OTEGO – Despite the final outcome, county sheriff candidate Bob Fernandez gave thanks all around for a hard-fought campaign that came to an end yesterday afternoon.
“I was honored to have the chance to run for sheriff in Otsego County and I would like to thank all of the bipartisan support for our campaign,” he said in an e-mail. “I also would like to thank the campaign team itself … (and) the Democratic committee, which allowed me to run on their line.”
COOPERSTOWN – With candidate Bob Fernandez unwilling to concede, the outcome of the Otsego County sheriff’s race will be uncertain until Nov. 16, a week from tomorrow, according to the county Board of Elections.
Lori Lehenbauer, the Republican commissioner, said the canvassing – the tallying of absentee and affidavit ballots – will begin next Wednesday, the 14th, on about 1,500 of the 1,949 absentee ballots sent out and 319 affidavit ballots cast day-of at polling places around Otsego County.
ONEONTA – Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. isn’t waiting for his challenger, Bob Fernandez, to come around.
“We are very confident, we are declaring victory,” the incumbent Devlin declared after Fernandez, a retired state trooper and registered Republican who is running as a Democrat, declined to concede the hard-fought race.
League of Women Voters’ moderators lost control of the Monday, Oct. 22, debate between the incumbent Otsego County Sheriff Richard J. Devlin, Jr., and his challenger, retired state trooper Bob Fernandez.
Not the candidates – the League, to the point where moderator Barbara Heim of Oneonta threatened at least twice to shut it down and send home the 150+ attendees who packed The Fenimore Museum Auditorium, filled folding chairs in the aisles and crowded into the hallway, trying to hear the goings-on inside.
The dramatic highpoint came when Heim challenged the crowd: If you think you can do a better job, come up here. At that point, Tom Leiber of Oaksville, a pal of Fernandez going back to their high school days on Long Island, jumped up and volunteered.
That prompted the League’s debate organizer, Maureen Murray of Cooperstown, to jump up and, again, threaten that, if people misbehaved, she would kick everyone out.
Yes, the attendees – Devlin and Fernandez’
adherents alike – were pumped. Clearly, the League – this was the first co-organized by the Oneonta and Cooperstown chapters – didn’t know what to do.
And, of course, that was contrary to its
central mission: To help Democracy work. Why mistreat citizens interested and engaged enough to drive out, many from 22 miles hence, on a chilly, rainy night to participate in representative democracy?
Active citizens is what we all want – the League,
too – not what anyone wants to discourage.
Happily, in this season of debates leading up to the Nov. 6 mid-terms, the voting public was treated to an excellent contrasting example: The 19th District Congressional debate on WMHT, Troy, on Friday, Oct. 19, between incumbent U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, and the Democratic challenger, Antonio Delgado of Rhinebeck. It was co-sponsored by Albany Times Union.
As you might expect, the experienced moderator, Matt Ryan, host of the station’s Emmy-winning “New York Now” program, was comfortable appearing before a crowd. He had three seasoned journalists – the Times Union reporter David Lombardo and Senior Editor for News Casey Seiler, and Karen Dewitt from WAMC and a 10-station network of NPR stations.
At the outset, Ryan welcomed the audience to applaud “one time” when the candidates were introduced, then to refrain for a logical reason: “So we can ask more questions” within the one-hour limit.
Each candidate was given 90 seconds to answer to a question;
the rival 45 seconds to react – and that was it. Ryan halted any candidate who then tried to jump in. However, given the brisk pace, a candidate who may have felt shortchanged had a chance to expand his comment in responses to later questions.
Blood was drawn. Delgado tried to pin “racist” ads on Faso. Faso noted Delgado moved to the 19th from New Jersey two years ago, then immediately registered to run for Congress.
By the end audience members were given ample insights to help guide their votes, which is the point
In an interview with WMHT’s Ryan, it became clear that, even with a pro, soft skills are essential.
A time clock flags the candidates at 30 seconds, 15 seconds and zero, when bell rights softly, so no candidate is surprised. Ryan says he won’t just cut candidates off in mid-sentence. He gauges whether a candidate is just wrapping up and, if so, will give him a few seconds. If it looks like the candidate is warming up the topic, Ryan will politely – important word – move on.
