Editorial: Counting our blessings for competitive elections

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 November 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Tom Drennan campaigns for sheriff during the Fourth of July Parade in Lyndonville. Drennan worked hard over several months in the race for sheriff but lost a close race to Randy Bower.

(Editor’s Note: Orleans Hub will offer a daily Thanksgiving tribute this week. Today, we look back at the election season with competitive races.)

The election season is over and it was highly unusual for the feistiness in several local races. Often in recent years a full slate of candidates has run unopposed. That happened this election season again with some of our local towns.

But every resident who voted on Nov. 3 had choices in at least two races: county sheriff and one of the county-wide legislator positions.

In my 20 years as a reporter in Orleans County, I’ve never seen anything like this past sheriff’s race, such a heated and close battle to the very end.

Randy Bower emerged as the victor, but I’d like to congratulate Tom Drennan and Don Organisciak for both running and pushing hard up to election day. They certainly made Bower work hard to get elected. I bet Bower is a better man for it and will do a better job in his new role as sheriff than if he had a free pass throughout the election season.

I wish more people would run for office, that we would have competitive races and candidates would be forced to put out ideas and an action plan for the local municipalities. Too often, the candidates don’t have opposition. There isn’t much accountability for voters who don’t believe the elected officials are doing a good job.

It’s hard for Democrats to get elected with Republicans holding a 2-to-1 enrollment advantage. So many Democrats don’t try. Darlene Benton pulled off an upset in Albion, winning a spot to the Albion Town Board over Paul Fulcomer, the endorsed Republican. I give Fulcomer credit for getting on the ballot, and wanting to continue public service after retiring as the Veterans Service Agency director in Orleans County.

James White, 21, ran a spirited, low-budget campaign for county legislator. He is shown making pancakes during the 4-H Fair.

James White, 21, of Gaines made his first attempt at elected office, running against Don Allport, who cruised to a victory for an at-large legislator position. White ran a vigorous campaign and put some ideas on the table. I’ve seen younger adults run for the Board of Education, but I don’t recall seeing someone so young make a serious run for a county elected position.

White may have lost on election day, but he deserves praise and appreciation for giving the voters a choice.

Paul Lauricella has been a long-time observer and critic of local government. This year he stepped it up and ran for county legislator – a district that includes the towns of Yates, Ridgeway and a portion of Shelby. Lauricella only had the Conservative Party line and didn’t win, but he received 552 votes.

Paul Lauricella, shown here in the Lyndonville pararde on July 4th, received about a third of the vote on Nov. 3 despite only being on the Conservative Party line.

The Town of Yates rarely generates much opposition or excitement for elections. It’s about as quiet as it gets in a democracy – until this year. The wind turbine issue brought out candidates and voters. Yates had the highest turnout of any community on election day with 50.2 percent going to the polls, compared to a 38.2 percent county average.

Jim Simon won the town supervisor race in a write-in bid. That rarely happens, but John Belson, the incumbent town supervisor, should be commended for his public service.

Orleans Hub would like to praise every candidate for being part of the election process, for their willingness to be on the ballot and give voters a choice.

Overall, the county still has more unopposed candidates than those with opposition. That doesn’t give voters much reason to go to the polls, or provide extra incentive for the elected officials to do the best job possible.

We still have a long ways to go for competitive elections in our county. Consider the following:

There were nine county positions up for election but only three were contested. That’s 33 percent with a choice.

Three of the 10 towns had candidates who were all unopposed.

The 10 towns combined had 49 positions up for election but only 16 had more than one candidate or 32.7 percent.

The candidates who didn’t win on election day shouldn’t be viewed as losers. They made for one of the more exciting election seasons in recent memory. Here’s to more candidates giving it a try next time.