Candidates point out differences
WATKINS GLEN--A tightly contested four-way race for Schuyler County Judge helped draw 151 people to the Meet the Candidate Night Thursday, Oct. 25, at the Watkins Glen elementary school. The forum was hosted by the Watkins REVIEW&EXPRESS.
Most of the evening was a straightforward presentation of the candidates' views and priorities. However, there were moments when the candidates pointed out differences, especially during the county judge portion contested between Dan Fitzsimmons, Steven Getman, Matt Hayden and Jessica Saks.
Fitzsimmons repeatedly brought up Hayden's ties to law enforcement when asked about potential conflicts of interest for candidates.
"If you are concerned of the appearance of conflict of interest you must ask yourself, as Mr. Hayden says if he's going to tell the district attorney no, who has been his boss and political supporter for the last 15 years, if he's going to tell him no in the courtroom does that have the appearance of impartiality? If the political supporter and boss for 15 years is the district attorney and the former assistant is now the judge?" Fitzsimmons said.
Fitzsimmons added that much of what the county court judge oversees is family court proceedings, something he said he has extensive experience with while adding that Hayden has very little.
"Every single pending criminal case in Schuyler County if Mr. Hayden takes the bench will be transferred to another judge. But that would give him plenty of time to learn family law, because you have not heard Mr. Hayden mention family court," Fitzsimmons said.
Hayden responded by calling the assertion that the current district attorney is a political supporter of his as underhanded.
"I find it to be underhanded to use the term political supporter, that is an underhanded assertion," Hayden said.
He added that perhaps only five criminal cases would present a possible conflict if he were elected and that felony court has few repeat offenders.
"Two people have been running positive campaigns. Thank you, Jessica," Hayden said.
Getman was asked to address concerns about his time working in Seneca County after an audience submitted a question asking him and the other candidates to address the lawsuit that was filed against him while working there.
"Yes, it's true there was a lawsuit filed against multiple county officials in Seneca County. There have been lawsuits filed against county officials in many counties. In the course of that lawsuit, it was settled with no admission of liability, in the course of that lawsuit, the bulk of the allegations against me were dismissed before it was settled," Getman said.
Getman, who said the main reason he left his position at Seneca County was personal and not professional, added that he felt the question was a personal attack on him.
"To be honest, I think whoever asked this question and forced me to bring up my personal life this way really ought to ask themselves why they engaged in this political opportunism when I have been working in this county for about a dozen years and nobody's ever thought to ask me before," Getman said.
For her part Saks said that while not everyone would like her decisions as a judge, she would make sure everyone walked away from her proceedings feeling like they were heard. She added she would be the first woman elected to the county judge position, bringing needed diversity to the role.
"It's time for something different," she said.
For the section dedicated to the race for the Schuyler County Legislature for District 7, seat incumbent Mark Rondinaro and challenger Paul Bartow agreed on much, but differed on key issues such as marijuana and the role of the state government.
"Unfunded mandates, this is the banter we hear at the end of every legislature session. It breeds an air of negativity not only in the legislature but the local government as a whole and does none of us any good. The state has been incredibly generous with the second smallest county in New York with the amount of money they have infused into the county in recent years," Bartow said.
Rondinaro responded by saying the money the state has granted to the county, which has totaled well over $10 million over the last few years, constitutes money the county first gave to the state.
"I believe that New York state stands in the way of our progress," Rondinaro said.
Despite bemoaning the negative economic impact of state mandates on Schuyler County, Rondinaro said he does not want to see recreational marijuana sold in Schuyler once it becomes legal in New York state.
"There is a lot of economic growth possible through (a legal marijuana industry) but I think we have to be very careful," Rondinaro said, adding he has seen studies linking marijuana use to mental illness that concern him.
Bartow said he wanted to be cautious, that the area would be new to the marijuana market and a lot of things still have to be worked out before Schuyler figures out the best course to take.
"What I would say is give New York state a chance for this to be another agricultural market," Bartow said.
Maggie Coffey and Gary Gray, candidates for District 8 of the Schuyler County Legislature, were both in attendance as well. Coffey spoke of the need for increased infrastructure, outside business investment, the importance of potentially being the only woman on the legislature and bringing new perspectives to local government while Gray said he had "no plan" and could not name two challenges facing the area. Gray called himself a "team-player" while Coffey said she would "rock the boat" and "get things done."
Also in attendance was John VanSoest and Richard Lewis, candidates for the Catherine Town Supervisor position, and Norma Burris, candidate for a town of Orange council seat. Her opponent, Darin Miller, could not attend and did not send a surrogate or prepared statement in his stead.