This year, Otsego County faces a big challenge, and big opportunities.
The threat: State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, is retiring after representing us in Albany for 34 years, where he was able to maintain Otsego County at the center of the 50th District, then the 51st District, through three redistrictings.
A Republican when the Senate was usually Republican, he partnered with our Democratic then-assemblyman, Bill Magee of Madison County, to obtain (probably more than – hurray!) our fair share in state largesse.
Regrettably, our senator is retiring at the end of the year – not because he wants to, but due to health challenges: cancer and, earlier this year, COVID. He departs with as close to universal good wishes as anyone could expect or hope for.
Opportunity One: Peter Oberacker, a successful businessman and energetic county representative from Schenevus, is seeking to succeed Seward – with the senator’s blessing – and deserves every Otsego County vote.
Oberacker arrived in Otsego County in time to enter first grade, and is devoted to his adopted county, moving his research and marketing business home from College Station, Texas, four years ago so he could focus more intently in developing a 300-job distribution center at Interstate 88’s Exit 18. It should happen and, based in Albany, he can better apply the levers to obtain whatever state help is possible.
His opponent, Democrat Jim Barber, a prominent farmer in the Schoharie Valley, went negative last week, suggesting he knows he’s behind. His mailer suggested Oberacker has
an attendance challenge on the county board, but that’s wrong: chairing Public Works and serving on a half-dozen key committees, he has invested more time in county duties than many of his colleagues, even managing the highway department day-to-day for weeks when a past superintendent peremptorily retired.
Barber, son of a former Ag & Markets commissioner, is something of a one-issue candidate; he’d be a great Ag & Markets commissioner himself, if Richard Ball, a neighbor and relative by marriage, eventually steps aside. But for Senate, make it Oberacker.
Opportunity Two: Dan Buttermann, an Oneonta Democrat who is running again for the 121st Assembly seat against John Salka, the freshman incumbent from Madison County.
If elected to the Democratic-majority body, Buttermann, an NYCM casualty manager (and clarinetist in the Catskill Symphony), is young enough – 36 – that he could achieve Seward-like seniority in the Democratic-dominated lower house over the next 30 years, with attendant benefits.
In an interview, Buttermann mentioned 2050 a few times – the father of three young daughters, he’s thinking long term on such issues as Climate Change, paying his way to Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps’ seminar in 2018 in L.A. He’s a knowledge-driven thinker who brought TedX mind-broadening seminars to Oneonta.
He and Oberacker, conceivably, could establish a Seward-Magee-like partnership, to the benefit of Otsego County.
To support the home team is not to criticize Salka, the scrappy and likeable incumbent with an inspiring personal story who, in the face of a large Democratic majority, is reaching beyond the Assembly to the bureaucracy to solve his district’s problems.
On social issues such as bail reform, he may be closer to his constituents than his challenger. Will Buttermann’s support for gradually rolling back a measure that’s keeping at least petty criminals on local streets resonate sufficiently with voters?
And, given Madison County’s larger population than Otsego’s, Buttermann is not guaranteed a win from a constituency that tilts Republican. Still the Oneontan is an engaging hard worker who beat a Madison County candidate in the Democratic primary.
He can win, and an Otsego-based Oberacker-Buttermann team in Albany would only help our county’s fortunes.