One-Party Rule Has Flaws In State, At Home

Editor's Corner

Dunkirk Democrats celebrate a victory for the council at-large seat for Nick Weiser, right. It was one of a few bright spots on Election night. File photo

Hours after the polls closed on Election Day, Dunkirk’s Marcus Buchanan was full of optimism despite a 10-vote deficit in his race for the District One Chautauqua County legislator seat. “They have to count the absentee ballots for the final score,” he wrote in a Facebook post late that evening. “(Those heavily) favor me!”

On Nov. 20, his premonition had proven correct. After the county Board of Elections completed its tallies that afternoon, Buchanan had flipped the script – recording an 80-vote victory over incumbent Kevin Muldowney.

Despite holding a seat on the Dunkirk Board of Education, Buchanan became emotional when the final result was announced. “My mom (Charlotte Buchanan) always wanted me to run for office,” he said. “She would have been so proud. Winning the school board election and now legislator. Although she’s still with us, she suffers from Alzheimer’s. This is for you mom!”

Before Muldowney had taken control of the seat for the last four terms, it was a Democratic stronghold. Former Dunkirk fire chief Keith Ahlstrom was a consistent voice of reason for the north county and in Mayville as well while serving. He declined a re-election run in 2015 after nine consecutive terms.

Eight years ago was a vastly different time when it came to the county’s political landscape. Though members of the Republican party had some clout, they did not dominate as they do today.

Buchanan’s comeback last month was one of the few bright spots for the recently prominent second-placers. His hard work of getting residents to the polls for early voting, Election Day and through absentee ballots made the difference in the end.

For all the troubles and tumult that have surrounded county Democrats in the last eight elections, this year’s results cannot be considered a gain. Overall, the party held steady, making a narrow gain in county government and some villages and towns, while falling on its face in the largest municipality.

Though the city of Dunkirk maintained a Republican council by 3-2 majority and a Democratic mayor, it was a much different tale in the south county. With the exception of Regina Brackman’s victory in Ward 3, a red avalanche took the remaining council seats and mayor in Jamestown.

If one-party rule of Democrats is a problem in Albany, it cannot be considered a silver bullet on a local level. Those watching closely have witnessed Republican smugness in the county seat where complacency is the norm while officials blame the state capital for every roadblock that comes before them.

Sure, the services that include maintenance of roads, law enforcement and Health Department initiatives are consistently being addressed. But there’s a lack of vision for growing a county that has been declining in population – and workforce – over the last four decades.

Republicans may be winning a majority of the annual November battles, but they are running in place the other 11 months in Mayville when it comes to finding efficiencies and reducing expenses. Raccoons scavenging through a leftover picnic basket have more urgency and awareness of their surroundings and future than some of those who represent us.

Jamestown’s battalion cannot fall into that same trap. This group has been granted the ability – and votes – to improve downtown and the city. New Mayor Kim Ecklund and a Republican council have complete control. There’s no opposition to blame if a lack of development and private investment fails in the coming two years.

That’s why the addition of Buchanan and Fred Larson of Jamestown joining incumbent Democratic Legislators Susan Parker, Robert Bankoski and Tom Nelson offers a chance to bring a more vocal – and hopefully watchdog tone – to Mayville. Those tied to the elephant symbol will remain in solid control of the Legislature – that helps oversee a $294 million spending plan in 2024 – by a 14-5 margin starting in January.

Flush with $37 million in reserves, the minority faction of four in October sought another $1 million in relief for county taxpayers. That effort never had a chance as the majority ganged up to defeat passing on additional savings to an already highly taxed population.

Having a slight surplus in government is welcome and acceptable. Keeping a particularly large stash – for no good reason – looks greedy and disingenuous.

If there’s some sort of a plan for that chunk of change, residents deserve to know. Otherwise, put it back in their pockets.

John D’Agostino is the editor of The Post-Journal, OBSERVER and Times Observer in Warren. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 716-487-1111, ext. 253.


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