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County Democrats At A Crossroads

Recently, in this newspaper, was the headline “Times Remain Desperate for Area Dems.” There is a lot of truth in that statement.

On the county level, Democrats now hold only 5 seats out of 19 on the county legislature. There are no county-wide Democratic elected officials. Even the control of the traditionally Democratically inclined cities of the county is tenuous. Now, there is a “fracas” going on about who will be the next Democratic Election Commissioner. For concerned Democrats, this can only be described as bad news.

For there to be a strong and healthy county government, we need a viable and effective Democratic Party as well as a Republican Party in Chautauqua County.

There are a lot of reasons for the problems Democrats are facing, the most likely being political fatigue–the Republican dominance of Chautauqua County is so great that “why bother” to try and change it? (Think of the ancient story of Sisyphus who kept pushing the stone up the hill, only to have it get away and roll back to the bottom.)

I do not have an opinion as to who should be the next Democratic Election Commissioner. The current occupant of that position has always been fair and helpful to me when I have asked for voter or election petition information. However, as to combining that position with that of County Democratic Chairman…I do have strong views.

In my opinion, one of the issues facing local Democrats, is that the Democratic County Chairman is also the Democratic County Election Commissioner. Back, decades ago, when I was running for office, we made sure that these two functions were separated. The Election Commissioners represent their political party but their primary charge is to serve all of the voters of the County–whereas the Party Chairmen represent just those of their own party.

One person holding two hats–one as Election Commissioner and the other as County Chairman, just seems to me to be untenable. It can lead to conflicts of interest, either perceived or real.

I know that it is hard to find citizens who want the job of being an unpaid, political party County Chairman. It is pretty much a thankless job and is time-consuming. Yet, I would argue that this should be the goal of the Chautauqua County Democrats.

The first Democratic County Chairman I knew was the now retired Judge and County Executive, Joe Gerace. He was a practicing attorney, was involved in Town politics in Busti and had been elected its Supervisor. He agreed to take on the additional task of being County Democratic Chairman. He was followed by George Ritzer, a well-known, vocal labor leader who became a solid Chairman for the Democrats of the county. There was consensus at the time that the County Chairman’s job should be separate from that of the Democratic Election Commissioner.

I still think that is a good idea, and would hope that the Chautauqua County Democratic Committee will again return to that system. It would help provide the basis for a more competitive political system in the county, and also help resolve differences that have arisen within the Democratic Party itself.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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