Republicans have been in charge of our county for as long as anyone can remember. And for as long as anyone can remember, Otsego County, as beautiful and full of potential as it is, has not kept pace with its neighbors on many key indicators.
This means, in effect, that the Republican Party has overseen a protracted period of regional demographic and economic stagnation.
In 2019, Otsego County has an opportunity to try something new.
We are all feeling a lot of partisan tension at the national level these days. It’s generating a kind of tribalism that threatens to permanently lock voters into established political identities, causing them to consistently vote by party and disregard a politician’s actual expertise and ideas.
This is not a healthy sign for a dynamic and responsive political system. What’s more, I fear that at the local level this could spell disaster for effective government.
In the free market of ideas, we need competitive political races with contestants who have to work hard to convince voters to vote for them. This is the only way that we will get competent citizens into elected roles to carry out policies and enact laws that respond to the current needs of our communities.
What we don’t need is for toxic politics to break our only mechanism of effecting change at the local level by preventing us from ever being able to impact, influence, or reject a local political structure that clearly needs a reboot from time to time.
We all love living here, but I don’t know many who would say they feel extremely well served by our county government. As it happens, the priorities and agenda of our somewhat disappointing local governance have been directed by Republican board members for decades.
Since the County Board was tied in 2017, we’ve seen important momentum on issues like the creation of a county-manager role, but we need so much more.
Under current leadership the board has been doing, at best, a passable job at managing our slow decline. On Nov. 5, voters can make a choice to bring fresh energy and new ideas to Otsego County.
So I am asking you to temporarily set aside your current political affiliation and consider whether you think Otsego County can do better than it has in the past. If you think we have room to grow, then vote to try something new.
For me, this year, that means voting for the Democratic candidates.
Despite what you may have heard, there is nothing radical about what they want to achieve if given the chance. They want to grow our economy, take care of our citizens, and steward the natural heritage of our region.
Like everyone else, they want competent and efficient government that gets more done with fewer resources, and they want to preserve and build upon the quality of life that binds us to our communities.
What’s even more impressive is that we’re looking at the opportunity to elect people with real skills when it comes to bringing in
grants and efficiently managing organizations.
How about this proposition? Otsego County Board terms are for two years. Why not give the Democrats a chance in 2019? If you don’t like the outcome, you can always vote them back out in 2021.
Why not at least try a different course for a couple of years and see if it gets better results? Personally, I predict it will help revitalize Otsego County and it could be the thing that finally positively changes the trajectory of our region.
But even if I am wrong, at the very least, a Democratic win in 2019 will make the Republican politicians have to work harder to represent you in the future – and that is to everyone’s benefit.
Editor’s Note: Chad McEvoy, the Otsego County Democratic Party’s communications director, emailed this memo Oct. 1, alerting county Democrats they are one seat away from winning a majority on the county Board of Representatives, and what it means if that happens.
By CHAD McEVOY • OCDC Communications Director
In 2019 the political stars are aligning just right to give Democrats the best shot yet at capturing an outright majority on the Otsego County Board. Building on the work we did in 2017, we are now just one district pickup away from flipping the county legislature blue for the first time in history, as far back as anyone can remember.
This could be huge for the future of our community, so why does it seem like no one has really noticed?
Certainly people tend to pay less attention to local races. We all also worked really hard in 2018 on state and congressional campaigns and we might understandably be a little burned out. Perhaps, however, there is such an ingrained assumption that we live in a Republican-dominated area that even dedicated Democratic activists can scarcely imagine an Otsego County where the agenda is being set by a Democratic chair.
In meetings earlier in the year, when we first began to see the opportunity before us, we were almost shocked to realize that a majority was within grasp. Were we doing the math right? What had we missed? What would it mean if we actually won? For years the possibility of a Democratic majority seemed so inconceivable that we were not even practiced in formulating the question. This, I think, is the real reason for the awkward gap we are seeing between the very real possibility of victory and the seemingly anemic level of enthusiasm on the part of the normally engaged Otsego County Democratic activist base. People just can’t quite envision it yet.
In an effort to answer this question about what we would actually do if we won, over the last several weeks I have had focused conversations with some highly engaged Otsego Democrats, each of whom came with different sets of interests and subject matter expertise. I spoke one-on-one with them about their visions for what the county could be in a world where Democratic policies and principles are actually setting the political agenda and not constantly being stymied.
Everyone I talked to agreed that Otsego County needs to create and fill some form of a county manager role. In order to revitalize county administration we need to take the burden off the 14 part-time politicians and vest an individual professional with the authority to manage many aspects of county business with an executive function. A good manager, appointed by a Democratic majority, could bring new energy to the county bureaucracy, perform a structural reorganization of its staff, streamline government functions, and be a singular advocate for the needs of our communities when aggressively pursuing grants and funding. As Democrats, we support the idea that competent government professionalism should be nurtured and can provide great dividends.
