LAURENS – A few moments ago, county Republican Chairman Vince Casale said it appears Rick Brockway has won the District 3 Laurens-Otego, keeping the GOP in control of the Otsego County Board of Representatives.
According to Casale’s tally, which he stressed was unofficial, Brockway had 877 votes to Democrat Caitlin Ogden’s 677, with only 100 absentee ballots in play.
An Ogden victory would have shifted the county board to a Democratic majority for the first time in memory.
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.
LAURENS – When Caitlin Ogden was 11 and living in Palm Harbor, Fla., west of Tampa, her parents learned of a Black Arabian for sale near their native Elmira, and determined to buy it for their horse-loving daughter.
When they contacted the seller, it was gone. But the horse’s cousin, two months younger, was available.
Thrilled at the gift, Caitlin named it Black Knight, after a horse in the Thoroughbred Series novel she was reading at the time. She rode it, tended it, with no inkling of a danger ahead.
In August 2004, the news broke: Hurricane Charlie, Category 5 – the most dangerous classification – was headed for Palm Harbor. As recommended, she spray-painted her phone number on Knight’s side. The paddock gate was left open, in case her horse and the others needed to scatter in face of the storm.
The storm veered away, but for Ogden, already considering abandoning the busy Florida suburb with its congested roads for the pleasures of small town living, Charley settled it: She and her horse were moving north.
“I wanted some place to ride my horse in the woods, not on the street,” she said. “I wasn’t going to find that in Florida.”
Enrolling at Elmira College, she obtained a B.A. in History. Intrigued with a particular period, Ogden went on to SUNY Binghamton for a B.A. in Medieval Studies, while working as education services coordinator for the National Soaring Museum, Elmira.
She became interested in fundraising, and while earning her master’s (2018) at the Cooperstown Graduate School in Museum Studies, interned at the Roberson Museum in Binghamton, then in SUNY Oneonta’s development office, before joining the Baseball Hall of Fame as a grants writer.
She bought two acres in the Town of Laurens, near the former Edgewood Golf Course, big enough for her current horse, Leo – official name, Lucci the Lion. “I chose to settle here and call it my home,” she said in an interview at The Funny Farm, the restaurant and minimart on the Laurens/New Lisbon line.
Since 2016, “like many Americans, I was feeling stress and tension about how politics had become very divisive,” she said. Instead of “yelling at the TV set,” she volunteered for county Rep. Liz Shannon’s 2017 campaign.
There she met other politically minded young people, like Clark Oliver, who is running unopposed for county board in the City of Oneonta’s District 11, and MacGuire Benton, the Cooperstown village trustee and assistant Democratic elections commissioner.
“I’m doing my little part to get things back on track,” she said. Despite the national divide, “we have more similarities than differences.”
She has been going door to door every evening after work and 4-8 hours on weekends, “to get to know as many people as I can.”
Such hard work, she suggested, resulted in her winning the Independent Party primary in June. Her opponent’s was the only name on the ballot, but a write-in push won her the fall ballot line, 30-4.
“I’m quite honored they selected me by a large margin,” she said.
If elected, Ogden said she will seek to ensure the Cooperative Extension Service is sufficiently funded. (Its director, Don Smyser, was chided by county reps in September for a shortfall.)
Her goal is for local farmers to benefit from budgeting, grants and equipment, mental health and other available Cooperative Extension programs.
She favors rural broadband as soon as possible, noting satellite service is too expensive. Lack of broadband “is hurting property values; it’s hurting rural education,” she said.
She saluted the City of Oneonta for obtaining downtown-restoration grants, and said she will seek similar programs for downtown Laurens and Otego.
There no downtown in Laurens, she said, but she pointed to Rubera’s in downtown Otego, which began as a pizza parlor and has expanded serving lunch and dinner. It’s a model for others entrepreneurs to follow, she said.
Of her conversation at the last county board meeting with county Rep. Kathy Clark, R-Otego, the woman whom Ogden would succeed, if elected, she said, “That was the first time I actually talked with her.”
Clark suggested Ogden increase the size of her name on roadside signs.
“I appreciated the fact that she was pleasant to a Democrat who might be her success,” Ogden said.