Up for grabs
Before supporters arrived at the Syracuse Republican election headquarters at the Holiday Inn in Liverpool Tuesday, organizers placed blue stars and American flags on empty tables, beginning a tumultuous night of both frustration and high hopes for the future.
Almost 4,000 votes ahead, incumbent Congressman Jim Walsh (R) of the 25th District declared a conditional victory against Democratic challenger Dan Maffei. This was Walsh’s first close race in at least 10 years.
‘I am obviously ahead, but we’re not prepared to declare victory,’ Walsh said, standing at a podium under a red, white and blue balloon arch. ‘There will probably be a recount. I’ll tell you what, I probably feel better than the other guy right now.’
At press time, major media outlets including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC projected Walsh as the winner.
Walsh, a nine-term congressman, has been a pivotal member of the House of Representatives, contributing to the Syracuse area and Central New York as a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
‘Being on the Appropriations Committee gives (Walsh) something that other congressmen don’t have,’ said Daniel Hetzel, executive director of the Syracuse University College Republicans and a senior aerospace engineering major. ‘He’s able to do things that other congressmen can’t do. He’s a steward of the city.’
As a result of the current climate in the United States, many Republicans are trying to distance themselves from President George W. Bush’s administration for fear of loss of constituent support.
‘There’s divisions in the county, and it’s about the war,’ Walsh said. ‘It’s about the president, and I suspect it’s about me too. My opponent ran a very vigorous campaign, but it wasn’t about me or him. I think it was about the mood of the country, and the mood of the district.’
Walsh, with his moderate leanings and local appeal, has been a favorite of the public and fellow politicians alike for years.
‘There were a lot of incumbents defeated tonight, and people are sending a message and we have to hear them,’ he said after his conditional victory speech. ‘We have to listen to them. I’ve always been in the center of the political spectrum, and people in the center have to reach across the aisle.’
Walsh’s father, Bill Walsh, was a former mayor of Syracuse, as well as a congressman. The Walsh name holds great respect for many Republicans in the area, supporters said.
‘His family name goes back years,’ said one Walsh supporter from Fabius. ‘They’re solid, down-to-earth people.’
Though he has worked for other politicians, 38-year-old Maffei has no experience holding office, according to Walsh’s supporters. He represents a new change for the area, one which some Republicans say is not for the better. He would not only be a new voice for Central New York, but a new voice for the House, they said.
Maffei would enter the House without clout, whereas Walsh ranked 90th in seniority out of the 435 members, Republican supporters said.
‘It takes six or eight sessions before you really get up to top management,’ said Kevin Walsh, who is of no relation to Jim Walsh and was re-elected as Sheriff of Onondaga County Tuesday.
‘(Walsh) is considered one of the cardinals of Congress,’ he added.
Before initial polling numbers came in, the confident supporters stood in close-knit groups discussing hopes and predictions for the evening.
‘(Walsh) being a Republican congressman at the center of the state is very important,’ said Richard Hevier of Westhill High School, who worked for Walsh’s 2006 campaign. ‘Strong Republican support is key.’
Alcoholic beverages were passed casually until 9:20 p.m. – the time at which the initial voting reports were projected on the screen that dominated one corner of the Holiday Inn conference hall the supporters occupied.
With Maffei in the lead – 51 percent to 49 percent – previously calm members of the growing crowd, including Pompey resident and Republican Committee member Gayle Moreland, suddenly became filled with anxiety.
‘It’s making me very nervous, because we lose a lot up here,’ Moreland said. ‘Just the way things are going, I’m nervous.’ She had abandoned her casual conversation from the moment before and fixed her eyes on the projection screen.
At 10:03 p.m., loud cheers and the sound of the approximately 250 supporters clapping filled the room. Walsh had taken the lead by less than 1 percent, with 54.65 percent of the votes counted.
‘I’m very happy,’ said an overwhelmed Glenn Krisak, a Camillus construction worker. ‘Since 6 a.m., I’ve been out of my mind.’
The zealous mood was short-lived. At 10:24 p.m., reports showed Maffei once again in the lead with Maffei holding 50.1 percent and Walsh with 49.8 percent, with 81.75 percent of the votes reported.
‘It’s surprisingly close,’ said John Shedhadi, financial advisor and Clay resident. ‘Walsh is the greatest congressman. It’s a shame.’
As Maffei stayed in the majority – with 50.3 percent versus Walsh’s 49.6 percent at 10:32 p.m. and 90.4 percent of the votes accounted for – Republican supporters, such as retired Cicero resident Thomas Edick, began lamenting.
‘I think there’s a lot of port that we’re going to miss,’ he said. ‘I think people got very complacent. I don’t think they realize the importance (of voting).’
Thirty-one minutes later, supporters still in attendance were rewarded with the announcement that with only 1 percent of votes left to count, Walsh was ahead with 51 percent of the votes.
Panicked throughout the night, Walsh’s wife, DeDe Walsh, said she was relieved to see the night’s final numbers.
‘It’s a difficult time for the country and our community and I think Jim’s done a great job,’ DeDe Walsh said about the close race. ‘People are worried and I think this was their chance to say something.’
At press time, media outlets projected that the Democrats gained more than 25 seats in the House and four in the senate, with some races too close to call.
The race for state assembly in the 121st district between Republican Bill Meyer and Democrat Albert A. Stirpe Jr. will be recounted.
Other Republican wins included Martha Mulroy for Onondaga County family court judge, John DeFrancisco for state senate in the 50th district and Will Barclay for state assembly in the 124th district.
After a recount and absentee ballots are tabulated for the Walsh and Maffei race, a winner will be declared, but Walsh seemed confident.
‘There’s probably going to be a recount, and we welcome that,’ Walsh said. ‘I think we’ll hold up.’
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