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November 28, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
There is no other way to say it; County Executive Greg Edwards had an astonishing landslide victory on November 3, something political observers call a mandate. His victory might well have been another step toward gaining that elusive quality elected officials covet but few attain--gravitas. There are probably fewer than a dozen past and present politicians in Chautauqua County who project seriousness of purpose, formality in bearing and appearance to such a degree that when they speak people, regardless of political persuasion, listen.

It in no way diminishes Mr. Edwards record and reelection efforts that Chuck Cornell was a huge underdog in his campaign to unseat the incumbent County Executive. Try as he might Mr. Cornell failed to convince voters that his opponents record was at issue as evidenced by Edward’s overwhelming victory.

Chuck Cornell might have lost the election under any circumstances but the margin of his defeat was neither accidental nor caprice of fate. Despite a feeling among some Democratic Party stalwarts that his candidacy was premature, too early in the election cycle coupled with internal party jealousies and a general malaise Mr. Cornell fell victim to a largely uncontested ballot and a horrifyingly low voter turn out.

Having so many incumbent candidates running unopposed in our towns, cities and county (I counted at least 80 unopposed offices before I quit) is not good government. Of four county wide races this year, Surrogate Judge, District Attorney and County Clerk, Mr. Cornell was the lone Democrat on the ballot for County Executive.

Some Democrats grumble that it was Republican strategy to suppress voter turnout in Jamestown by not fielding a slate of council candidates. Whether a suppressed turn out was a Republican strategy or not Democratic Committees at the county and city levels failed miserably to get Democratic voters to the polls. Instead, the behavior of both political parties is evidence of a breakdown of the local party committee structure.

It was once the responsibility of local political committees to expand the local committee and build political parties. Elected officials and prospective candidates once came to the local committee for advise and help. Local committees were once the place where people could learn the art of politics, develop candidates to run for political office and circulate petitions to get their candidates on the ballot.

Local committee members once fed multitudes spaghetti dinners, held cake walks and pie suppers and family picnics to raise money for a campaign headquarters. Party headquarters were crammed with volunteers manning telephone banks, stuffing envelopes, and making signs for candidates. Volunteers became experts at GOTV, an acronym for GET OUT THE VOTE.

Today, the local political committee is but a shadow of it former self. More often than not incumbents and first time candidates view local political committees as more of a hinderance than a help. Although political party structure is suffering in both major parties in Chautauqua County, the local Republican Party, particularly in Jamestown, is tired. Fewer young people are coming up in the ranks. It probably wasn’t by design that Jamestown Republicans failed to put up candidates for city council.

Democrats aren’t faring any better. For the most part local party committees are dominated by elected officials and committees offer little support for candidates. With Chautauqua County taking more responsibility for services once provided by the city of Jamestown tensions between local county legislators and city officials often rise to the surface.

A strong political committee can ameliorate many of those niggling problems that naturally arise in the political process and citizens are better served when local political committees operate at full strength. I believe that the failures of our national political system can be blamed on the deterioration of local political committees.

To illustrate the low voter turnout consider the combined vote, slightly more than 27,000, for the two candidates for County Executive: In previous Chautauqua County contests many candidates have lost elections with a larger plurality. This past election with its historic low voter turn out was not a winning strategy--we are all losers.


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