The Daily Star
---- — Energies and enthusiasm were running high as voters prepared to go to the polls to elect their next president on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 1968. Local campaigns for the Nixon/Agnew, Humphrey/Muskie and Wallace/LeMay tickets were very active in our region.
On Friday, Nov. 2, “The Nixon ‘Bandwagon’ will roll through Otsego and Herkimer Counties … including four stops in Oneonta,” The Oneonta Star reported. The chartered bus with local politicians began at the Park Inn in Richfield Springs, and moved on to Cherry Valley, Roseboom, Middlefield, Westford and Worcester.
Following some hot chowder served by “Women for Nixon-Agnew” in Worcester, the bus rolled on to Schenevus, Maryland and Colliersville. In Oneonta, brief stops were made at the Jamesway Plaza, where Springbrook is today, the Oneonta Plaza, a downtown stop, and in what is known today as the Westgate Plaza in the West End. The return to Richfield Springs had stops in Morris, Hartwick, Cooperstown and Schuyler Lake. The “Bandwagon” approach to the campaign replaced the “store-front” style used in recent campaigns.
Mrs. Angeline Nielsen’s fifth-grade class at Oneonta’s Center Street School was busy that same day, hosting fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students to vote for their favorite presidential candidate. It was a climax for Mrs. Nielsen’s class, which had spent several weeks learning about all the campaigns. At the vote that Friday, representatives could answer questions about their candidate. Joe Hughes and Brenda Drago represented Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie, Kevin Akulin and David Scott represented Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, and representing George Wallace and Curtis LeMay were Warren Toyer and Rebecca Spearbeck.
Unfortunately, no results were published following the Center Street election.
Some area residents didn’t like any of the presidential candidates in 1968, but rather than not vote or stay at home, they were still active for their own candidate, Dick Gregory, a popular comedian at the time. On Saturday, Nov. 3 a protest march was organized by the local Students for a Democratic Society. It was to take a stand on the “No End War on Vietnam” and the “No Choice Presidential Election.”
A total of 107 students, teachers, politicians and children gathered at 1 p.m. at Old Main, the original building for the State University College at Oneonta, which once stood at the top of Maple Street. They marched through downtown and to Academy Street, ending at the armory for speeches.
Organizer Joe Brill, a SUNY Oneonta student said, “We’re here because we’re dissatisfied…we’ve always had a small group who knows what’s happening.” Brill and others interviewed said they’d be casting their votes on Tuesday for Dick Gregory.
As most recall, the nationwide vote was close, with Nixon winning only by a small margin in the popular vote. Hubert Humphrey took New York State. In Oneonta, the Nixon-Agnew slate squeaked to victory by a 2,139 to 2,012 margin. George Wallace tallied only 136 votes.
For keeping watch on votes that year, Republican election night headquarters for Otsego County was in the upstairs meeting rooms of Jerry’s Restaurant, 15 Dietz St., once found where the parking lot is now at the corner of Wall Street. The Democratic headquarters was at the Rex Restaurant, 11-13 Prospect St., once found at today’s corner of South Main and Market Streets, where the Key Bank drive-up service is.
Oneonta had one slight problem in its voting. In the Fourth Ward there was a machine malfunction. At that time, voters in that ward came to The Oneonta Star office, from an entrance on High Street.
“You could split your vote, or vote twice,” The Star reported on Nov. 6. “It seems that all the levers over presidential and vice presidential candidates were operable and one didn’t lock when you made your choice. You could have voted for whomever you wanted.” The problem was isolated and the mixed-up vote had no effect on the overall outcome locally or nationally.
This weekend: A look into Oneonta’s underground infrastructure. No need to hold your nose.
Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.