February 12, 2008

Ithacan Will Likely Be a N.Y. Democratic Superdelegate

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As the battle between Senators Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) over convention delegates becomes increasingly close, party superdelegates could, for the first time in recent elections, play a deciding role in selecting the Democratic nominee for president. One of those superdelegates will likely be a local voice from Tompkins County.
Irene Stein, a Town of Ithaca resident and chair of the Tompkins Democratic Committee, will likely be designated by the state party in May as one of New York’s 45 superdelegates to the convention.
Stein, who has been a superdelegate for the past two presidential elections, said this year’s nominating contest is the most exciting and promising for Democrats.
“It certainly is a heated contest,” she said, “As soon as I finished watching the California debate [on Jan. 31] my first thought was, ‘We’re going to have a wonderful president.’”
After the close races of Super Tuesday and Obama’s sweep of this past weekend’s three caucuses and one primary, the Democratic nominating battle is nearly tied. According to New York Times estimates, Clinton has a slim margin of delegates, as she leads Obama with 1,043 compared to 921 pledged delegates.
If delegate counts remain this close through the remainder of the primary and caucus season and are still deadlocked at the convention in August, superdelegates could ultimately be a deciding factor. Under no obligation to vote for a specific candidate, regardless of how their state or district votes in the primaries, superdelegates are usually governors, senators, representatives and other important figures in the party. In New York State, all congressmen, one senator and the Governor are superdelegates, comprising 31 of N.Y.’s 45 delegates.
In a sign of just how important superdelegates may become, Stein said she has been contacted by various local and national media, asking her whom she supports. Stein is remaining uncommitted to either candidate because of her role as chair of the Tompkins County Democratic committee. She said she will talk to voters, her counterparts in other counties and members of the state party in making her decision.
Neither the Obama or Clinton campaign has contacted Stein in order to try to persuade her to vote for them, she said.
Stein, who retired a year-and-a-half ago after serving for more about a dozen years as director of the Tompkins County Office of Aging, also was a visiting lecturer at Cornell in the department of human service studies in the College of Human Ecology.
As chair of the committee, Stein said she has worked to provide information about both candidates to the public, hosting a presidential forum downtown that allowed surrogates to speak on behalf of all the candidates. She has also answered questions from individual voters about the candidates’ positions and has referred voters to both the Clinton and Obama campaigns.
Stein has declared her support for penalizing states, like Michigan and Florida, at the convention that violated national party rules in pushing up the dates of their primaries.
“I personally spoke out against the rule [about primary dates]. However, the understanding was that the delegates in those states would not be seated if they violated that rule,” she said.
While she disagreed with the national party’s policy on the dates of primaries, Stein said that any attempt to now allow rule-breaking states to have delegates at the convention, after those states already voted, could be perceived as favoritism towards one candidate, undermining party unity.
Tompkins County stood out in last week’s election as the only county in NYS which Obama was able to overcome Clinton’s home state advantage, beating the New York senator by a six point margin of 52 percent to 46 percent of the vote.
“I don’t feel a mandate [to support Obama] because I wasn’t elected by the people of Tompkins County to this position,” Stein said. “But I certainly take what they say very seriously.”