Vince Casale knew something was up when he saw an empty, broken bird feeder from the other side of the house in the middle of his driveway as he drove out, taking wife Lynne to a birthday dinner.
“I heard something rustling in the dry leaves outside the driveway,” he said. “It sounded big. I thought it had to be a deer.”
As they were leaving the Bed Bug Road neighborhood on Tuesday, March 23, heading toward Fly Creek, “we saw the bear exiting the road on the left side,” he said.
Lynne pulled out her camera, and captured the bear’s movements and it moved back off the left side of the road, then back across the road into a field on the right.
Get ready, Otsego County, we’re going to see a lot more of these sightings as black bears move north from the Catskills into the woods around here, said Josh Choquette, the wildlife technician in the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Stamford Office who specializes in the bear population.
Vince Casale happened upon this black bear last evening on Bed Bug Road, Town of Otsego. After a winter of hibernation, this is the time of year – about mid-March – that bear-spotting peaks. If you’ve spotted a bear lately, and have a photo or video, please send to email@example.com
To begin, no one can rival state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, in contributions to our Otsego County. He’s a giant. THE giant, who is retiring at year’s end after 34 years representing us in the state Legislature.
He’s primus inter pares – or simply primus. The gold standard. (More accolades coming.)
But he’s at the top of a pretty tall pyramid of people with energy and brainpower in Otsego County public life, evident this week in two front-page articles.
The first retraces Barbara Ann Heegan’s local career, culminating in eight years as Otsego County Chamber of Commerce president.
The second reports on Republican County Chairman Vince Casale’s advances in the political field since he was chosen to lead the local GOP seven years ago.
Both stories overflow with initiative, initiative, initiative.
Heegan, mother of three at-home children when she took on her daunting new duties after a time of trial within the Otsego Chamber, hit the ground running.
Within a year, by “going out and talking to people in person” – as mentor Gordon B. Roberts, the Oneonta insurance man, advised her – Heegan doubled the membership, with new money making all things that followed possible.
For a while, until COVID kept us at home, it seemed like she was everywhere.
Some of her initiatives were flashy – the Workforce Development Summit at The Otesaga in October 2018, for instance, where Oneonta businessman Al Cleinman convinced us “knowledge workers” are our future– but the accomplishments were steady. Leadership Otsego introduced rising county leaders to each other, to the county’s major institutions, and to the players they will succeed. The Energy Summit in 2019 fed vitality into the county’s Energy Task Force, (its outcomes delayed by the pandemic.)
Her latest boss, board chairman Al Rubin, spoke of her sensitivity to small-business needs: When a potentially costly regulation from Albany lands in local entrepreneurs’ laps, she would bring in
an expert to guide the way – for $35 apiece, forestalling costly individual consultation with lawyers.
Picking up on an idea behind the first “Seward Summit” on economic development just before her hiring in 2012, Barbara Ann rarely missed an opportunity to introduce businesspeople from around the county to each other.
Former Cooperstown mayor Jeff Katz remembers the buzz in Foothills’ “Black Box” theater when, on Jan. 2, 2013, there he was sitting on the dais beside his Oneonta counterpart, Dick Miller, at the chamber’s traditional “State of the State” breakfast. Unheard of. (“My thought at the time,” Katz remembers, “was: ‘This might be the only time I’m invited. I better let it rip!’”)
Barbara Ann’s favorite activity was the twice-yearly gala, the Celebration of Business in the spring in Oneonta – it includes the Bettiol Citizen of the Year Award – and the Small Business of the Year banquet at The Otesaga in the fall. The record attendance came in March 2014, when attorney John Scarzafava won Bettiol honors and more than 300 people cheered him, (at $100 a head!)
Vince Casale’s efforts were more focused, but no less impactful. Approached by two committee members and two county board members to take over the helm in 2013, he arrived to find the party in post-fracking shambles.
Polling in local races for the first time, he found the GOP’s candidates far behind in county board races, and the party in danger of losing its majority. The fracking battles had peaked by then. Stop talking about it, he told candidates. Talk about keeping taxes low, about keeping under Governor Cuomo’s recently imposed 2 percent property-tax “cap.”
To give just one example: He saw Republican challenger Rick Hulse in the Cooperstown/Town of Otesgo district rise from 20 points behind to 10 points behind to winning by seven points on Election Day 2013. In Democratic Oneonta, Republicans Janet Hurley Quakenbush and Craig Gelbsman carried the day.
There’s much more. Check page one article on Vince.
Barbara Ann is leaving Jan. 4 to lead the chamber in Greenwood, S.C. Vince is refocusing his attention on his political consulting firm, The Casale Group, with has represented such lights as Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive who challenged Cuomo in 2018.
Let’s wish them well as they leave our local scene. But here’s a parlor game for this Christmas season – via Zoom, of course: Let’s identify all the similarly energetic, selfless, smart and creative people who continue to work on our behalf.