Everyone I talked to also agreed that a Democratic majority could finally pursue critical green initiatives, with the goal of protecting our natural and agricultural land, increasing our appeal to tourists, and doing our part to fight climate change. Ideas for what we could accomplish given the power to do so included things like smart invasive species control, improving energy efficiency in government buildings, pushing the county to use more renewable products, curtailing the overuse of carcinogenic pesticides and herbicides, continuing to resist fracking and other extractive land uses, supporting and promoting organic farming, keeping XNG trucks off roads where they don’t belong, and exploring the idea of selling carbon offsets to fund reforestation projects on county land.
Personally, I am motivated to win in 2019 by the idea that a Democratic majority will be able to push our part of the world to do what it can to prepare for and resist the coming destabilization of the global climate. With a majority at our backs, a whole menu of environmentally positive initiatives moves into the realm of possibility. Under continued Republican leadership, however, nothing like this seems remotely feasible.
A number of other ideas on a wide range of topics surfaced over the course of my conversations. One commonality, however, was a sense that these ideas could never come to full fruition if we continue doing political business as usual in Otsego County. We discussed the idea of an Otsego community college, various infrastructure improvement projects, beefing up the planning board, developing long-term capital improvement and economic development plans, improving county constituent services, and dramatically improving how the county communicates with its citizens. The problem of rural EMS availability came up several times, as did housing issues and support for animal shelters.
A favorite of mine is the idea of establishing a land bank with the mandate to buy up blighted properties. The properties would be cleaned up, historically important structures stabilized, and wetlands, farmland, and forests rehabilitated. These properties would eventually be resold at a higher price; all of this would stimulate our economy and tax base, remove unsightly messes, preserve our architectural history, and help us do our part for the natural world. It is an idea that could make a huge difference in our community, but again, nothing like it is even conceivable under the status quo.
There are also several areas where there is a diversity of thought on the Democratic side about how to proceed—for example, on the specifics of how fossil fuel infrastructure projects should balance economic interests with environmental concerns or whether we want to roll out cannabis production and retail sales locally in a post legalization New York. We may not always have 100% consensus, but we do have a shared understanding that we would much rather entrust these decisions to Democrats than to the Republicans who have clearly been making the wrong calls, and for the wrong reasons, for decades.
There is a fundamental sentiment that current and past leadership has done little more than manage the slow senescence of our region. Our current economy is a reflection of the ills of decades of declining population, unhealthy demographic trend lines, and systematic underinvestment in our physical, energy, information, and human infrastructure. If tax cuts, penny-pinching, and government inactivity were the real paths to prosperity, that would be plainly evident by now. Instead we need to bring in new energy, new ideas, and new decision makers who will take positive, proactive steps toward revitalizing our region.
My purpose here has not been to prescribe all the possible things a Democratic-led county could finally accomplish, but to try to get people to start their own ideation on the topic. What would you like to see happen in Otsego County? It’s now time to start dreaming big.
Why do we think we can win?
Because of our success in 2017, the Democrats are now in a tie with the Republicans in terms of board seats, with a total of seven each. Yet we are denied the chair of the county board (and everything that comes with it) because of the way the votes are weighted by district. The reason that 2019 provides such an opportunity is that there are only three contested seats. Two of these seats are currently held by Democrats, and we expect them to be fairly easy to defend.
This leaves just District 3 (covering the towns of Otego and Laurens) as the likely swing district that will determine the political fate of the county. And while Republicans have a moderate numerical advantage in District 3 by registration numbers, there are several factors that make us feel extremely optimistic that we can take this seat:
We already almost did! In 2017 the Democratic candidate came up only 17 votes short in the absentee ballot count.
The longtime Republican incumbent is retiring, leaving this an open race.
We have an extremely hardworking and dedicated candidate in Caitlin Ogden, who has been knocking on doors in her community for months, already laying the groundwork for an effective get-out-the-vote blitz in October and early November.
We have already proven we can outwork the other side. A dedicated group of activists mounted a write-in campaign in the primary this summer to challenge the Republican on the Independence Party line and won. It wasn’t just a victory. It was a blowout, with Caitlin garnering 88% of the vote as a write-in against someone whose name was actually printed on the ballot.
How do we win?
We simply have to significantly outwork the other side. Small, local elections like this hinge on so few votes (see 2017) that the side that tries the hardest is virtually assured victory. This is why I am saying that a Democratic Otsego County is ours for the taking—if we work hard enough for it.
Of course, we will use every technique and tool at our disposal as well. The core group of volunteers on the Ogden campaign have extensive professional experience running local- and state-level campaigns. We are already applying battle-tested best practices around voter communications, field operations, and data collection. But we don’t yet have enough support or resources to execute a campaign plan commensurate with the size of the opportunity before us. Quite simply, we need more money and more volunteers.
What can you do to help make this a reality?
Start dreaming big about what a Democratic future in Otsego County will look like.
Sign up to volunteer to write postcards, make calls, and knock on doors up until election day. Basically nothing in campaign tactics has ever proven more effective than an engaged volunteer with a big smile knocking on people’s doors and reminding them to vote.
If you know anyone who lives in Laurens or Otego, PLEASE tell them about the District 3 race and how important every single vote will be on November 5. Get them to commit to vote.
