BOISE - When Idaho’s senior senator, Mike Crapo, last sought re-election, he made history by drawing no challenger on the ballot, just a write-in.
This time, Crapo has drawn a Democratic challenger well in advance of Idaho’s May 2010 primary election - but it’s a lawyer from New York who’s never been to Idaho.
“I’m a firm believer in contested elections, and I don’t think that the organization of the Democratic Party in Idaho has shown that it’s able to find even a non-credible candidate for the U.S. Senate against the incumbent,” said William Bryk, a 54-year-old bankruptcy attorney from Brooklyn who, oddly, also won the 2000 GOP primary in New Hampshire for vice president.
Jim Hansen, executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, said, “I can tell you there are others who are looking at this, seriously looking at this, exploring it, talking it over with their employers, their boards, their families, and I am confident that we will have a really good choice of candidates.”
As for Bryk’s candidacy, Hansen said, “It’s an open process. … It’s not likely that he will mount a serious campaign if he’s not from Idaho.”
Crapo’s campaign manager, Jake Ball said, “We don’t really know anything about him. But we’re prepared to run a vigorous campaign if we need to.”
According to Federal Election Commission records, Crapo’s campaign has more than $2.5 million in the bank for the 2010 race. Bryk, on the other hand, hasn’t raised a penny.
“A lot of folks see that cash-on-hand balance and think, ‘Oh, that sure is a lot of money,’” Ball said, “but I think it really speaks to who Crapo is, in that he does not take the support of Idahoans for granted. … He’s going to run, and he wants to be prepared to do so.”
Bryk, for his part, has run for offices including district attorney, state legislature, city council and Congress, but has never been elected. He ran for Congress as a Democrat in 1980; and eight years after his New Hampshire win on the GOP ticket in 2000, ran again for vice president there as a Democrat, and lost.
“One gets older, one changes one’s opinions, and then one changes them back sometimes,” he explained.
He even filed a declaration of candidacy for president in 2004 as a member of the Federalist Party, a party that hasn’t had a presidential nominee since 1816. Bryk chuckles over that one, saying a friend talked him into it; but “we did no more with it.”
Bryk is a history buff who wrote local history columns for the now-defunct New York Sun newspaper and the New York Press, an alternative weekly. “I wrote about mayors, I wrote about politicians, I wrote about thieves, fences, characters of every type, crooked lawyers, straight lawyers, you name it,” he said. He’s also written book reviews of sometimes obscure historical works; he’s married to a former theater critic for the New Yorker.
“As becomes a citizen, I have occasionally run for office,” Bryk wrote on his blog, “City of Smoke,” in May. “In my case, I was simply doing my best to sabotage and annoy the office-holding element among The Wicked Who Prosper.”
Legally, he can run for the Idaho seat - as long as he’s a resident of Idaho on the day of the November, 2010 general election. “If the Democratic Party nominates me … I assure you I will move to Idaho,” he said. However, the closest he’s been to the Gem State so far is Buffalo, N.Y.
Bryk said he favors a single-payer health care plan; closer regulation of the financial industry; bankruptcy reform; repeal of the PATRIOT Act and withdrawal from Iraq.
Crapo, a popular senator who served three terms in Congress and eight years in the Idaho Senate, including four years as Senate president pro-tem, before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1998, is a Harvard-educated lawyer and prostate cancer survivor who’s taken up such causes as fighting domestic violence, promoting cancer screenings and restoring Amtrak service to southern Idaho.
“I think I might disagree with his ideas on what’s best for the country, but I think that’s probably a sincere and honest disagreement,” Bryk said. “Based on his track record, he is probably a man who has done good service to the state - I think that I could do better, but that is truly based on our politics, and it is not based on any judgment of character.”
Bryk didn’t campaign when he won the New Hampshire GOP preference primary for vice-president; he surmises that he won because his name appeared above that of the only other candidate on the ballot, “a nice man named Russell Fornwalt.”
New Hampshire is the only state with an open primary for vice president; it’s usually been won by write-in votes for national candidates, but the year Bryk won the GOP race, the Democratic win went to Wladislav Kubiak of Kennebunkport, Me. After the 2008 primary, in which Bryk lost to another Democrat from Massachusetts and a New Hampshire state lawmaker, Jack Barnes, won the GOP nod, Barnes sponsored legislation to do away with the contest before the 2012 presidential election; it passed.
Bryk said the prospect of moving to Idaho is intriguing. “My wife is supportive of my political activities and quite frankly has often expressed the wish to move away from the city,” he said. “Certainly the cost of living here is insane, and it’s a tremendous argument in favor of going elsewhere.”