To prime the pump: County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, glassrecycling entrepreneur Cynthia Andela in Richfield Springs, Cooperstown and Oneonta’s mayors, Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch and Gary Herzig respectively, the county board leadership team, David Bliss and Meg Kennedy, it goes on and on.
You’ll end the COVID year in a pretty good frame of mind.
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.”
SCHENEVUS – Republican county committee members from the county board’s District 6 met last evening and nominated Jennifer Mickle, a Town of Maryland resident and Oneonta businesswoman, to succeed state Senator-elect Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, on the county board.
The candidate, who also has experience in local government and community service, called it “a wonderful opportunity. I’ve always believed in public service and giving back to the community. I hope my experience will not only be a benefit to District 6, but to the county as a whole.”
The six candidates for Otsego county judge gathered a few minutes ago in The Otesaga Ballroom in Cooperstown, where deliberations are underway at this hour on who will succeed Brian D. Burns of Oneonta on the county bench. All attorneys, the candidates, from left, are Rich Brown, Mike Getman, Susan Lettis, Jill Ghaleb, Mike Trosset and Will Green. Inset right, County Republican Chairman Vince Casale calls the meeting of the county committee to order; in the foreground are county board Chairman Dave Bliss and Jan Bartow, Middlefield committeeman. A Sixth District judicial convention Tuesday selected Judge Burns to succeeded Michael V. Coccomo as state Supreme Court judge, creating the county court vacancy. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
SCHENEVUS – Partner in his father’s market, executive with a multinational food corporation, entrepreneur in his own market-research firm, town supervisor, county representative and, now, candidate for state Senate from the Otsego-County-centric 51st District.
Grounded in Main Street and Wall Street, Peter Oberacker confirmed Tuesday, Jan. 28, that he will seek to carry forward the 34-year legacy of the retiring state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford.
“It’s been reassuring to have a state senator who knows us by name,” said the 53-year-old Republican from Schenevus, That’s also “the hardest part: trying to emulate Jim Seward, how he’s been serving the district for 30-40 years in a calming, non-controversial way.
The way forward opened up Tuesday evening as Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie, whose district includes four Otsego County towns and was seen as the leading Republican contender to succeed Seward, took himself out of the running. He cited loyalty to his 102nd District, where he was elected less than two years ago.
In the next two weeks, Oberacker said, county Republican Chairman Vince Casale will be introducing him to the county chairmen in the other eight counties in the 51st District, asking for their support.
Initial soundings he’s taken are encouraging, Casale said. “It’s important for us to keep representation in Otsego County” – it’s also the geographic center of the 51st – “as we’ve enjoyed for the past 34 years,” he added.
Asked about Oberacker’s intentions, Seward said “I’ve known the Oberacker family for decades. He has the right skill set, demeanor and experience to make a great candidate.” If Oberacker wins the support of the county GOP chairmen, “he certainly will have my full support. I would consider him a very worthy successor.”
Before Seward announced he will be retiring on Dec. 31, when his current term ends, Jim Barber, a Schoharie farmer and son of J. Roger Barber, state Ag & Markets commissioner in the Carey Administration, announced he was seeking the Democratic nomination. It’s unknown if other Democrats will now emerge.
Locally, two possible Democratic contenders, former Oneonta Mayor John Nader, now SUNY Farmingdale president, and Dan Crowell, the former county treasurer who is leaving the Army Reserves after returning this month from Somalia, have both said they are not interested in a Senate campaign.
Oberacker and his two sisters were born on Long Island. As his father, Peter Sr., used to tell it, the family’s VW bus “ran out of gas and I bought a house.” Actually, the son says, his mother’s parents lived in the area.
The son was 5 at the time and grew up locally, graduating from Schenevus’ Andrew Draper High School, then studying food sales and distribution at SUNY Delhi.
He joined his father in operating Spicy Pete’s Meats, a retail and wholesaler. When his father passed away in 1993, the son joined General Spice, then became an executive chef at Conagra, developing Wendy’s spicy chicken breast, among other products.
By the turn of the century, he was working for German-based Budenheim USA, a food-additive company. When Budenheim laid off U.S. executives, he and a colleague, Ron Wheeler, founded their own company, FormTech Solutions.
The R&D firm located in College Station, applying research developed by Texas A&M scientists to industry. In 2018, Oberacker, the CEO, and Wheeler, the COO/president, moved the company to the Town of Maryland, east of Schenevus.
Oberacker and his wife Carol have two grown children, Holli and Derek.
During this period, Oberacker had been calling on accounts nationwide and commuting back and forth between College Station and the family’s home on Smokey Avenue. He was elected Maryland town supervisor and, then, in 2015, was elected to the county Board of Representatives, succeeding Worcester’s Don Lindberg.
