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April 25, 2014

In Our Opinion: Magee has a tough path to re-election

The Daily Star

---- — Make no mistake about it, Assemblyman Bill Magee is a good, old boy.

But will voters think that at age 74 he is too old of a boy to deserve retaining his 121st District seat in what would seem to be a difficult election cycle for the Democrat from Nelson?

Magee, with his ample frame, rambling gait and stolid manner, looks like he could have been sent out by Central Casting for this rural district. He will be the first to tell people that he is chairman of the Assembly’s Agricultural Committee and thus is able to represent his constituency better than anyone else.

It is that basic argument that has enabled Magee to serve as a Democrat in a Republican-leaning district since 1990. The common wisdom is that once Magee leaves the Legislature, the seat will belong to the GOP for the foreseeable future.

With that in mind, you would think that the Democratic Party would make efforts to preserve Magee like a precious Ming dynasty vase.

But that isn’t the case this year.

Michael Hennessy, a 55-year-old stockbroker and former Oneida County legislator, is challenging Magee in a Democratic primary, and by the looks of things, smells blood in the water.

Hennessy, a Sherrill city commissioner, received the backing of the Madison County Democratic Committee last week. Madison is Magee’s home county.

Hennessy apparently earned the recommendation by employing the time-honored political practice of telling an audience everything it wanted to hear.

“Mr. Hennessy supported every item in our platform,” said Michael Oot, the Madison Democratic chairman.

Magee received a standing ovation from the committee gathering. “The room was filled with a lot of affection for him,” said Oot. But it was Hennessy who came away with the endorsement.

Hennessy said he is confident that he will be endorsed by the Oneida County Democrats after being recommended by that group’s executive committee.

But it might well be too soon to start writing Magee’s political obituary. He is a fixture at virtually any chicken dinner event, where he often reads Assembly proclamations to award recipients. He has been a diligent defender and advocate for local interests within the Assembly.

The Otsego County Democratic Committee is sticking with him, and Magee contends that the Madison endorsement came from “a very small group of individuals” within the county.

“I have represented this district well, and I will continue to do so,” Magee said last week.

Still, even if he defeats Hennessy in the primary, Magee will face a Republican — Brookfield Town Supervisor John Salka has announced his candidacy — in November.

What is apparent is that Bill Magee will have to run much harder than usual this year if he expect to be re-elected.