COOPERSTOWN – When the 9-4 vote affirmed Meg Kennedy as the first woman vice chair of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, Andrew Marietta leaned over and said, “Meg, you know I support you.”
The Conservative for Hartwick, Milford and New Lisbon and the Democrat from Cooperstown and the Town of Otsego both shook hands and smiled.
But for the preceding few minutes Thursday, Jan. 2, at the Otsego County Board of Representatives’ organizational meetings, things were a bit more tense.
David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Middlefield/Cherry Valley, had been unanimously reelected board chairman. Dan Wilber, R-Burlington, then nominated Kennedy – “our Citizen of the Year” – as vice chairman, and freshman Rick Brockway, R-Laurens, second it.
Bliss called the vote, but Michele Farwell, R-Morris, asked tentatively, “Is there discussion?”
What followed was a discussion about the future of bipartisanship, with Farwell noting that two years ago, when the county board was also split 7-7, now-retired Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, “was nominated, and he got unanimous support of the board. I thought that was a very positive show of bipartisanship.
“I’m just a little bit concerned we might be taking a step backward, and that would be unfortunate.”
Marietta, who as senior Democrat was the party’s leading prospect to succeed Koutnik, agreed. “Having that bipartisan approach contributed to how we worked well together,” he said. “… I think we lose some of the value of the past two years by not having that structure.”
Two Oneonta Democrats, Andrew Stammel and freshman Clark Oliver, speaking for the first time in an official capacity, concurred.
But another Oneonta Democrat, Adrienne Martini, said, “I also think it is nice to have some diversity in terms of who is the vice chair, and I think Meg brings that in terms of gender.”
In the end, Kennedy’s election was bipartisan.
Voting aye were Republicans Bliss, Wilber, Brockway, Unadilla’s Ed Frazier and East Springfield’s Keith McCarty. And Democrats Farwell, who paused for a moment before voting aye, Stammel and Martini.
Voting nay were Marietta, and the other three Oneonta reps, Oliver, Danny Lapin and newcomer Jill Basile.
Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, was absent with the flu.
After the vote, Bliss said, “I agree we’ve done some great work together lately as bipartisans. And I will endeavor to continue.”
He pointed out Kennedy, a Conservative, “is neither Republican or Democrat. And she’s proven her worth, and I know she will endeavor to be as bipartisan as possible.”
Still, Farwell regretted the Democratic loss of the vice chairman post. In an interview, she also noted that Koutnik, an environmentalist, was replaced by Brockway, “a climate-change denier,” on the board’s Solid Waste & Environmental Concerns Committee. And that Oliver was only named to one committee, Human Services.
“I wasn’t expecting a return to partisanship,” Farwell said. “I hear over and over that they want functional government, and not party nonsense like they see in Washington. I feel some trust has been lost.”
In an interview, Bliss said Marietta had expressed interest, “and I would have had no problem with Andrew as vice chair. Andrew was great. Meg was the better candidate.” The climate-denier statement surprised him. He said that Oliver was also named to Performance Review & Goal Setting, a special committee that is about to be elevated to full-committee status.
“Bipartisanship, by my definition, is the best person, the best candidate, the best idea,” the chairman said.
Throughout the debate, speakers were at pains to separate the issue of bipartisanship from Kennedy herself.
“I think Meg – representative Kennedy – will do a great job, and she has my respect and esteem,” said Farwell. Marietta said, “I think Meg will do a tremendous job.” And Stammel, turning to her during his remarks, said, “Meg, I think you will obviously do a great job.”
In the just completed term, Kennedy had chaired the two most time-consuming committees, Intergovernmental Affairs and Administration (ways and means), which won approval for a county administrator form of government and the establishment of the county Energy Task Force.
I’ve driven all over New York State and worked with community organizations and their leaders, and there is a commonality that unites them all: an investment in a better future.
The same can be said for Otsego County, where success and momentum are building.
Our county has no shortage of dedicated and committed leaders who put service to their communities first and strive to improve them.
It isn’t politics that prompt people to contribute to their community. As we look to the future of Otsego County, there is great potential for making our region a draw for business development and new residents.
This future is dependent on strengthening our infrastructure and putting systems and tools in place to make Otsego County competitive and give us a fighting chance.
Our county government is a piece to this puzzle, and we are finally making an investment in county infrastructure, which has been long delayed and ignored.
Part of this process has been two years of due diligence in looking at a county administrator position (and one can’t ignore the many, many years of past discussions and debate on this topic by our predecessors), which culminated recently in the approval of a local law and position by our Administration Committee that will next be considered for approval Nov. 6 by our full county board.
This effort is increasing the momentum pushing Otsego County forward to attract new investment and interest in our towns. Politics are not what have made this possible, but partnership and unified vision.
With this in mind, I am writing to endorse my fellow county board colleagues Dave Bliss, Meg Kennedy and Peter Oberacker.
I started with them on the county board in 2016, and with their support, we have made strides to work smarter and more effectively. We may represent different parties, but our effort is a bi-partisan one.
With the upcoming election on Nov. 5, and the emphasis on party, I would ask my fellow community members from across the county to consider making an investment in keeping us on the path of improvement.
Consider not what party we represent, but the future we offer.
