Clamor of countryside far from crescendo | News, Sports, Jobs
In the middle of September, the political pressure cooker for the fall campaign is just starting to simmer. While traffic signs for candidates make rare appearances in our communities, it’s hard to say in Chautauqua County that Election Day – let alone early voting – is just around the corner.
The county executive and clerk are highlighting the major races while lawmakers, council members from both cities and a number of city and town contests will also take place. Republicans, who now dominate many of these positions, seem almost too smug.
After Jason Schmidt’s victory for district attorney last November, the GOP holds all major offices locally except for mayor positions in Jamestown and Dunkirk. Do Democrats have a chance this year?
The dysfunction within the county party has been well documented in these pages and in this column. In recent years, we have witnessed controversy over the appointment of the current electoral commissioner, Luz Torres, as well as internal struggles and power struggles involving officers in leadership positions.
Believe it or not, County Republicans have had their own battles that date back to when former State Senator Catharine Young decided to step down from representation in 2019 to take a position at Cornell University in as Director of the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva.
Next, county executive George Borrello, who had only held the post for a year, was one of the candidates vying for Young’s seat. The other? Current executive PJ Wendel, who was Busti’s lawmaker at the time.
During a hotly contested party meeting held in Cassadaga, Borrello was chosen by the party to take Young’s position. He needed a first win in June, however, to secure the nomination. Wendel, in 2020, would then be selected by the County Legislature to become the interim county executive.
But his path to the siege was not easy.
Last July, longtime Brocton County lawmaker Mark Odell resigned after taking a new job in Florida. A photo published in The Post-Journal and OBSERVER included Odell, Speaker of the Legislature Pierre Chagnon and Wendel all smiles as they greet Odell’s service in the office and with the County Industrial Development Agency.
It wasn’t so friendly two years ago when Odell also applied for the managerial job that Wendel ultimately won. “I have helped develop, support and execute many of the key initiatives (Borrello) has boldly put forward (over the past two years)” Odell said in a 2019 press release. “As a fellow private sector businessman, I believe I am in a very unique position to build on the great momentum developed in recent years by Senator Borrello during his successful tenure as county manager. “
His efforts, however, never gained enough momentum and led to the current Wendel years which have been highlighted by numerous COVID-19 conferences with little direction and vision on how the county is moving forward. To be fair, Wendel doesn’t have to wow anyone. He won last year’s election for a one-year term with ease.
This week, however, Democrats tried to spice up the bland campaign. Eleven County Democratic candidates presented a unified platform statement that aims to improve six areas of government, including: taxes and fiscal accountability, management, public health, industrial and economic development, infrastructure and public information.
The statement too “jointly rejects (Wendel’s) call for face masks in public places to be a” personal choice, “contrary to recommendations recommended by the Chautauqua County Director of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “
Finally, the platform is also seeking more transparency in counties and term limits for lawmakers and the executive.
Three of those who signed the declaration are outgoing lawmakers Robert Bankoski of Dunkirk, Robert Whitney and Paul Whitford of Jamestown. All three, it should be noted, have done a great job of following the Republican line of more spending and taxes in the Houses of the Legislature, rarely voting or speaking in opposition or proposing ideas.
During a period of political division in our country, things in Chautauqua County lack urgency. There are currently major concerns, including a declining population, lack of manpower, a looming health workforce crisis, numerous municipal drinking water issues and rising numbers of COVID-19.
Now is not the time to be comfortable.
John D’Agostino is the editor of OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pennsylvania. Send your comments to [email protected] or call 366-3000, ext. 253.