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January 5, 2013

New Year bringsnew maneuversfor old disputes

By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

---- — The first week of 2013 is still in progress, and we can already detect a heavy aroma of political intrigue in the air.

For starters, the founder of the anti-fracking group, Sustainable Otsego, Adrian Kuzminski, began the New Year by trying to kick the chair out from under any plans Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller might have for winning a second four-year term later this year. In a letter to Otsego County Democratic Committee members, Kuzminski urged that local Democrats distance themselves from Miller, an unenrolled independent who secured the Democratic line four years ago.

Kuzminski’s beef with the mayor stems from the fact that the latter supports the idea of having the proposed Constitution Pipeline run along the Interstate 88 corridor. The mayor, who opposes hydrofracking, has argued that the pipeline could be operated safely and could become a source of cheap natural gas for businesses, schools and other institutions in the region.

“It harms the Otsego Democratic party to support a candidate like Miller, who’s not even a Democrat,” Kuzminski wrote. “Better he runs as a Republican and the Democrats focus on finding a good opponent either this time, or the next time around. The idea that there doesn’t seem to be an alternative to Miller at this early stage bespeaks an unwillingness to fight for principle.”

We reached out to the Richard Abbate, the new Otsego County Democratic chairman, who indicated the party plans to interview Miller later this month. Abbate noted that not all Democrats are out to sink the pipeline. He pointed out that there are even individuals who have worked with Sustainable Otsego, such as retired oil company executive Lou Allstadt, who have argued that the pipeline would not necessarily lure gas drillers to the region.

We also reached out to Miller, who showed no desire to fire back at Kuzminski, a Fly Creek resident.

“I was elected as an independent who was also allowed to run on the Democratic line, and if - underline “if” -  I choose to run again, i would run as an independent again. And whether I was on the Democratic line or not would be the decision of the Democratic Party to make. I haven’t decided yet if I will run, so all of this seems a bit premature. But I completely support the pipeline, and I will continue to support it.”

Abbate said that at this stage he knows of no Democrat angling for the top job in Oneonta City Hall, and that several prominent city of Oneonta Democrats back Miller.

Political tension also wafted into the Otsego County office building in Cooperstown on Wednesday, when county representatives were faced with the question of whether to replace the board’s vice chairman, Rep. Rich Murphy, D-town of Oneonta, with first-term Rep. Pauline Koren, R-Milford.

The push for Koren appeared to come out of the blue, with Murphy indicating he was as surprised as anyone. But the effort to strip the Democrat of the vice chairmanship on a board made up of seven Republicans and seven Democrats blew up when maverick Rep. Donald Lindberg, R-Worcester, bucked his own party and opted to stick with Murphy.

Lindberg’s hopes of becoming the board chairman a year ago were dashed when Rep. Kathy Clark, R-Otego, ended up capturing the post.

“He did a good job,” Lindberg said in explaining his support for Murphy. “The board is split 7-7 and we ought to get along and get the work done.”

He called the effort to upend Murphy “foolish.”

Otsego County GOP Chairman Sheila Ross said Koren simply wanted the opportunity to increase her level of participation on the county board.

“Mr. Lindberg won’t talk to me,” she said. “I try calling him and he won’t talk. He won’t have anything to do with me or the party.”

Several Democrats said they saw the failed effort as a ham-handed attempt by Ross to improve Koren’s chances of getting re-elected later this year.

“The Republican failure to support my role as vice chairman in the absence of any constructive criticism accentuates politics at its worst,” Murphy said, adding that the maneuver shows the local GOP is putting its “own proliferation over the will of the people.”

JOE MAHONEY can be reached at jmahoney@thedailystar.com