In addition to Bliss, Kennedy and Oberacker, I support my colleague Michelle Farwell, who has made a tremendous contribution in her first two years on the Board. And finally, I am supporting Caitlin Ogden, who is not a political pawn, but an investment in the future success of Otsego County.
I am writing to enthusiastically suggest we vote for Jill Basile for county representative from District 14 (Ward 7-8).
I have been fortunate to get to know Jill during her campaign. This campaign is not the start of her contributions to benefit our community either, as she has been giving to our community for many years. Her resume is rich with experience that will greatly benefit our county in her new role.
Jill started as a resident director at Hartwick College, working to ensure the wellbeing and safety of our college students. After Hartwick, Jill went to work for Opportunities for Otsego in its violence intervention program, then onto the county in its office for child advocacy, and now she works as an academic adviser at SUNY Delhi while raising her family right here in Oneonta.
Not only have Jill’s professional activities directly benefited our region, she also volunteers for organizations like SPCA, Reading is Fundamental and Future of Oneonta Foundation.
Jill is well equipped to take on the challenges of the board of representatives and I recommend all my friends and neighbors in District 14 cast their vote for her on Nov. 5. Wait! Head out now and vote early. Vote today!
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.
COOPERSTOWN – A coalition of Republican and Democratic reps took control of the floor at this morning’s county Board of Representatives’ meeting and approved the $151,000 sale of the 87-acre Rose Hill property to the Otsego Land Trust, a non-profit not required to pay property taxes.
The land, atop Panther Mountain on the north end of the Town of Otsego, connects with the Land Trust’s 85-acre Fetterlee Forest, doubling the trust’s holding, which features a scenic overlook of Canadarago Lake and Deowongo Island, as well as hiking trails.
The sale had been stymied in the county board’s committee system since April, failing to pass the Public Works Committee, then failing to pass the Administrative Committee. Normally, that would have ended it.
COOPERSTOWN – With only one Democrat supporting the 8-3-3 vote, the Otsego County Board of Representatives today sent a resolution to the state Assembly opposing the so-called “Green Light Bill” allowing illegal immigrants to obtained drivers’ licenses.
Voting aye were Republicans Ed Frazier of Unadilla, Kathy Clark of Otego, Peter Oberacker of Schenevus, Dan Wilber of Burlington, Keith McCarty of East Springfield and board Chair David Bliss of Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, as well as Meg Kennedy, C-Mount Vision. Andrew Stammel, Town of Oneonta, was the sole Democrat joining them.
Voting nay were Democrats Gary Koutnik, Danny Lapin and Adrienne Martini, all of Oneonta. Abstaining were Democrats Michelle Farwell of Morris, Andrew Marietta of Cooperstown/Town of Otsego, and Liz Shannon of Oneonta
COOPERSTOWN – Oneonta issues – development plans for the former D&H Railyards and the 65-unit RSS housing project in the Sixth Ward – dominated today’s April meeting of the Otsego County Board of Representatives.
Mayor Gary Herzig told the county reps that the GEIS – the generic environmental impact statement on the railyards that has generated opposition from Otsego 2000 – is simply a preliminary overview. GEIS lets future developers know “what’s in that property and know the challenges,” such as lack of energy sources and protected wetlands on the site.
ONEONTA – Wilson Wells is making a second bid to represent District 14 on the Otsego County Board of Representatives.
Now 23, the lifelong Oneontan graduated from OHS in 2014 and in 2018 from SUNY Oneonta with a double major in political science and criminal justice.
Wells serves on both the Fundraising and Marketing Committees of Orpheus Theatre, taught at Oneonta Nursery School for a number of years, and currently volunteers as a Crisis Counselor for Crisis Text Line.
The amiable Dave Bliss, who is entering his second year as chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, patently has achieved his first goal: A “change of culture” toward a more amiable atmosphere.
“I believe we have a working relationship with departments heads and other board members,” the former 24-year Middlefield town supervisor, a Republican, said in an interview assessing his first year at the helm, and looking ahead to the second.
“Democrats and Republicans are evenly split – we need to work together.”
A case in point surfaced at the county board’s organizational meeting on Jan. 2, where Bliss was reelected by a 12-2 vote.
Each month there’s a consent agenda that lumps together a few dozen routine resolutions so they can be taken care of in one vote – a huge time saver in a usually lengthy meeting.
But any county rep can ask that any resolution be removed for individual debate, as Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, sensibly did in this case on the “Climate Smart Communities Pledge,” which NYSERDA is encouraging local governments to adopt.
COOPERSTOWN – As one, county representatives bowed their heads for a “moment of silence” at this morning’s meeting in remembrance of John D. Heller, the former OFD on-call firefighter who died Saturday, Dec. 29, in a fire on Oneonta’s Walling Avenue.
County Rep. Dan Wilber, R-Town of Burlington, proposed the observance, noting Heller’s heroism: His sister-in-law said he died while rescuing his four nephews and fiance from the flames.
In a related development, Oneonta Police Chief Douglas Brenner and Fire Chief Patrick Pidgeon scheduled a press conference at 5 p.m. to provide “an update on the investigation.”
COOPERSTOWN – The county Board of Representatives heard a message this morning: Prepared to be sued.
First, Otsego 2000 President Nicole Dillingham appeared at the county board’s monthly meeting with a letter, prepared by Attorney Doug Zamelis of Springfield Center, demanding it withdraw a grant application for a gas decompression plant in the Town of Oneonta.