Get involved with the Otsego County Democratic Committee. We are all deeply strapped for time and always need volunteers. We also currently have about 60 open seats across the county, and we welcome new voting members.
We also need to hold on to the other two currently Democratic-held seats that have challengers in 2019. Michele Farwell in District 2 (Pittsfield, Morris, and Butternuts) and Jill Basile in District 14 (Oneonta Wards 7 and 8) will need our support. If you live in those districts, please make sure every Democrat you know votes this November.
And, of course, please donate. Contributions will be used to fund materials, events, and advertisements to help us reach more voters. Remember, your political dollar goes miles farther at the local level than anywhere else. You simply cannot get a better return on investment in terms of actual impact on your life as an Otsego County resident than you can by helping us flip the whole of the county blue with a District 3 win. Giving $100 to your favorite 2020 presidential candidate is but a drop in the ocean, but in this race it could very well be what makes the difference in winning control of our entire county.
In working for this victory, we are also doing our part to further the rebuilding of the rural Democratic Party infrastructure, which has been nearly catatonic throughout areas like ours for decades—ignored by both the party establishment and the opposition. A strong county means a stronger base for our congressional candidate, which means a stronger national Democratic Party. We may live in the hinterlands, but what we do here really does matter. In fact, as citizens of a purple county in a purple congressional district, what we do here matters more on a macropolitical level than perhaps anywhere else in the state.
Chair of the Communications Subcommittee of the Otsego Democrats Communications Director, Committee to Elect Caitlin Ogden 2017 Otsego County Board Candidate, District 6 2018 New York State Assembly Candidate, District 101 Voting Member of the New York State Democratic Committee Sustainable Otsego PAC Board Member Treasurer, Clark Oliver for Otsego County Board Treasurer, Rural Majority PAC
Two more things you should know about voting in 2019:
For the first year ever, we will have the opportunity to vote early in New York State. Even if you don’t need to vote early, please do. The opponents of early voting will be sure to capitalize on low turnout rates the next time the issue is up for funding. The details are here.
In 2019 there will be two Democratic candidates on the ballot for New York Supreme Court. These seats come up just once every 14 years. You will have the ability to vote for three candidates. However, do not use your third vote for one of the Republicans. The three Supreme Court seats will be filled by the top three vote-getters of any party, and Democrats giving their third vote to a Republican could mean that no Democrat wins at all. Your two votes will still count if you abstain on the third vote. Please spread this information to every Democrat you meet between now and election day.
Editor’s Note: Below is the introduction that set the stage for this week’s editorials: Endorsing Democrats Andrew Cuomo, Bill Magee and Chad McEvoy, and Republicans John Faso, Jim Seward and Richard Devlin in the Nov. 6 election. Reasons for our endorsements are detailed in this week’s Hometown Oneonta & Freeman’s Journal, available on newsstands today. Click here and read the full report that informed the introduction below, “The Hidden Tribes of America,” which finds, despite the surface divisiveness we hear around us, most of us are people of good will, willing to listen and to seek a middle way, the basis for our democracy at its most successful.
As voters – in Otsego County, the 19th Congressional District and nationally – struggle to make the right decision in the Tuesday, Nov. 6, midterm elections, a study, “The Hidden Tribes of America,” surfaces with a conclusion that has been widely commented on nationally:
“A majority of Americans (61 percent), whom we’ve called the ‘Exhausted Majority,’ are fed up by Americans’ polarization. They know we have more in common than that which divides us: our belief in freedom, equality and the pursuit of the American Dream. They share a deep sense of gratitude that they are citizens of the United States. They want us to move past our differences.”
It the past two years, those of us with that sensibility have been screamed at by two sides that, it turns out, are fringes. On the left, “Progressive Activists,” according to the study, are a mere 8 percent of the citizenry; on the right, “Devoted Conservatives” are only 6 percent.
WALKING TOUR – 7 – 8 p.m. Bob Brzozowski & Gary Wickham lead walking tour, “Downtown Revitalization Then & Now” through Main & Market Streets. Learn urban renewal plans of 1970s to today’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI). Admission by Donation. Oneonta History Center, 183 Main St., Oneonta 607-432-0960 or visit www.facebook.com/OneontaHistory/
TOWN HALL – 7 p.m. Meeting features Antonio Delgado (Running for Congress), Joyce St. George (Running for State Senate), & Chad McEvoy (Running for State Assembly). Sponsored by Sustainable Otsego. Free, open to the public. Templeton Hall, 63 Pioneer St., Cooperstown.
WESTFORD – Local tech-project manager and activist Chad McEvoy today announced his campaign in the 101st Assembly District. A Democrat, he is challenging Republican Brian Miller of New Hartford.
In Otsego County, the 101st includes Springfield, Middlefield, Westford and Maryland. A long, narrow district, it extends from New Hartford, outside Utica, south to the Town of Montgomery in Orange County.
“We can do more for our area – focusing state resources on the needs of our communities – by working with, not against, the majority in Albany,” said McEvoy, who ran against Republican county Rep. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, last fall.