COOPERSTOWN — In an announcement that took many Otsego County government insiders by surprise, Rep. Rich Murphy, D-town of Oneonta, said Thursday afternoon he will not re-election to the seat he has held for nearly six years.
“It’s simply time for me to do some other things in my life at this point,” said Murphy, 63, a retired speech pathologist for the Board of Cooperative Education Services and a volunteer coach for Oneonta Little League for 27 years.
In 12 years in politics, he never lost an election, winning back-to-back elections to the Oneonta Town Board before three successive victories for the county board seat he will keep until year’s end.
Last year, Murphy rose to vice chairman of the county Board of Representatives, and was placed in charge of a key committee — administration, which oversees the shaping of the county budget — by Chairwoman Kathleen Clark, R-Otego.
Political insiders have said that had Murphy chosen to run as an incumbent, District 4, which he represents, would not have been viewed as a highly competitive one, given his history of success at the ballot box. In his last contest two years ago, Murphy won a lopsided contest against Oneonta Town Board Member Scott Gravelin, taking nearly 70 percent of the votes.
His announcement immediately made District 4 a target for the Republicans.
“We will have a candidate,” declared Otsego County GOP Chairwoman Sheila Ross.
Murphy said a Democrat has already stepped forward, and will formally enter the race next week. He declined to name that person.
“We have somebody who is going to be a new and exciting candidate who will run in my place,” Murphy said. “I can leave with some level of confidence that there will be a qualified and competent person stepping up to run for the office, and I’m happy about that.”
The county board is currently made up of seven Republicans and seven Democrats, with the GOP maintaining control due to the weighted vote system. The fact that Democrats are now within striking distance of the Republicans has fueled political tension at some county board and committee meetings.
But Murphy insisted his planned departure has nothing to do with external influences, and is instead motivated for his desire to find more time to pursue other matters.
He said he has no specific plans for next year, and in the meantime will devote himself to his work on the county board and his committee assignments.
“I would expect as time goes on in 2014 that there will be some opportunities for me to affiliate with. As of now, I have no specific arrangements with anyone.”
Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, who has differed with Murphy on a number of public policy issues, said he has strong respect for the Oneonta Democrat’s commitment to public service.
“Rich Murphy is a very good guy to work with,” said Powers. “He cares about people and he cares about the county.”
The board has been faced with tough decisions over the past two years, and this year opted to put the deficit-ridden Otsego Manor nursing home on the path to privatization.
“Anyone who tells you this is an easy job has never done it,” Powers said. “It’s an incredible amount of time and it has en impact on your personal life.”
For Democrats, the game plan going into the 2013 election season has been to target District 5, which has the most weighted votes in the county. That seat is held by Rep. Pauline Koren, R-Milford, who like Murphy has also decided not to run again this year. Vying for her seat are Ed Lentz, a Democrat from New Lisbon and an attorney, and Jamie Waters, a Republican from Milford and a contractor.
Power said Murphy’s decision will likely force the Democrats to rethink their strategy.
“That seat (District 4) is in play now,” he said.
Murphy’s announcement also means the county board will have three new faces, at a minimum, in 2014. Long-time Rep. Catherine Rothenberger, D-Oneonta, has also decided not to run for re-election.
Asked if he was closing the door on ever returning to electoral politics, Murphy said he will keep his options open for the future. He said he will also continue to serve on the building committee for St. Mary’s Parish. He and his wife, Pat, have two adult sons.