Democratic View: Looking toward November


If you ever wonder whether your vote has meaning, ask Joel Gagnon of Danby, who just won his primary for Danby supervisor over a longtime incumbent by just three votes after absentee ballots were counted. This makes Gagnon the de facto supervisor come January 2020 because no Republicans are running against him.

I am very much in favor of the new combined primary date, which saves us taxpayers millions, but it snuck up on all of us so rapidly that in the city of Ithaca, nobody thought fast enough to run against Svante Myrick for mayor, and the person who decided last minute to run on an independent line did not manage to get enough signatures. Myrick chose not to challenge him, so there will in fact be a race in the city of Ithaca, giving city residents a reason to go to the polls in November. (There are other reasons, which I will describe at the end of this column.)

The last week in June was marked by two Democratic caucuses and a Democratic primary. The Ulysses caucus resulted in candidates for highway superintendent (Scott Stewart) and Town Council (Katelin Olson and Michael Boggs) who will run unopposed in November. The caucus in Dryden was contested and unusually well-attended. Incumbent Supervisor Jason Leifer, Town Justice Chris Clauson and Town Clerk Bambi Avery will run unopposed, but the two Town Council candidates who emerged from the caucus (Jim Skaley and Loren Sparling) will face one Republican challenger in the fall.

Despite the buzz around the Danby and Enfield primaries, turnout hovered around 25% for both, and when the dust cleared, the winners will face little or no opposition in November. In Danby, they include Joel Gagnon for supervisor, Garry Huddle and Theresa Klinger for town justice and Leslie Connors and Sarah Schnabel for Town Council. Joel and Sarah are new; the others are incumbents.

In Enfield, the winners of the primary were Beth McGee for supervisor, Ellen Woods for clerk (by five votes!) and Robert Lynch and Stephanie Redmond for Town Council. Only McGee is an incumbent; the other candidates are new. Because their primary opponents for supervisor and clerk also ran on an independent line, there will be a contest in Enfield in November.

In fact, though, looking ahead to the fall, there are shockingly few contested races. Caroline has some competition in the areas of town supervisor, highway superintendent and Town Council. Lansing has contested races for town supervisor, Town Council and town justice. Dryden has the aforementioned single contested Town Council seat, Enfield has a couple of candidates on an independent line, and the city has a mayoral campaign of sorts. Other than that, we’re pretty much set for 2020.

However, the state, in its wisdom and with a strong push from our county leadership and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, has seen fit to bestow upon us a third county judge seat. This position is desperately needed to take up the county’s backlog of cases, especially in Family Court. However, since the decision was made so close to the primary date, there can be no primary or regular petitioning process. Instead, each party committee will need to choose a county judge candidate by July 25. Any independent candidates must circulate petitions by July 10, collecting a total of 1,500 signatures.

This is a tall order and a very condensed calendar. Our committee will set a meeting to meet potential candidates within the next three weeks. The candidate we choose, along with a Republican candidate if one emerges and any independent candidates able to meet the stiff requirements, will appear on the ballot Nov. 5.

So, even if you live in a town where the town races are uncontested, the important campaign for county judge and the fact that candidates for the New York Supreme Court’s 6th Judicial District will also appear on the ballot should be enough to bring you to the polls in November. And now that you know that petitioning and primaries will always take place in March and June, why not get ready for your own race in 2020, 2021 or beyond? We are happy to help you get started.

Kathy Zahler is Director of Communications for the Tompkins County Democratic Committee. See the committee website at


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