Democratic Candidate Dan Buttermann
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – It started when Denny Colgan was running for school board in Prescott, Ariz.
He and Dan Buttermann’s dad, Kent, played in the Prescott Kiwanis Jug Band together, and the father agreed to be his friend’s campaign manager.
Young Dan “saw how hard they were working,” and was captivated by the energetic strategy sessions at the Buttermann home. Even then, he knew, “I wanted to get involved.”
Buttermann, now 36, was born in Mesa, Ariz., and raised with twin brother Matt and their older brother Charles in Prescott, where dad Kent and mom Denise Jenike founded Armadilla Wax Works Factory Store in 1971.
It’s still operating today. During an interview Friday, Oct. 9, in the front room of his Ford Avenue home, where the Buttermann family moved in 2015, there was a lit Armadilla candle on the coffee table.
Studying music and clarinet performance at the University of Arizona, Tucson, he sidled up to flutist Ana Laura Gonzalez, an Argentinian who was working on her Ph.D. “I loved her smile,” said her still-smitten husband. “I don’t think she had noticed me before.”
Dan went on to an MBA at Southern Methodist University, and when Ana was appointed artist of flute in residence at Hartwick College in 2011, the couple, now married, moved to the Town of Oneonta with baby daughter Malena.
Malena, now 11, has been joined by two sisters, Layla, 8, and Nadia, 6, both born locally. At first, Dan worked for Geico, based on Long Island.
“Once we knew we intended to put down roots,” Nancy Tarr of Cooperstown, now a colleague
in SUNY Oneonta’s Music Department with Ana Laura (who is an adjunct there, in addition to her Hartwick post), helped find him a connection at NYCM Insurance in Edmeston.
For a decade, he’s been an assistant casualty manager there, investigating claims in bodily injury cases.
His urge to “get involved” was manifested first in music, although community service and politics soon followed.
He and Ana Laura were soon performing with the Catskill Valley Wind Ensemble and the Oneonta Community Concert Band. In 2015, when Robin Seletsky – the finest local clarinetist, Dan says – took a leave from the Faculty Woodwind Quintet, he stepped in, joining his flutist wife.
“I love performing. I love playing with different people. It’s a way of communicating – of teamwork,” said the candidate; today you’ll see Dan and Ana on stage when the Catskill Symphony Orchestra performs.
Soon, he had also approached the county Democratic chair-man, Richard Abbate of Cooperstown, seeking to pursue his boyhood dream of politics: “I want to get involved at some level; I wasn’t sure how.”
And he found himself in Julian Schreibman’s campaign office in downtown Oneonta, calling voters on behalf of the Congressional candidate.
Buttermann was soon being championed by Rich Murphy, who, fighting cancer, planned to retire from the county Board of Representatives at the end of 2013. With Murphy’s backing, newcomer Buttermann lost a close race to Janet Hurley Quackenbush, a Republican who served one term.
Undeterred, Buttermann was elected to the Oneonta City school board the following May, arriving in time to struggle with the state’s Gap Elimination Adjustment. (Since 2009, Albany had been cutting state aid to schools to close the state budget gap.)
“You see there are inequalities among schools,” he said. “It was completely unfair that schools could offer more because of their size.”
At the same time, he was serving on the Town of Oneonta Planning Board, and found SEQRA, in particular, unfair, as it required developers to pay for traffic studies and develop water mitigation plans at their own expense, even though others developers would benefit from the findings.
The state should do the studies, for the benefit of all, he said.
He also joined the Opportunities for Otsego board, where “it bothered me that some families were denied access to Head Start because they are making a couple of percentage points above the guideline.”
The solutions to these inequities are in Albany, he concluded, and – unwilling to wait – he challenged Assembly-man Bill Magee, the 28-year incumbent Democrat and Ag Committee chairman, in 2018.
Magee, based in Madison County, won the primary, 3,681-2,415, although Buttermann lost Otsego County by only 45 votes. John Salka, R-Brookfield, who Buttermann will face Nov. 3, then – his third time out – toppled the incumbent, 23,320-22,835, a close 50.5 to 49.4 percent.
Meanwhile, he kept “getting involved.”
Annually since the fall of 2017 (except in this COVID year), Buttermann organized TedX Oneonta events, adapting the famed Ted Talks to local scale. He remembers jitters the night before the first one. But all the speakers, from as far away as Australia, showed up.
He also pursued a personal interest in global warming, from local debates on gas lines and fracking, concluding, “I thought renewable was a better bet long term.”
Finding the cheapest flight and renting a BnB room, he paid his way to Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps seminar 2018 in Los Angeles – “I wanted to be able to speak intelligently about it” – and came away hopeful about the future.
With dairying in decline, if elected he’s interested in pursuing such opportunities as growing soybeans locally for the “Impossible Burger,” Burger King’s soy-based option.
He disagreed with Salka on how much a freshman can accomplish. “He thinks there’s no Democratic interest in Upstate New York,” he said. “I think that’s misguided.”
If Buttermann has been headed for elective office since his boyhood days in Prescott, the decision was locked in Nov. 17, 2017.
“That day Ana took her naturalization oath,” he said. “It was one of the most inspiring days of my life, aside from getting married and birthing children.”
Proudly watching the proceedings, he decided: I’m running for Assembly.