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2015 Person of the Year: Randy Bower

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 January 2016 at 12:00 am

Holley man inspired many in campaign for sheriff

Photos by Tom Rivers – Randy Bower is joined by many members of the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department when he was sworn in as new sheriff on Dec. 30.

Randy Bower in early 2015 met with many Republican Party leaders, trying to make his case to be the next sheriff of the county. When it was time to endorse a candidate on May 7, Bower would get about 40 percent of the vote from the Orleans County Republican Committee.

The majority chose Tom Drennan as the party candidate. Drennan worked as chief deputy for nine years. He certainly had the resume to succeed Scott Hess, who would retire on Dec. 31.

Bower, on May 4, secured the Conservative Party endorsement ahead the GOP committe vote. He was guaranteed a spot on the November ballot, but to win, he would likely need the Republican Party line in November. To do that, Bower would have to force a Republican primary against Drennan and win.

Bower, 50, may have seemed like an unlikely sheriff candidate. He didn’t have experience as a police officer. He worked 29 years as public safety dispatcher.

He also has been confined to a wheelchair after a serious car accident at age 18.

Bower has been active in the community, even coaching the Holley varsity girls basketball team when his daughter Jessica played. The team went from winless to the playoffs with Bower earning coach of the year honors.

If people thought Bower would quietly go away after the Republican Party endorsement, they were wrong. The following week he announced Chris Bourke, a long-time lieutenant and K9 handler, would be his undersheriff.

“Randy is an organizer,” Bourke said during a May 13 interview at Bower’s home in Holley. “I have no doubt he can do the job.”

On June 6, Holley held its annual June Fest parade. There were a few political candidates in the parade, usually the candidate and maybe one or two supporters passing out candy.

Bower had about 50 supporters. They were wearing red “Bower for Sheriff” T-shirts and many of the people in the parade were deputies and employees for the Sheriff’s Department. Drennan didn’t march in the Holley parade.

Randy Bower, left, had a large contingent of supporters wearing red during the Holley parade, helping him in his campaign for Orleans County sheriff. Holley is Bower’s hometown.

Bower’s supporters on the parade routes would grow at Lyndonville’s Fourth of July Parade and the Kendall Firemen’s Carnival. Drennan also appeared with many supporters at those parades.

By June, Bower hand more than 500 signatures of registered Republicans to force a Primary on Sept. 10 versus Drennan.

Bower had his own display and outside booth at the Orleans County 4-H Fairgrounds and met with residents daily. While many candidates seem to get worn down in a campaign, Bower maintained an enthusiasm throughout.

He met frequently with his supporters and assigned team captains to get out the vote throughout the county. He built an organization outside the leadership of the Republican Party, which has long dominated local politics.

On Primary Day, Bower would hold a razor-thin 27-vote lead, 1,588 to 1,561, over Drennan. When the absentee ballots were counted on Sept. 15, Bower won 1,671 to 1,650.

Randy Bower is all smiles outside the Board of Elections office on Sept. 15 when he realizes he has won the Republican line for Orleans County sheriff in the Nov. 3 election. Chris Bourke, left, campaigned with Bower as Bower’s choice for undersheriff.

Drennan also wouldn’t go away quietly. He believed he had the experience in law enforcement and the proven leadership skills to lead the department. He also had the Reform and Independence party lines.

Drennan showed plenty of fortitude and commitment in his campaign.

A third candidate also would emerge for the November election. Don Organisciak, a retired Medina police investigator, had the backing of the Democratic Party.

Orleans County residents were witnessing one of the most competitive and grueling local elections in recent history. On Nov. 3, the election felt like a tossup.

Bower won by a comfortable margin. He topped Drennan, 3,951 votes to 3,507, with Organisciak getting 847.

“I think the people are ready for a change,” Bower said after the results came in Nov. 3. “Now we have to go to work for the people of Orleans County.”

Bower was busy after the election meeting with law enforcement leaders in the county and region. He attended a state-wide conference for sheriffs in Albany.

He ran with several goals for the Sheriff’s Department, including bringing mental health and drug addiction services to inmates in the county jail. “These are our people,” Bower has said.

During the Albany conference, he heard from sheriffs who have success helping inmates with mental health problems. Last month, the Orleans County Legislature announced its support for a similar effort in the county jail after hearing a presentation from Bower; Scott Wilson, the jail superintendent; and Mark O’Brien, the director of mental health in Orleans County.

Mark O’Brien (right), director of the Orleans County Mental Health Department, presents the Stepping Up Initiative to Orleans County legislators on Dec. 16. O’Brien is joined by Scott Wilson (center), the jail superintendent, and Randy Bower.

Bower has shown he can bring people together and inspire them to a higher purpose. During a time of voter apathy and public disenchantment with politicians, he inspired an army of “Randy Red” in his campaign for sheriff.

Bower said it wasn’t just about winning an election. During his swearing-in on Dec. 30, about 125 people filled the main courtroom at the Orleans County Courthouse.

“Now we go to work for the people of Orleans County,” Bower again told the group.

Judge James Punch has sworn in many elected officials the past two decades and he said he didn’t recall such a crowd for one of the ceremonial events.

He told the group at Bower’s swearing-in that the new sheriff is an inspiration for the community, bringing an upbeat attitude and strong desire to serve the public.

“He’s an unstoppable force,” Punch said.

Punch recalled when he was in his late 20s and he met Bower when he was 19, soon after his serious accident. Bower, even then, exuded optimism and gave people a boost, the judge said.

Bower said he lives a blessed life with his wife Robin and their two grown children: Jessica and Jacob. In addition to working as a dispatcher, he has been a member of the Sheriff’s Department’s Off-Road Patrol from 1992-1998, riding all-terrain vehicles to help locate missing persons, stolen property and respond to other situations.

“This wheelchair is just a perception,” said during a campaign speech. “I can do anything I want.”