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Pandemic Complicates Campaign For Challengers

From left are Jason Schmidt, candidate for district attorney; Richard Morrisroe, seeking county executive and Christina Cardinale, candidate for state Assembly.

Incumbents, even those with interim in their title, maintain a tremendous amount of control regarding the narrative of the campaign season. Holding office gives those who serve us plenty of clout and connections to their constituents whether it be through the media or major events.

For the opponents, getting their message across is much more difficult. By being on the outside without name recognition, their voices are never as loud. Add in a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, and this year’s crop of challengers may be facing some of the greatest obstacles of any election year. There’s no knocking on doors, fewer fund-raising events and a required sparse attendance for rallies.

Similar to the current professional sporting events taking place, the audience is far from the arena. Those who are engaged are being forced to watch from a distance.

In Chautauqua County and New York state, there are four significant races. Sen. George Borrello and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell are powerhouses here, winning in previous years by large margins. Their opponents, Frank Puglisi and Christina Cardinale, are undoubtedly facing long odds in unseating the two popular lawmakers.

Due to Borrello’s exit, appointed Executive PJ Wendel is facing off against Richard Morrisroe while the most contentious race — and what’s expected to be the most closely contested — has District Attorney Patrick Swanson being challenged again by Jason Schmidt.

Here’s some insight, in their own words, from those challengers who will be on the ballot on Nov. 3:

¯ Schmidt, who lives within shouting distance of the incumbent in Fredonia, takes issue with Swanson’s dubious record in high-profile county cases. “It’s no secret that the current district attorney is struggling to obtain convictions in the courtroom,” he said. “Having won trials against him and other prosecutors in the office, I’ve seen firsthand that the office needs leadership with trial experience. I will draw upon my years of experience as a successful trial attorney and former prosecutor to implement proper case management and trial preparation procedures to secure convictions in the courtroom.

“I plan to develop trial teams within the DA’s office, bringing our felony prosecutors together to assist one another in presenting winning prosecutions. I also want to work much more collaboratively with police from the onset of their investigations, much like I see done in the federal system, assigning myself and certain prosecutors to designated investigative units within the county’s multiple police agencies for the purpose of availing ourselves to them, maintaining continuous contact with police starting at the front-end of investigations and continuing to develop cases to ensure that each and every one is ready for trial when that time comes.

“I hope to further tap into the tremendous resource of retired forensic and law enforcement personnel here in our county who, I know from speaking with many of them, would gladly volunteer their time to serve in an advisory capacity to assist in the review of case-specific matters. In sum, rather than complain about a lack of resources, we need to make better use of our existing resources, think creatively, and most importantly, secure convictions in the courtroom, to show victims of crime, the police and our entire community that their tax dollars are being well-spent, that people who cause harm to others will be held accountable, and that the system works. This is not happening now and it’s time to fix what’s broken.”

¯ Morrisroe, current Dunkirk city attorney, moved here from Erie County, where he was connected to the political scene in Buffalo. “I am running for Chautauqua County Executive because I know Chautauqua County can do better,” he said. “We need a creative leader, one who can think out of the box if we are going to put our county back on the road to success. I’m confident that with my proven leadership skills and background, I can build a 21st century future of which all of our residents can be proud.

“I strongly believe that partisan politics blocks progress. If we want to succeed, we cannot get stuck in partisan battles and paralysis. We must rise to the challenge of working together to create jobs for the future and rebuild our economy. We can and we will make Chautauqua County New York’s westernmost shining star.”

¯ Cardinale is full of spunk and outspoken. Unsurprisingly, she was one of the few politicians who voiced concern for the employees and staff at Fieldbrook Foods in Dunkirk during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I come from a very humble background,” she said. “I didn’t go to a fancy ivy-league school, I wasn’t born into extraordinary wealth or privilege.

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I have two wonderful parents who love me unconditionally and I worked hard — that’s it. I worked so hard, by the end of the day, I couldn’t stand. I used the knowledge I had, and I strived for more. I strived to create something from nothing.

“The people of Chautauqua County deserve the best. They deserve a representative who will listen. They deserve a fierce advocate. I will be that person. I will be your representative. I will be your champion.”

¯ Puglisi, Cattaraugus County Democratic party chair, is not actively campaigning. Other than a mention announcing his candidacy, he has only been mentioned in one other news release sent out by county Democrats.

He’s on the ballot, but also understands the overwhelming support Borrello has received in the district during last year’s primary and election for the position in the Senate.

John D’Agostino is the regional editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and the Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 253.

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