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Democrats Brawl Over Next Election Commissioner

Loren Kent

An internal fight among members of the Chautauqua County Democratic Party has spilled into the public over the appointment of who will become the next Democratic election commissioner.

On Wednesday, five county legislators each agreed to withdraw the name of Luz Torres to become the Democratic Election Commissioner on Jan. 1. The resolution was originally passed in the Administrative Services Committee and was signed by county legislators Robert Scudder, R-Fredonia; Kevin Muldowney, R-Dunkirk; John Davis, R-Frewsburg; Lisa Vanstrom, R-Ellicott; and Christine Starks, D-Fredonia. According to county attorney Stephen Abdella, all five legislators agreed to withdraw the resolution. If any of them hadn’t, the full Legislature would have voted on Torres’ appointment.

Current Democratic Election Commissioner Norman P. Green questioned Legislature Chairman Pierre Chagnon if Starks, who is the only Democrat on the committee, pulled her endorsement. His question was not answered Wednesday night, however Abdella said Thursday she did, otherwise the resolution would not have been pulled.

A call to Starks’ number listed on the county Board of Elections website was not answered Thursday and a message could not be left, because the message box is full. A text sent to that same number was not responded to.

A message left for Scudder, the committee chairman, was not returned Thursday.

Luz Torres

By pulling the resolution, county lawmakers did not officially oppose Torres to becoming the next Democratic Election Commissioner. Even though they didn’t vote, that didn’t stop Green from sending out a news release Wednesday night, attacking members of the county legislature.

The headline of the press release read: CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY DEM AND REPUBLICANS JOIN TOGETHER TO BLOCK THE APPOINTMENT OF A FIRST EVER HISPANIC DEPARTMENT HEAD,” written in all capital letters.

The press release itself, which was sent out by Green in his role as county Democratic chairman, noted that he “attempted to speak on the issue at the first privilege of the floor, but was removed by a deputy sheriff at the request Democratic Legislature Minority Leader Chuck Nazzaro because the appointment resolution had been removed and Nazzaro claimed Green no longer was entitled to speak to a resolution that was withdrawn from the agenda.”

During Wednesday night’s meeting, which was recorded on Facebook live and covered in Thursday’s OBSERVER and Post-Journal, Green was quoted as saying, “It would be the greatest privilege of my life to be removed from this legislature chamber.”

At the end of the legislature meeting, which lasted more than 2 and 1/2 hours, a number of Democrats spoke to county lawmakers, some urging for Torres’ appointment, and others complaining about the process.

Seven of those speaking favored Torres. They included: Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas, Ned Divine, Lilian Divine, Edwin Ramos, Donna Karcz and Marcia Johnson. All live in the Dunkirk-Fredonia area.

Rosas, who was the first elected Hispanic mayor in the state of New York, said Torres would be a role model for local people of color. “Chautauqua County has a large amount of a minority community and we are feeling like they are disengaged,” he said. “Today while I’m here, I looked around at the leadership in our county and I don’t see the representation of the minority community.”

There were also six Democrats who spoke out against appointing Torres. Those individuals were Katie Smith of Bemus Point, Judy Einach of Westfield, Phyllis Caloren of Ellery, Mike Rowe of Ripley, Greg Rabb of Jamestown, and Loren Kent of Ellington. Those individuals did not criticize Torres, but rather were critical of the selection process, saying it was unfair.

“I want to emphasize, this is not about Luz Torres,” said Rabb. “As a gay man I’m very sensitive how minorities are mistreated. I’ve gone through a lot of it myself and so that’s not what this is about. This is about a process that is not just flawed as some of my friends have pointed out, but it’s grossly undemocratic.”

When Kent spoke Wednesday he shared that he is seeking the position as Democratic Election Commissioner. He noted he knows Torres, likes her and has nothing against her, stating that the process selecting her was flawed. “Throughout our entire democratic process, the committee members never had any meaningful opportunity to engage our candidates for election commissioner,” he alleged.

On Thursday, Kent was reached and asked to expand his thoughts. He alleged that Green changed the voting procedures back in 2018, using weighted votes and appointing certain people in certain committee seats, giving Green the upper hand on choosing his successor. He said the weighted vote system gives a total of 208 points among three committee members, while the remaining 20 committee members have 216 points.

He said the process of selecting Green’s appointment shows the infighting going on among county Democrats. “Luz Torres is a victim. I’m a victim in this too. I’m somebody whose been a hard working Democrat for 35 years. I had every right to be considered for the election commissioner. I was thrown under the bus in this process too.”

He said he did ask the individuals who opposed Torres to speak at the legislature meeting. He also met with the five Democratic legislators before Wednesday night’s meeting, expressing his concern over the process. It is likely that is where the decision was made pull Torres’ name, however that has not been confirmed.

Green, meanwhile, insisted the committee followed the rules property and Torres was the individual selected. He urges the legislature to appoint Torres or the five county Democratic legislators to support her appointment. If they fail to do so, the decision would return to the Democratic Committee for further discussion and selection. In that case, Green would remain the election commissioner until either Torres or another candidate is approved.

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