Had he been re-elected, Dan Maffei’s pristine image would have set him apart among upstate representatives
A lot of people around town have been dissecting what many perceive as the lackluster campaign run by Dan Maffei, who lost his congressional seat to Ann Marie Buerkle in last November’s voting for the right to represent the 25th District in Washington. Recent developments serve to remind us how much we have to thank the one-term congressman now working at a Washington think tank, and offer us clues as to how he might have found a campaign message that could have tipped the balance in his favor.
In a race decided by 538 votes, all you have to do is change 269½ minds to reverse the outcome. Maffei might well have run a race contrasting himself with his colleagues in New York state’s congressional delegation, particularly the male members of said group, three of whom have left the hallowed halls of Congress in a cloud of stink over the past few years.
The recent sudden resignation of Buffalo-area Rep. Christopher Lee, the shirtless wonder whose career tanked last week after his bare-chested photo appeared in a Craigslist ad, follows the resignation last year of fellow upstate Rep. Eric Massa of Corning, a Democrat who thought it was cute to tickle his staff members until they couldn’t breathe. Then there’s the 2008 crash-and-burn end to the career of Republican pretty boy Vito Fossella, the Staten Island lothario who was on his way to his girlfriend’s house when a Virginia highway patrolman stopped him for drunk driving.
Fossella, who once was considered a contender for mayor of New York, put even those shameless upstate guys to shame. Turns out that the girlfriend he was planning to visit was a retired Air Force officer who had already borne him a child, an inconvenient truth which did not go over well with his wife back on the island, nor with the largely Catholic constituency that had put him in office. Fossella served out his term and did not run for re-election in 2008.
A Republican like Fossella, Lee had the good sense to end his political career as soon as the woman he pursued on Craigslist blew him in to a gossip blog, but not before that self-conscious picture of him flexing a mediocre bicep and decent abs went viral and gave him his 15 minutes of seedy fame. Lee now has to go home and explain to his wife what he was doing trolling the nasty side of Craigslist and how the couple and their little child are going to get by without that hunky health care plan he received as part of his congressional benefits package.
With this cast of Jersey Shore wannabes as backdrop, the famously nerdy and clean-living Maffei could have mopped up, if he had only honed his message more carefully. Instead of talking about how he thought we should be getting out of Afghanistan, if Maffei had simply told us, “I pledge to the people of the 25th District that I only use my Craigslist account to seek rare collectible Star Trek memorabilia,” we would have believed him, and respected him. And he might have won.
If he had told us that the only time he didn’t come home at night was because he fell asleep at his desk reading the tax code, we would nod and say, “of course.” That’s our Dan. Let’s keep him around a few more years.
Maffei could have come forward and said that while he did believe that it was the government’s role to ensure that every American could afford health insurance, it was decidedly not in the purview of Congress to tickle their staff until they couldn’t breathe. In such company, he would have looked like a winner.
Maffei was known as such a straight man that Stephen Colbert had to invent an evil twin for him and write his lines in order to get the first-term rep to even joke about cocaine use and enjoying the company of prostitutes. And even at that, Maffei failed miserably in his attempt to shotgun a beer with the comedy show host on national TV.
You could just see heads shaking all over Tipp Hill that night: His flubbed shotgun attempt may actually have been what cost him the election. Unless maybe it was the recession. Still, better to have represented us and lost than to have gone down in disgrace, like far too many of the men who’ve been representing the state of New York lately.
It’s up to Ms. Buerkle now to raise the bar.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times. You can contact him at email@example.com.