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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 1, 2007

Bosworth, Commisso to share county seat

By Jarrett Carroll

ALBANY COUNTY — After having their first-ever contested election, then their first litigated election, Albany County Democrats will soon have their first-ever co-chairmen.

On Tuesday, a decision was reached between backers of Frank Commisso and David Bosworth, who were both competing for county chair, to forgo another match-up and instead create a joint slate.

Commisso, Albany Democratic ward leader and port manager, and Bosworth, Guilderland councilman and Democratic chair, will now both manage the county’s party.

City and suburban constituents will both be served, say those who hammered out the plan.

"The goal was to have four suburban representatives and three city representatives. We tried to balance it," Bosworth said. "What we were looking for was a voice that would address the whole county.

Bosworth and Commisso both ran for the position in September — Bosworth lost, 253 to 216.

A weighted vote was not used; rather, committee members were counted as they stood in a crowded hall. Bosworth backers took the matter to state Supreme Court and won.

Acting Supreme Court Justice, Thomas J. McNamara invalidated the election of Commisso because a weighted vote was not used, but said he would not interfere with a re-election, citing court precedents of abstaining from party politics.

The official totals for the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial vote were 29,673 from the cities of Albany County, and 50,537 from the towns of Albany County. Gubernatorial races are the numbers on which weighted votes are calculated.

Weighted votes are used because some districts have more constituents than others. The towns of Albany County have a clear dominance in the number of Democratic voters than the cities do, according to the 2006 official election results.

The decision was handed down on Dec. 21, but no date for a new election was set until Tuesday. Betty Barnette, the committee’s former chair who stepped down, had not called a new meeting because she said new rules should be set first.

McNamara, a Republican from Saratoga who was the third judge to see the case, has stepped in again and set a committee meeting to vote on the new slate and a bylaws change. The meeting is set for Wednesday, Feb. 7, at the Polish Community Center in Albany.

It is still unknown who will run the committee meeting since there is effectively no chairperson or slate of officers. Bosworth said that proxies are supposed to be allowed, however.

"It’s very awkward not to have a set of elected officers," he said.

The meeting begins at 8 p.m.

Both Bosworth and Commisso say they are ready to work together and move forward for the good of the party in preparation for next November’s elections in which many local seats will be contested.

"We’ll be tested this November with town and county elections. It would behoove us to get this resolved," Bosworth told The Enterprise this week. "We want to make sure to get our selected candidates into office. That’s our primary responsibility."

New slate

The newly formed slate will consist of Bosworth and Commisso as co-chairs and the following:

— Bruce Shultis (Albany), as first vice chair;

— Shirley Brown (Colonie), as co-second vice chair;

— Matthew J. Clyne, (Bethlehem), as co-second vice chair;

— Carolyn McLaughlin (Albany), as secretary; and

— Peter Gannon (Colonie), as treasurer.

Shultis and McLaughlin have retained their positions from the original Commisso slate and Gannon is also from the original Commisso slate but was moved from second vice chair to treasurer.

Clyne, Bethlehem’s Democratic chair, worked as counsel for Bosworth when his slate challenged Commisso’s election in court.

None of Bosworth’s original slate members, besides himself, were picked to run on the newly formed slate. Bosworth’s original slate included well-known Democrats such as Jack McNulty, Green Island mayor; Jack Cunningham, Bethlehem’s vice chair; Barbara Smith, on Albany’s common council; and Shawn Morris, Albany’s common council president.

Barnette, the former county chairwoman and current Albany city treasurer, doesn’t believe the county’s bylaws are being followed and said the process to pick the new slate was a "closed door" affair.

"I suggested that we get the rules committee together first," Barnette told The Enterprise about why she didn’t call for a committee meeting and why Judge McNamara set the meeting. Barnette said, according to the bylaws, a rules committee should first convene to change the rules for a co-chair before a slate is picked.

"This never should have happened in the privacy of someone’s office," Barnette said of choosing the new slate of officers. "What happened to Barbara Smith and Shawn Morris""What happened to [Watervliet] Mayor Robert Carlson""

Barnette said that neither Commisso nor Bosworth have contacted her about the matter.

Bosworth told The Enterprise earlier that the slate was designed to accommodate all of the committee members of Albany County, stating that "many, many different people were involved."

He added that the situation shouldn’t be "over-simplified," and that several election lawyers say the new slate is following the county bylaws in its procedures.

"I disagree with her summarization of the process," said Bosworth of Barnette’s views. "It’s not accurate.

Bosworth said that both he and Commisso had to pick people on the slate to satisfy committee voters from both groups. He said it was not an easy task given that both of their slates had "worked hard in earnest," and that there "were a number of feedback loops."

"We needed to make a decision," Bosworth said.

Barnette said the minorities of Albany County were not involved in what she described as a backroom deal.

"Everyone who was in that room only stood to gain for themselves"There were no women or people of color in that room," Barnette said. "When a process is done in a backroom, this is what happens."

Commisso did not return calls for this story.

Bosworth responded through The Enterprise by saying the new slate has representation for women and African Americans, but said he wants the focus to be on the task at hand.

"Basically, we felt this unified slate would be in the greater interest of the party," Bosworth continued. "By working together, we felt we would have a greater chance in the fall elections."

Barnette said that she did not see a rift between suburban and urban committee members, but said that the county as a whole is not being served by the newly proposed slate.

"This was about personal power, not about the party," Barnette said. "I don’t see this benefiting the organization as a whole"This has to be done in the light of day."

Continuing, she said, "It doesn’t seem to me that committee leaders are focusing on electing members as they are on private gain."

"At some point, we have to put our personal and philosophical differences aside," said Bosworth. "That’s the political process"even if it is an imperfect process."

Shared responsibility

When it comes to delegating responsibilities between co-chairs, Bosworth said that it will actually help run the party more efficiently.

Both co-chairs will attend to formal business, he said.

"I’m sure we’ll alternate when it comes to public events," Bosworth told The Enterprise. "This is not a paid position and, hopefully, this will help give us extra time to better manage the party."

Commisso originally said last September that, if he were elected as chair he would retire from his post at the Albany Port Authority to run the party "24/7." When the election was called into question, he continued to work at the port authority, saying he would wait until a decision was reached.

It is unknown at this time if Commisso plans on retiring or not.

"This was a very difficult negotiation," Bosworth said about the decision to create the new unified slate. "While this might not be acceptable to everybody, we feel it is acceptable to the majority of the committee."

Bosworth said one of the first things that needs to be done, once a new slate is elected, is to look at fund raising events for next November — including the annual Democratic picnic at the Altamont fairgrounds, which was canceled for the first time last year.

He said events like the Democratic picnic are essential to get candidates the money they need to get elected in the fall.

Barnette, who was recently elected to a state Democratic committee seat along with Assemblyman John McEneny, said the same "faction of people" ran against her in a race with Bethlehem’s Connie Burns, McEneny’s running mate.

"It’s not starting off the right way, let’s just say that," said Barnette.

Bosworth disagrees and said he believes its time for the party to move forward.

"We’ve got a good start and, hopefully, will move forward with more consensus rather than be divided," Bosworth said. "That was my goal, that’s my skill, to build consensus among people."

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