The set-up of the room is important, too. Remarking on the argumentative Cuomo-Molinaro gubernatorial debate a few days later, he noted the candidates were too close to the moderator, allowing them to dominate. At the WMHT debate, Ryan was at a lectern, with candidates seated on one side, reporters on the other, establishing an air of formality.
Likewise, with proceedings being aired on live TV, candidates and audience alike tend to be better behaved, Ryan said. Locally, the debates have been videotaped for rebroadcast in the past, but that didn’t happen this time.
Bottom line, mistakes were made by people of good will. But a repeat should be avoided. The League organizers would be wise to convene a conversation of stakeholders – League organizers, the county Republican and
Democratic chairs, a winning and a losing candidate, representatives
of the press, and frequent attendees from the public – after Nov. 6 to talk through the whole approach. Maureen Murray was intrigued by such an idea.
Some additional issues:
• Two Otsego debates were cancelled because one of the candidates, Assemblyman Magee in the 121st District then Delgado, demurred. Thus, one candidate’s refusal to debate can prevent another from communicating his/her message to voters. That’s not right.
• A media representative from this newspaper was removed from the panel because a candidate objected. The reason given: the newspaper had endorsed the other candidate in the primary. The League shouldn’t punish a free press for making endorsements; the candidates shouldn’t control the League’s debate.
• Should the League have the exclusive franchise on local political debates? Maybe it could take the lead in forming an independent entity – it would include League representation, of course – to make sure all the local expertise available is brought to bear.
In commenting on AllOTSEGO’s
Facebook page, former Hartwick Town Supervisor Pat Ryan ended her critique with: “This opinion in no way is meant to disparage all of the good work the League does in supporting our right to vote and be informed on the issues!”
But, she added, “Let’s talk about the ground rules for the
Lincoln/Douglas debate, which was a true debate!” A true debate, indeed: frank, content-rich,
pointed and sufficiently polite, leading the best candidate to
victory at the polls. Indeed,
that’s the goal.
ONEONTA – The county Democratic Party chair this morning issued a statement confirming that Republican Bob Fernandez has indeed been endorsed by the Democratic county committee in this Tuesday’s election.
The new chair, Aimee Swann, said there has been some confusion in this regard.
COOPERSTOWN – County Sheriff Richard J. Devlin, Jr., ended this evening’s rowdy League of Women Voters’ debate in the packed Fenimore Museum Auditorium with a blockbuster.
Having faced criticism from his challenger, retired state trooper Bob Fernandez, on how Devlin handled the case of his prison-guard son, Ros, the sheriff read a letter in which a recently departing deputy exonerated the younger man:
“As I leave for another opportunity, I feel I must clear the air on an alleged incident that occurred on Jan. 5, 2017,” Devlin read from a sheet of paper that bore the signature of a James Raso. “I was in the room when this incident allegedly occurred. At no time did Ros Devlin make any statements that have been alleged.”
Asked about the Raso letter as the debate broke up a couple of minutes later, Fernandez answered, “B*** S***.” He went on to say that the letter could have been extracted under pressure, in exchange for a good reference, and noted it wasn’t given under oath.
In today’s weekly “Morning Headlines” on WAMC/Northeast Public Radio, Jim Kevlin, editor/publisher of www.AllOTSEGO.com (and Hometown Oneonta & the Freeman’s Journal), assessed today’s primary election for Otsego County sheriff between incumbent Richard J. Devlin Jr. of Milford and retired state trooper Bob Fernandez of Otego.
A letter to the editor the other week drew on the Biblical injunction, “The son shall not suffer for the sins of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquities of the son.” And surely that’s as it should be.
That said, it’s legitimate for open-minded citizens to question how county Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. has handled the situation involving his son, Ros, a correctional officer in the jail his father administers since it surfaced in January 2017. At the least, the situation is an awkward one; at worst, a dangerous one.
