Another big win for Republicans

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 November 2013 at 1:23 am

Nursing Home issue not enough to elect opposition except for Fred Miller in Albion

ALBION – A public outcry over the past several months against selling the county nursing home wasn’t enough to elect a slate of candidates who ran to “Save Our Nursing Home.”

The Republican candidates for Legislature were all swept into office, except for incumbent Henry Smith Jr. He lost to Fred Miller, 900-607. Miller is an Albion village trustee who owns a hardware store in downtown Albion.

Miller’s victory was tempered by the loss of four candidates who ran on an independent “Save Our Nurisng Home” line. Those candidates – Gary Kent, Jack Gillman, Linda Rak and Emil Smith – also secured either the Democrat or Conservative lines. Miller ran with the backing of the Democrats and Conservatives, as did David Schult.

“Everyone worked very hard,” said Jeanne Crane, the Democratic Party chairwoman. “They put their whole heart into it. They did the best that they could.”

Crane said Democrats fielded an energetic challenge to Republicans, who have nearly double the number of registered Democrats in the county. Republicans also had more money to spend for mailers and advertising, Crane said.

“I’m just disappointed for the people who ran and put their whole heart into it,” she said at the Pullman Memorial Universalist Church, where Democrats and many members of the Concerned Citizens of Orleans County gathered on Tuesday night.

Photo by Tom Rivers – The Concerned Citizens of Orleans County boldly urged people to vote in support of candidates who wanted The Villages of Orleans to stay a county-owned nursing home. This van was parked at the routes 98 and 31 intersection on Tuesday.

The group had hoped to celebrate a victory, and many expected a win given the Republicans, Conservatives and independents who rallied for the cause of keeping the nursing home county-owned. County Legislator George Bower, a Republican, chose to stay with the Democrats on Tuesday night rather than the Republican gathering at the Pillars.

Bower was the lone legislator who opposed transferring The Villages of Orleans, the 120-bed nursing home, to a local development corporation. That three-man board has received bids for the nursing home.

The atmosphere was subdued when the results were announced at the Pullman Church. None of the Save Our Nursing Home candidates won. Kent worked hard on the campaign for the past nine months. Incumbent Don Allport received 3,292 votes to 2,859 for Kent.

About 50 people at Pullman stood up and applauded Kent when he addressed the group. Kent thanked them for making the nursing home such a high-profile issue. He urged them to keep the “Save Our Nursing Home” signs in the ground, well after election day.

“Straighten them up and leave them there,” he said.

Miller’s win will give Democrats their first elected county official in four years. Miller credited his 33 years at the hardware store, plus experience on the Village Board, for giving him many connections in the community. He knows many residents turned out at the polls because of the nursing home.

“It woke up the community,” he said.

Miller said he will resign from the Village Board before his legislator term starts on Jan. 1. He is the first village resident to serve on the County Legislature in 30 years even though the village is the county seat.

Miller has a reputation on the Village Board for nay votes. He said he will bring an independent streak to the Legislature.

“I haven’t liked the lopsidedness of the County Legislature,” he said. “It takes someone to go against the grain.”

Republicans posted comfortable margins of victory in five other races. Legislature Chairman David Callard was unopposed.

Incumbent Lynne Johnson of Lyndonville was among the winners. She received 968 votes to 629 for Linda Rak.

Johnson acknowledged Orleans is a strong Republican county, which was key in a near GOP sweep.

But she said voters wanted more than a “one-issue campaign.” The Republicans have been noting the Legislature’s efforts to stay under the 2 percent property tax cap the past two years, and efforts to upgrade the emergency communication system, fix the county jail, promote the fishing industry, and trim the county government workforce.

“A lot of people were very passionate about the nursing home,” Johnson said. “We are going to save the nursing home. It just won’t be county-owned.”

Ed Morgan, the GOP chairman, praised the Republican legislators for bringing a business-approach to managing the county, looking for ways to reduce costs and privatize services where possible.

“They’ve done a good job especially when so many people are at their throats to cut, cut, cut,” Morgan said.

The county will have more resources for road and infrastructure, as well as public safety once the nursing home is sold, Morgan said.

“We stayed to the issues and the candidates worked hard,” he said about the GOP victories.

Johnson said Smith will be missed on the Legislature.

“He is a very honest, humble and moral man,” she said. “He’s been a big part of our team.”