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July 13, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
Political tea leaves indicate that Chuck Cornell will have an uphill battle in his effort to unseat incumbent County Executive Greg Edwards. I expect Mr. Cornell might agree with that early assessment, however, that is why we have elections. It was only four years ago when a political newcomer named Greg Edwards faced a similar situation and defeated a two term incumbent County Executive.

Mr. Cornell is smart, but a lot of people are smart, however, Mr. Cornell possesses something that eludes many; he is politically savvy. His opponents have tended to under estimate his political skills—prowess he has attained by study, observation and practice. Cornell worked as an Executive Assistant in the Thomas Administration and some political insiders hold the view that it was his departure that contributed to Thomas losing to Edwards.

Taking over the legislative seat formerly held by the late Jane Fagerstrom Chuck Cornell sailed past more senior members of the Democratic Caucus and when the opportunity arose he assumed the reins as Majority Leader. Again, political insiders agree that he could have been Chairman of the County Legislature, but thus far into his political career he has picked his fights carefully.

Cornell is confident that he can appeal to marginal Republican voters and persuade that ever increasing number of unaffiliated voters—citizens who avoid choosing any political party to his cause. That ability so impressed the County Independence Party and its chairman Thom Shagla that both endorsed Mr. Cornell as their party’s candidate.

Chuck Cornell has demonstrated that he can navigate stormy political waters, but at the start of this campaign he finds himself in a political briar patch. Mr. Cornell held a reception recently, a euphemism for fund-raiser, in Jamestown and the affair was reasonably well attended. As expected the candidate was there with his wife, also a candidate for the County Legislature, and their three boys. There were a couple of people in attendance looking for jobs in a new administration and there were elected officials, two to be exact, three counting the candidate. Assemblyman William Parment was there—no Democrat in his or her right mind runs in Chautauqua County without support from Bill Parment, and a Supreme Court Justice representing eight Western New York Counties who is running for re-election.

It’s hard to say whether it is ineptness, inexperience or arrogance that drives the Democratic Party, but take your pick. There was not a single Democrat from the City Council in attendance at Cornell’s reception, or the Mayor. There was not one Democratic Legislator nor candidate for the legislature from Jamestown present. No other Democratic Legislators—not one—was in attendance and that included the Chairman of the County Legislature, Keith Ahlstrom who also happens to be Chairman of the County Democratic Party. Vince DeJoy, 4th Ward Councilman and Chairman of the City Democratic Committee also missed the reception.

There could be perfectly good reasons why the Mayor and other elected officials skipped the event—out of town, prior commitments etc., no doubt, there will be other occasions for them to express their solidarity, but the Democratic Party Chairs should have been there. For that matter, elected Democrats, Party Officials and those that want to be should have attended if for no other reason than to make an good impression on a candidate for Supreme Court in the 8th Judicial District.

Chautauqua County once had a Supreme Court Judge elected from those same eight Western New York counties. The Honorable Justice Joseph Gerace might never had a chance to serve as a Supreme Court Judge from Chautauqua County without the help of local party officials, elected officials and party leaders in those other counties.

Mr. Cornell has the ability to navigate stormy political waters, but there are always those who are waiting to pick up the pieces should he fail to be elected. Aside from challenging a charming, self effacing incumbent who hasn’t angered voters Chuck Cornell must ignite a fire under his own party leaders.

If he is successful with the Democrats and with that strong endorsement from the Independence Party and the Conservative Party forming a circular firing squad, the November 3rd election for County Executive might be interesting if not down right exciting.


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Hon. Chuck Cornell