In effect, according
to a court decision on a
related matter made public on March 31, 2017, Ros Devlin told a fellow C-O he was thinking of committing suicide in front of his disciplining supervisor at the county jail, after first creating a diversion by shooting up an Oneonta or Milford school. (To read the decision for yourself, type “devlin judge’s order” in the search line at www.AllOTSEGO.com)
From the beginning, the sheriff has stood steadfastly by his son, who was suspended for more than a year – albeit, with pay; since March, without pay – by the Otsego County Board of Representatives.
The sheriff claimed a “witchhunt” was in progress; that his downfall was intended, not his son’s.
If Ezekiel was right
about sons and fathers, his declaration should be equally valid for wives
That said, it’s legitimate for open-minded citizens to question the role of Kathy Clark, R-Otego, former county board chair – and a tough-minded and determined one – in engineering her husband, Bob Fernandez’s, challenge to Devlin after Fernandez’s retirement from the state police.
In New York State, the sheriff’s position – as with county clerk – is a constitutional office, filled by election, not appointment by a county board. There’s good reason for ensuring a sheriff’s independence: to keep law enforcement and politics separate.
Clark championing of her husband sought to breach that sensible divide.
Further problematic was the engineering of Fernandez’s Democratic endorsement. It grew out of a longtime personal friendship between Kathy Clark and Oneonta’s former Democratic mayor, Kim Muller, who for the time being is county Democratic chair. (She expects to step down when the county committee meets in early October.)
There’s no secret. Both acknowledge close ties between their families going back decades, when their children played in the same soccer league. Still, as you can imagine, the Fernandez endorsement has caused a rift among the Democratic rank and file.
For his part, Devlin has argued he didn’t trust the county board, under Kathy Clark’s chairmanship, to fairly investigate his son.
To his credit, when David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Middlefield, succeeded Clark this past Jan. 3, Devlin then reached out to Bliss, and in March agreed to recuse himself, allowing the board chair to order a medical examination of the son to determine if he is fit to continue as a jail guard.
The good news is: A process is in place. In interview this week, Bliss said the medical examination by a downstate physician who specializes in matters involving law-enforcement personnel is expected by mid-month.
Once the report is submitted, Bliss, in consultation with the county’s personnel lawyers and County Attorney Ellen Coccoma will decide on an appropriate course of action. He said he will keep county reps advised of developments and welcome inputs.
If the decision is made to discipline Ros Devlin, “the officer still has rights,” the board chair said. The younger Devlin could challenge any decision in court. Meanwhile, he will remain off the job without pay.
The bad news, from the perspective if the electorate, it’s unlikely the situation will be resolved before the Nov. 6 general election, Bliss said.
All this matters right now because the first match-up between Devlin and Fernandez comes Thursday, Sept. 13, in a local Republican primary. (That’s Thursday, not Tuesday, which is 9/11 and Rosh Hashanah.) The polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. across Otsego County for registered Republicans.
The vote will not necessarily settle anything. If Devlin, endorsed by the Republican county committee last March, wins, Fernandez has the Democratic county committee endorsement; he will appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot anyhow.
If Fernandez were to win the Republican primary, Devlin would still appear on three lines – Conservative, Independent and Reform – on the November ballot.
The world is an imperfect place, as we know from our lives and experiences. We often have to choose between imperfect options, and this is one of those cases.
Yet, on the one hand, there is due process, independent of Sheriff Devlin’s control, that we can hope will resolve thinking people’s concerns – either clearing Ros Devlin, or removing him from his position permanently.
On the other hand, there is no due process, only cronyism and the potential that an alliance between husband and wife will inject politics into law enforcement.
For now, the only option is to vote for due process. For the time being, that option is Richard J. Devlin Jr.
COOPERSTOWN – While Democrats have allowed Republican and county sheriff’s candidate Bob Fernandez to run on the Democratic ballot line in the Nov. 6 general election, it seems they fell short of an outright “endorsement.”
“Mr. Fernandez has not received the endorsement of the OCDO,” Mike Henrici, the Democratic county election commissioner and county committee secretary emailed after this week’s Hometown Oneonta & The Freeman’s Journal hit the streets. “…He does not appear as an endorsed candidate on the OCDC website or anywhere else. In fact, no motion has even been made in the committee to even consider an endorsement.”