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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 21, 2006

Bosworth vs. Commisso
Dems duke it out

By Jarrett Carroll

ALBANY COUNTY — Wrangling in the Democratic Party continues locally with new county leadership to be decided on Sept. 27, when over 260 committee members gather.

Betty Barnette is stepping down after four years as Albany County’s Democratic chair. Guilderland’s party chair, David Bosworth, and Albany’s Port Authority manager, Frank Commisso, are now squaring off for her vacant seat.

Both men downplay an urban-suburban split in the party. What differentiates them, they say, is their leadership style. Bosworth portrays himself as someone who leads collaboratively while Commisso said he’ll quit his job to lead his party "24/7."

Commisso has a long and impressive Democratic résumé that includes being an Albany County legislator for the last 23 years, acting as the majority leader for the past 14 years. He is currently the second vice chair in the county party.

Bosworth is a rising star in the Democratic party, taking credit for turning the all-Republican town of Guilderland into a Democratic-dominated town as the town’s party chair for the past 10 years. He is serving his second term on the town board.

Both men are life-long Democrats.

Barnette replaced former county chairman, the late Michael Burns. Last Tuesday she bested his widow, Connie Burns — New Scotland’s Democratic party chair — for the 104th District state committee seat.

Assemblyman John McEneny and Burns forced a primary, challenging Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings and Barnette for the state Democratic posts; Barnette and McEneny won.

The party shakeup comes amid allegations that suburban and rural Democrats are not being fairly represented at the county level and that Albany City Democrats are attempting to maintain control over the entire county.

Commisso, from the city of Albany, and Bosworth, from suburban Guilderland, say they don’t see this race as a suburban-verses-urban showdown, but a change to make the party stronger. However, they both also conceded that there is currently a division in the party.

Regardless of the outcome Sept. 27, both men have vowed to support and work with the victor.

This year was the first time in decades the annual Democratic picnic, traditionally held at the Altamont fairgrounds, simply did not happen. Attendance had dwindled in recent years. The decision, both men said, was bad for the party and bad for party members.

"I voted to have the picnic but apparently I was voted down," said Commisso, saying it was voted on by party leaders and adding that such social functions are a fundamental part of the party.

"It was an error," said Bosworth. "It would’ve been a great time to bring our county leaders together with front-running state Democrats"Our county treasury is a little depleted."

There was a small picnic held during the summer at the Polish American Club on Watervliet Avenue in Albany, but attendance was low. Also, a cocktail party for Democrats was substituted for a breakfast during the summer as well.

"I think it would’ve been much better to have the picnic in Altamont," said Bosworth. "It was an abrupt decision."

The Donkey dance

Although both Bosworth and Commisso denied any kind of rivalry or power struggle within the party, they both alluded to philosophical, not geographical, differences.

Bosworth has gathered the following slate to run Albany County’s Democratic leadership: Jack McNulty, first vice chair; Jack Cunningham, second vice chair; Barbara Smith, secretary; and Shawn Morris, as treasurer.

Commisso will not reveal his slate of officers until later today, but described it to The Enterprise yesterday as "a very good and diverse slate."

According to Commisso, his vision for the party’s future is, "All factions coming together under the same tent by pushing the party forward."

Bosworth said that his leadership is one "that will bring Democrats together, that will support Democrats for elected office, and that will focus our party’s experience and financial resources on helping Democrats win."

The biggest difference between Commisso and Bosworth appears to be how they view the chairman’s role.

"I will be there 24/7 if elected. It’s no longer a part-time position," said Commisso, who plans on retiring if given the post. "Whoever the chair is should work it on a full-time basis."

Bosworth, who is executive director of the Center for Family and Youth, a childrens’ service agency in Albany, told The Enterprise Democrats need a more collaborative leadership style.

"He looks at it as a one-man job," Bosworth said of Commisso. "I see it as more of a collaboration"as more as facilitating." He wants the input and guidance of other members in leading the party, said Bosworth. "We view the position differently."

Bosworth continued, saying the "one man, one strong leader will be the voter referendum" in the race, adding that the stalwart political leader is more characteristic of Albany’s past.

Citing the long-time reign of former mayors Erastus Corning and Thomas Whalen, and other political leaders such as James Coyne and Daniel O’Connell, Bosworth said those styles of leadership are becoming a thing of the past.

In his last election campaign in Guilderland, Bosworth’s Republican opponent dubbed him "Boss Bosworth." He responded at the time by calling the name "disrespectful" and said he has never controlled any Democrat, only his own vote.

The other major difference came when the two men characterized Barnette’s leadership role in the party before she stepped down.

"Leadership is only as good as the lieutenants under that person," said Commisso, referring to some of the suburban members who "have decided to abandon her," because they felt like they were not getting a fair share. "That’s like saying, ‘I’m not going to play ball because I didn’t hit a home run.’

"I’ve kept an open dialogue with the suburban members, though," said Commisso. "This is a family-type thing and occasionally it happens as leadership changes."

Bosworth disagreed.

"I don’t think she’s been as active in the leadership as others have in the past," Bosworth said; he cited "fissures and schisms" in the party. Bosworth said that Barnette has not been as open and inclusive and that may have made her job harder.

"There shouldn’t be a division," said Commisso. "That’s why the party is the way it is."

"There are many, many Democrats in the city of Albany, but there’s been a growth in the Democratic voters outside of the city," said Bosworth, who added that voter turnout tends to be better in suburban areas.

Describing himself as the the "underdog" in the race, Bosworth said of Commisso, "He has enormous influence in city and county affairs"I don’t think anyone would consider me the front runner."

Bosworth said that his diverse slate of suburban, rural, and urban leaders will make for a balanced representation of the entire county.

"I don’t see this as a city-suburb issue," said Commisso. "We are the Democratic Party. We are inclusive of the city, the suburbs, and the Hilltowns."

Commisso has been openly supported by Jennings and has the endorsement of 21 county legislators and nine labor unions as of last night, Commisso said.

Bosworth carries an impressive slate of well-known Democrats and carries the support of his colleagues in Guilderland and other towns. He is also being endorsed by Assemblyman McEneny, whom Bosworth endorsed during his bid for a state committee seat.

"I think there’s a real feeling for some real change," McEneny told The Enterprise. He said of Bosworth, "He has the credentials of turning a staunchly Republican town into a staunchly Democratic town."

McEneny also said that he thinks Jenning’s endorsement of Commisso may hurt his appeal to other Democrats, saying that some think he is already too close to the mayor because of the city post he has held.

Democratic committee members will gather at the Polish Community Center next Wednesday to pick either Commisso or Bosworth to lead for the next two years.

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