SCHENEVUS – Lori Lehenbauer of Worcester, the county Republican elections commissioner since 2016, was elected Republican chairwoman when the county committee convened here last evening.
She succeeds Vince Casale, Republican chairman for the past seven years, who resigned in December, to devote more time to his political consultancy, The Casale Group, based in Cooperstown but serving candidates statewide.
“I’ve been a longstanding party member,” said Lehenbauer. “I’ve very grateful and honored that they picked me. I will work hard to represent all Republicans in Otsego County.”
It was 2013. The issue was fracking. And four prominent local Republicans knocked on Vince Casale’s door.
“It was conveyed to me that the party was in some trouble,” said Casale, who last week advised the Republican County Committee he is resigning as chairman.
“My work is done,” he said. “It’s time for a change.”
He recommended Lori Lehenbauer of Worcester, Republican county elections commissioner, as his successor.
His seven years spanned the tenures of four of his Democratic counterparts.
In 2013, the first Democrat elected to countywide office in memory, Dan Crowell, was running for reelection unopposed, Casale recalled.
There was a shortage of candidates and, “when people were asked to run, they were just left to themselves.”
The committee had been using raffles to raise money – that was illegal, it turned out, leading to a sizable fine.
“At the time, I was consulting,” Vince recounted the other day – he still operates the Cooperstown-based Casale Group with his wife, Lynn Krogh, most recently helping guide state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker’s campaign. “I was very happy.”
But the GOP contingent told him, “We need to win races. You know how to win races.”
Remembers Casale, “With the blessing of Senator Seward, I was good to go. I took over in September,” two months before the fall elections.
“The first thing we do is run polling,” a first in local races. It discovered not only newcomers, but longtime incumbents were in tight races, he said. “It’s going to be a drubbing like we’d never seen.”
Fracking had damaged the Republicans, but by then it had been discovered there was too little natural gas here to frack. The issue “was just at or past the peak,” Casale said.
“I told the candidates: Don’t mention it. It wasn’t that we wanted it or didn’t want it. It was political survival,”
The new message: Republicans will protect your tax dollars.
“Rick Hulse was down by over 20 points when we first did that poll,” said Casale. “I remember him cutting it to 14 points. I had him down to 7 points. ‘If we only had one more week,’ I told myself.
“I went into Election Day thinking we would lose the Town of Otsego,” including most of Cooperstown, he said. “We ended up winning by 10 points.”
Republicans Janet Quackenbush and Craig Gelbsman also won in Democratic Oneonta, and Len Carson, the retired fire captain.
Casale, then 40, was no stranger to politics. At age 5, he was handing out pencils at county fairs on behalf of his father, Assemblyman Tony Casale of Herkimer.
During school breaks, young Vince would ask to accompany his dad to Albany.
A music major, he taught for a few years before joining Herkimer Arc, then the community college, as development director.
He started the Casale Group in 2007. His first campaign: Cooperstown’s Mike Coccoma, for state Supreme Court. The next year, John Lambert for county judge. “The company just kind of grew,” he said. “I had a decision to make: Continue as is, or make the jump.” And jump he did.
This year, he managed the elevation of county Judge Brian Burns of Oneonta to replace the retiring Coccoma, and the campaign of county Rep. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, to succeed Seward, keeping both influential positions in Otsego County.
Now, he and Lynn are busy, but looking forward to 2022, the next gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.
COOPERSTOWN – Saying his work is done, Vince Casale of Cooperstown is stepping down as chairman of the Otsego County Republican Committee, he confirmed this evening.
Committee chairman since 2015, Casale has recommended Lori Lehenbauer of Worcester, the GOP county elections commissioner, as his successor.
In the past year, he’s been focused on ensuring two key retirements – those of state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, and state Supreme Court Judge Michael V. Coccoma, Cooperstown – would result in those positions remaining in Republican hands.
“My work is done,” he said in an interview this evening. “It’s time for a change.”
COOPERSTOWN – Republican Tim Walker never filed for the “I Love Otsego” independent ballot line, according to the Democratic incumbent, Andrew Marietta.
“It was a Republican board of elections employee who brought them in and filed them,” he said in a text following yesterday’s state Supreme Court hearing on the matter. “The employee had access to the building far before anyone else, so there was never any way I was going to beat them for ‘I Love Otsego’.”