He quickly began to accumulate responsibilities, for the past two years as chairman of the Public Works Committee, which is currently studying a possible combined highway garage at the Northern Catskill BOCES in Milford, among other initiatives.
On learning of Seward’s decision to retire, Oberacker said he was concerned that initiatives of particular interest to him – a prospective 300-job distribution center at Schenevus’ I-88 exit, and a finding a safe berth for students in the financially troubled Schenevus Central School District – would fall by the wayside.
The first step of any prospective candidate, he said, is “you go to your wife, and you basically ask permission.” Then “I called my business partner. He looked at me as if I’d lost my head.” However, “they both supported me,” and the effort was launched.
The other part is: By voting for President Trump’s impeachment, is freshman Congressman Anthony Delgado, D-19, endangering his chances of reelection?
Yes, said Otsego County Republican Chairman Vince Casale: “He’s going against the majority of the will of his constituents, against how they voted in 2016.”
Regardless, Delgado had to do what he believes, said Otsego County Democratic Chairman Aimee Swan: “Regarding impeachment, we think that Congressman Delgado is doing a great job communicating his reasoning to the voters and we believe that he will continue to have the kind of broad support that got him elected.”
The U.S. House of Representatives was scheduled to vote Wednesday, Dec. 18 – this edition went to press the night before – on two articles of impeachment against Trump, and Delgado announced Sunday the 15th that he would vote for both articles.
His colleague to the north, U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi of Utica, D-22, reached the same conclusion, but it was a tougher one: In 2018, He had very narrowly beaten the incumbent, Republican Claudia Tenney, 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent, and she’s challenging him in 2020.
Delgado has a little more breathing space: He beat incumbent Republican John Faso by a lesser margin, 50.4 percent, but Faso’s margin was winnowed to 46.2 percent by Green and Independent candidates also running in the 19th.
So far, Delgado is facing a Republican challenge from Maj. Gen. (ret.) Tony German of Oneonta, former commander of the state National Guard. And perhaps a more formidable one: Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who ran for governor last year. Casale said to expect news about formidable entries “after the first of the year.”
Hartwick College Poly-Sci Professor Laurel Elder agreed with Casale and Swan’s formulations, summing it up as follows: “We know it’s a very divided district; there’s no way he can please everybody.”
Harkening back to 2018, however, she recalled that several Democrats in the Congressional primary were significantly to the left of Delgado. If he hadn’t stepped forward on impeachment, he might have provoked a primary next June.
“There’s energy in the wings of the party,” she observed.
Regardless, Delgado (and Brindisi) fall into a category that is generating a lot of interest: Democratic congressmen elected in 2018 to districts – some, like the 19th, are being called “purple districts” – that supported Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Trump won the 19th by 6.8 percentile points, to Delgado’s 4.2. (In Otsego County, Trump’s margin was greater, 51.85 percent to Clinton’s 40.72 percent, or 11.13 percentile points. In 2018, Delgado won 48.97 percent of Otsego’s votes; Faso, 48.47 percent, or 0.5 percentile points.)
Since, statistically, members of Congress are most vulnerable when running for reelection after one term, a counter-sweep next November could put Congress back in Republicans hands just in time for the 2021 reapportionment that will follow the 2020 Census.
An indication of that significance: Both national newspapers, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, had reporters shadowing Delgado the week leading up to his announced he’ll support impeachment.
The Journal’s Natalie Andrews reported Delgado being greeted by “vote no on impeachment cries” and a single “yes on impeachment” cry on arriving at a Town Hall meeting in Highland, Ulster County. She spoke to voters similarly split on the congressman, although they all seemed to like him.
Echoing what Aimee Swan said, The Times’ Emily Cochrane said voting for impeachment “had made it all the more important for Mr. Delgado and Democrats like him to find ways to show voters they are getting things done in Congress, which is why he is crisscrossing his district through flurries, working on local issues and connecting with constituents.”
And why Speaker Nancy Pelosi scheduled Wednesday’s impeachment vote between votes on muscular legislation, one to fund the government, the other on the new NAFTA.
COOPERSTOWN – Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh says she’s running for a second term in next March’s village election, adding that first-term Trustee MacGuire Benton is likely to as well.
And Joe Membrino, also in his first term, said he’s planning to run again, too.
But for the first time since the GOP debacle in 2011, the Republican Party may be running a slate as well, which would be the first challenge for Democrats who have control all trustee seats for almost a decade.
“Prior to the November election, we put the wheels I motion to start looking for candidates,” Republican County Chairman Vince Casale, who lives in Cooperstown, said Tuesday Nov. 12. “We’ve seen quite a bit of interest already.”
In the few years prior to 2011, Village Board election were highly contested, with Republicans and Democrats fielding full slates.
That year, however, Republican Mayor Joe Booan revealed in February he had opened conversations with county Sheriff Richard J. Devlin, Jr., about turning over in-village policing to Devlin’s deputies.
