bemoaned his love of doughnuts, features a doctored photo of Meier, and says that he spends like a drunken sailor.
The flier refers to a Syracuse Post-Standard article as evidence that Meier’s senate office has been one of the most expensive to run for taxpayers.
The Post-Standard denounced the mailing, Austin pointed out, saying that according to its reports, Meier actually ran one of the least expensive offices in Central New York.
“The newspaper basically said that characterizations about Sen. Meier and statements about his record were in fact false,” Austin said. “I hope that folks would listen to what Sen. Meier has to say about his record rather than this false information.”
The Ad: ‘Michael Arcuriis soft on rapists’
Rumback said one advertisement that has particularly bothered Arcuri’s campaign has been an NRCC ad claiming that, as district attorney in 1995, Arcuri allowed an alleged rapist to go free.
“It’s just a complete distortion of the facts,” Rumback said. “In reality, that individual ended up serving time in state prison.”
According to Rumback, the case involved a man in his 30s accused of statutory rape for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
The case against the man was complicated because the 13-year-old refused to testify against him, and another witness in the case was unavailable, Rumback said, meaning the man was not indicted within 45 days and temporarily was released from jail.
“The time expired in the window they had to get the girls to court for an indictment,” Rumback said. “But within two weeks Arcuri’s office obtained a warrant and got the girls to testify, the trial went forward and the suspect went to state prison.”
— Corey Preston, staff reporter
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Halloween festivities are kept low-key at some schools
Some school districts in the region are celebrating Halloween with traditional parades and costumes, but others are celebrating with as little fanfare as possible.
DeRuyter, Cincinnatus, McGraw, Groton and Homer elementary schools are having parades.
“We have a harvest day parade,” said Cincinnatus Elementary School Principal Renee Carpenter. “Kids dress up in costumes just for the parade. We require the costumes to have positive themes.”
DeRuyter Elementary School Principal Janice Ahlsen said the school’s parade is a time-honored tradition.
“It is a wonderful parade,” Ahlsen said. “The entire school will be participating.”
Homer Elementary School Principal Ruth King said students at the kindergarten level would have a traditional parade.
King said the children walk through the elementary and high school buildings, the village and they visit the Elizabeth Brewster House, which is a retirement residence. King said second-graders would have a fall harvest party. She said two to three years ago harvest parties were implemented to keep them in a more academic setting. She said parties do not take as long as the parade.
Dryden Elementary School Principal Sandy Sherwood said kindergarten to second grade have a parade in the bus circle at 9:30 a.m. She said the parade usually lasts half an hour, weather permitting.
“We march around in the bus circle and then we try to have a normal day,” Sherwood said. “At the end of the day, we have parties.”
Her third through fifth grade students do things by grades. She said third-graders usually have a Halloween safety celebration. She said this year they are dressing as their favorite characters from history and they have to guess each other’s character.
In the Cortland school district, Halloween celebrations have been replaced with harvest parties for the elementary schools. Virgil Elementary School Principal Lynn New said harvest parties were implemented 10 years ago.
“A number of people objected to celebrating Halloween,” said New. “It just got kind of crazy. The costumes were so violent. It was sending the wrong message.” New said parents were coming in to put on elaborate makeup for children.
“They were coming dressed up scarier and scarier,” New said.
Cortland Junior-Senior Executive Principal Steven Woodard said Halloween is a regular day at his school.
“We don’t do anything officially,” said Woodard. “We don’t encourage it or discourage it. It’s not anything we have ever done.”
He said students are free to dress up as long as their costumes are not distracting, but they are not allowed to wear masks or inappropriate clothing.
At Groton Middle School, six-graders built multicultural scarecrows on Monday and Tuesday.
Italy, Germany, Japan and South Africa were just some of the countries that were represented by the scarecrows designed by the students.
Connie Brown, a six-grade teacher, said the project incorporated four subjects: math, English, social studies and art. Brown said the project gave students an “appreciation for other cultures and an appreciation for each other’s talents.”
A scarecrow adorned with a colorful poncho and straw sombrero was balanced precariously on his stuffed feet. He was wearing white pants and red chili peppers were pinned to his poncho.
“We had fun putting it together,” said Kaitlynn Griffin, 11.
A Japanese warrior stood in the corner of Linda Christopher’s classroom.
Alex Horn, 12, thought what he learned about Japanese culture was interesting.
“It’s fun,” Alex said. “The warriors are interesting. A lot of our stuff was made in Japan and China.”
Christopher, a sixth-grade teacher said the project was fairly successful.
“It was a lot of work putting it together,” Christopher said. “It was a worthwhile project.”
Homer Central High School Principal Fred Farah said children are encouraged to come to school in their costumes.
“No masks are to be worn,” Farah said. “We want to see their charming faces. No exposed midriffs, no short skirts. There shouldn’t be anything inappropriate.
“I am aware that some folks ask whether or not Halloween should be a kids thing, but we haven’t had that problem here,” Farah said, adding, Halloween is “innocent.”
At Saint Mary’s Catholic school in Cortland, Halloween celebrations are not part of its tradition.
“(The kids) may have doughnuts and cider in the afternoon,” said Sister Harriet Hamilton, principal of the school. “We observe All Saints Day.”
All Saints Day is on Nov. 1. Hamilton said it is a day celebrated by the Catholic Church.
“It is an acknowledgement of all the saints who went before us,” Hamilton said. She also said the school does not do anything to celebrate Halloween because the Youth Bureau provides opportunities for the children to participate in activities.
At Dryden Middle School, Halloween has never been made a big deal, its principal said.
“We tend to play that holiday down,” said Dryden Middle School Principal Ted Walsh.
He said individual teachers may dress up or have things in their classrooms, but there are no special celebrations as a school.
He also said students could dress up, as long as they do not violate the dress code.
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