By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — Seven of the 14 district seats on the Otsego County Board of Representatives are up for grabs Tuesday, giving voters the opportunity to decide if they want to keep Republicans in charge of county government or let Democrats take the helm.
Three current representatives — Rich Murphy, D- town of Oneonta, from District 4; Pauline Koren, R-Milford, from District 5; and Catherine Rothenberger, D-city of Oneonta, from District 12 — have decided to leave the board at year’s end, guaranteeing there will be least three fresh faces on the panel in January.
The county board determines the county’s budget each year and holds the most power of any local government entity in the county. The way it chooses to spend taxpayers’ dollars determines how frequently deputies can patrol local highways, which public works projects are given priority and how much property owners will pay in county taxes.
One of the biggest decisions made by the board in the last two years was its determination that the Otsego Manor nursing home should be sold to a private operator. The Manor, which is expected to be sold in 2014, is slated to receive a county subsidy of more than $4 million in the coming year.
The board is currently made up of seven Republicans and seven Democrats, though the GOP holds power under the system of weighted voting. But Democrats say they’re in good position to seize control of the board once the votes are tallied Tuesday night. Republicans are equally optimistic the results will favor their candidates.
The Democratic game plan calls for a victory in the district with the most weighted votes in the county — District 5, which covers Milford, Hartwick and New Lisbon. The Democratic candidate, Edward Lentz of New Lisbon, is a patent attorney, farmer and gun-rights advocate. He faces Republican Jamie Waters of Milford, a general contractor who helps lead the annual Goodyear Lake Polar Bear Jump charity event.
Should Lentz take District 5, it will be a jolt to the Republicans, as the district’s most populous community, Milford, is the home of state Sen. James Seward, the region’s highest-ranking and longest-serving Republican elected official.
Another contest being closely watched by political insiders features the matchup between first-term Rep. John Kosmer, D-Fly Creek, and Rick Hulse Jr., the GOP candidate and a veteran businessman. Kosmer, one of the original members of the anti-fracking group Sustainable Otsego, remains an ardent opponent of shale gas drilling. Hulse said he also opposes drilling within Otsego County but argued that issue’s importance has waned because of the passage of numerous home-rule measures banning the industry.
Kosmer accused Republicans of pushing an “outdated” agenda that includes trying to lure manufacturing jobs back to Otsego County, pointing out that such local successful businesses as Brewery Ommegang in Middlefield and Chobani yogurt in Chenango County are not complaining about the business environment in upstate New York.
“They want to bring in this 20th century notion of manufacturing to Otsego County, while we’re going headlong into the 21st century,” Kosmer said. “The new businesses that are going to succeed are going to do so because they make great products.”
Hulse said county government is now mired in “reactive thinking” and needs to adopt the kind of management practices that help businesses succeed.
“If we keep doing the same things we have been doing and expect a different outcome, that is the definition of insanity,” Hulse said.
He said he is open to the idea of creating a new position of county manager — a proposal long advocated by Democrats on the board — but suggested there should be a reduction in the Board of Representatives to help pay for the position. He also said before a manager is hired there should be determination that county residents support taking that step.
“If we don’t have our own house in order first, we would be setting that person up for failure,” Hulse said.
The fracking issue is also potentially in play in District 3, where the chairwoman of the county board, Rep. Kathy Clark, R-Otego, is being challenged by Democrat-backed Stu Anderson, a Republican who led the push to enact a home-rule ban against drilling in the town of Otego. Last year, Clark had supported an alternative plan that would have routed the proposed Constitution Pipeline along the Interstate 88 corridor so that the county would derive revenue from the $683 million natural gas transmission system.
Running for Murphy’s seat in District 4 are Oneonta Town Board Member Janet Hurley Quackenbush, the GOP candidate, and Daniel Buttermann, a Democrat who is making his first run for public office and has received guidance in his campaign from Murphy, the vice chairman of the county Democratic organization.
County GOP chairman Vince Casale said Quackenbush is well-known to Oneonta voters.
“I feel good about Janet,” Casale said. “She has been a proven leader on the town board.”
Overall, Casale said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the Republicans will retain the majority on the county board. “I think the most important thing is that our candidates offer a breath and depth of knowledge and experience, and we need people with that type of knowledge.”
Democratic County Chairman Rich Abbate said he has been impressed by Buttermann’s enthusiasm and grasp of the issues facing the county.
Also being tested Tuesday is Rep. Beth Rosenthal, D-Roseboom, who is opposed by Bill Glockler, a Republican who has helped mount opposition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial gun control legislation.
Running for the District 12 seat in the city of Oneonta are Amy Homburg-Heilveil, a Democrat and restaurant waitress, and Craig Gelbsman, a concert promoter and hospice organization volunteer who has both the Republican and Independence lines.
The drilling issue is most sharply in play in District 2, where Democrat Teresa Winchester, an activist in the local anti-fracking movement, is making her second attempt in two years to oust Rep. James Powers, a farmer and beekeeper who is one of the local Republican Party’s most vocal supporters of the natural gas industry.
Abbate said Democrats are prepared to lead the county if the voters decide on Tuesday that change is in order.
“Our candidates have been knocking on doors for months and meeting people where they live,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the Democratic Party taking the majority.”
Casale said the local Republican organization has evolved into a “big tent party” encouraging respect for people with different points of view.
Citing the fracking issue as an example, he said: “There is more acceptance within our party of different views than there is on the other side.”