The reaction brought Democrats Ellen Tillapaugh and Walter Franck onto the board, and reelected incumbent trustee Jeff Katz.
Booan spent a year struggling with a new Democratic majority, then retired in 2012, when Katz was elevated to mayor.
Except for Trustee Lou Allstadt, who sought both Republican and Democratic nominations when he ran in 2013, the Village Board has remained in Democratic hands ever since.
Because of neighbors’ rancor in recent months – over a proposed apartment house backing up to Pine Boulevard, flying the Pride Flag on the community flagpole, the installation of blinking traffic signs, a proposed Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskins Robbins outlet and, most recently, provisions for dormitories in a revised zoning code – Republicans may see an opportunity.
In an interview, Mayor Tillapaugh said she’s running to see a range of downtown and infrastructure improvements come to fruition, ranging from the $5 million in Doubleday Field renovations to upgrades to the water-treatment plant.
A redo of Pioneer Park, which the mayor championed, is “going to look fabulous,” she said.
While there has been some citizen unrest, Tillapaugh said the Village Board has sought to be accommodating. For instance, the dormitory provision was removed after the public objected at an Oct. 28 public hearing, she said.
“We had a public hearing,” she said, “and the purpose of the public hearing was to listen to the public. It doesn’t mean you are always going to change things totally to make a group of people happy.”
However, she said, the trustees did adjust the proposed code in this case, and scheduled another public hearing for 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25, their next regular meeting.
“I didn’t close the public hearing until everyone had a chance to speak,” she added. The discussion went on for 45 minutes.
Asked if the other incumbents plan to run again, she said, “I assume Mac is,” a reference to Benton. “And hopefully, Joe too.”
For his part, Benton said, “I’m not prepared to make an announcement at this time.” Membrino, who was out of town, called to say he does intend to run, and would be interested in being interviewed further on his return.
Membrino was appointed to serve out Tillapaugh’s trustee term when she was elected mayor in March 2018, when Benton ran unopposed to serve the rest of Allstadt’s term after that trustee resigned.
While town elections are administered by the county Board of Elections, village elections are overseen by Village Administrator Teri Barown.
Each party must hold caucuses to nominate candidates between Jan. 21 and Jan. 28.
Independents may also run for mayor or trustee, and must submit petitions with a minimum of 50 signatures between Feb. 4 and Feb. 11.
The Otsego County Democratic Party praises Congressman Antonio Delgado, D-19, for his “judgment and commitment to the critical oversight role” in changing his mind and now supporting President Trump’s impeachment.
But Republican County Chairman Vince Casale said the first-term congressmen is simply “appealing to a small angry group of socialist liberals who control his re-election.”
COOPERSTOWN – The Cooperstown-based Casale Group has been listed as Number 31 in the “Power 50,” New York State’s most influential political consultants, in the City & State New York magazine.
In particular, Vince Casale and Lynn Krogh, the husband-and-wife team, are identified as key advisers to Marc Molinaro, both in his gubernatorial run last year and this year’s race for his reelection as Dutchess county executive.
COOPERSTOWN – More Republican candidates then initially thought will be challenging Democrats this fall, county Republican Chairman Vince Casale said after Thurday evening’s AllOTSEGO.com report on petitions filed.
While it appeared only two county board seats would be contested this fall, the GOP chair said “a few potential candidates” will file independent petitions to challenge Democrats in the Nov. 5 election.
“We’re not done yet,” Casale said.
While those candidates’ names could not appear on the Republican ballot line, they presumably could be endorsed and supported by the GOP County Committee.
By JIM KEVLIN • The Freeman’s Journal & Hometown Oneonta
COOPERSTOWN – Democrats are in for “a huge beating,” Otsego County Republican Chairman Vince Casale said in the wake of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s non-indictment outcome of a two-year investigation of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“They’ve hung everything they’ve had on ‘collusion’ over the past two years,” said Casale, who is also a political consultant in statewide campaigns in New York. “Now they’re sitting there, hat in hand.”
Speaking Monday, March 25, the day after Attorney General William Barr issued a synopsis of Mueller’s findings, Casale characterized the whole undertaking as an extension of “gotcha” politics set in motion by President Richard M. Nixon’s forced resignation in 1974.
“History has shown that usually the opposing side want there to be a scandal more than the real truth: that there is no scandal,” he said, whether the issue is President Reagan and the Contras, or “Monicagate.”
The reactions of Otsego County’s top Republican and Democrat differed to the news Special Counsel Robert Mueller has completed his investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 Presidential campaign and transmitted his finding to the Justice Department.
Given the news was not released until 5 p.m. on a Friday suggests it “contains little information the author wants people to know,” said county Republican Chairman Vince Casale, Cooperstown, when asked for his initial reaction to the news.