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October 8, 2006


Dems divided affer chair vote

By Jarrett Carroll
Altamont Enterprise, Oct 5, 2006

ALBANY COUNTY—County Democrats are now deeply and bitterly divided.

Last Wednesday, Albany's Frank Commisso beat Guilderland's David Bosworth for the county chair, meaning urban Domocrats will continue to lead to the disappointment of some suburban members.

Commisso was elected chairman by a 253-to-219 committeeperson vote. There are nearly 600 committee members in the county.

With over 600 people at the Polish Community Center in Albany, Betty Barnette who stepped down as chairperson, had committee members stand to vote rather than taking a rollcall or weighted vote.

A roll-call vote, where members individually walk to the front of the room and announce their choice, was asked for, but, in accordance with the county's bylaws, one-third of committee members had to vote on its use. The measure was defeated by a handful of votes and Barnette called for a vote where members stand for their favored candidate.

Some party members are calling the procedure "undemocratic," recommending legal action, or calling for a re-vote.

And, although critics are saying a weighted vote would have accurately shown suburball dominance, figures from a recent county committee vote show that the three cities, which vote as a block, have close to 46,000 enrolled Democrats, while the suburban and rural towns in the county combined have about 40,000 enrolled Democrats.

"Was it supposed to be onethird of committee members present, or one-third of all the committee members?" asked Dick Barrett, who represents a district in suburban Colonie. "The city Democrats deliherately inserted that's a bogus process used to keep people in power."

Barrett is a Democratic committee member relJr`.,ri~im,,T Lilt 41st Legislative district in the town of Colonie who wrote to The Erlterprise this week with his concerns. (See letter to the editor.)

Commisso, 60, plans on retiring from his job at the Albany Port Authority to run the county's party "24/7," he said. Bosworth, 58, said he wanted to manage the party in a more collaborative manner and that his slate was a reflection of that.

Although both Commisso and Bosworth publicly denied any urban and suburban rivalry, both men have stated that more needs to be done to unify county Democrats.

Now, some suburban Democrats are calling on their urban colleagues to look into the legalities of last Wednesday's election.

"I was disappointed the process didn't allow the weighted vote...There needs to be a mechanism to allow weighted voting," Bosworth said. "We're having a difference of opinion."

Commisso told The Enterprise earlier that he wants to unify the party under his leadership.

Barrett disagrees.

"You don't unite a party by stealing an election and then say, 'Let us all come together,"' Barrett said. "Bosworth and those who ran have to be encouraged to go to the Supreme Court and appeal this," he said, referring to the lowest-level court in the state's three-tiered system.

Voting problems were twofold, Bosworth told The Enterprise this week. :A stan:ding vo~te was confusing, he said, because of the number of non-committee members walking around and the physical counting involved. Secondly, proxies were not allowed — only those present could vote.

Barnette also appointed nearly 30 unfilled committee member seats at the beginning of the meeting with members mostly from the city who voted for Commisso, said Barrett.

Proxies are similar to absentee ballots in that they allow committee members not present to have their vote counted. Some are calling on Commisso to re

of the meeting with members mostly from the city who voted for Commisso, said Barrett.

Proxies are similar to absentee ballots in that they allow committee members not present to have their vote counted. Some are calling on Commisso to reconvene the county committee and hold a re-vote on the chair position.

"The clearest path to remedy that would be fair to all Albany County Democrats is for Mr. Commisso to reconvene the county committee for the purpose of re-voting...," writes Donald Csaposs who works for the town of Guiiderland, in a letter to The Enterprise editor this week.

Commisso and Barnette did not return multiple calls to The Enterprise this week.

Constitutional qualms

When asked if he was looking to challenge the county vote in court, Bosworth responded by saying, "Lawyers are talking."

"There is a lot of the disagreement about the counting; it was a very quick process," said 3 Bosworth. "I don't want to seem like a sore loser, but I see some legitimate questions here...A number of people thought the weighted vote would be the measure for the county chair."

A weighted vote calculated by the county committee, it determines the number of enrolled e party members from each party district proportionate to each committee member's vote.

The Enterprise obtained numbers from the 2004 Albany County Democratic Committee vote for James Clancy over Karen A. Shea for Albany County Democratic commissioner.

In the first five wards of the city of Albany, 120 committee members represent 6,500 Democrats, but the same number of committee members in the town of Colonie represent 20,000 Democrats.

With the weighted vote, 43.2 percent of the vote comes from the cities and 56.8 percent of the vote comes from the towns.

Without a weighted vote, because Albany is broken up into wards along with legislative districts, the city gets more committee votes from members who represent fewer Democrats.

However, tabulating the enrollment numbers in a similar fashion; the City of Cohoes, and Watervliet—which vote as a block in the committee —contain 45,721 enrolled Democrats compared to the rest of the county's 40,002 enrolled Democrats.

Albany County Party Enrollment Numbers
City of Cohoes
City of Watervilet
City of Green Island
Town of Colonie
Town of Guilderland
Town of Bethlehem
Town of New Scotland
Town of Coeymans
Town of Berne
Town of Knox
Town of Westerlo
Town of Rensselaerville
Albany County
These numbers reflect the current enrollment figures released by the Albany County Board of Elections to The Enterprise this week. Enrollment fgures can vary from month to month, and a person can remain on the enrollment list up to four years without voting before being purged.

The county's cities contain nearly 6,000 more enrolled Democrats than the suburban and rural towns.

City Democrats have traditionally been at the helm of the county party, which is something, according to Barrett, that needs to change.

"The city leadership has always been in power," Barrett told The Enterprise. "People say, "What about Mike Burns?' But Mike was a part of the city the whole time."

Burns lived in New Scotland but was an influential labor leader in Albany and chaired the party until his death in 2002. Barnette then became chairperson.

"What would people say if I told them, 'My vote in the city counts as four votes from you town people,"' Barrett asked. "The Supreme Court is going to say,'No, that's wrong."'

Barrett cited the 1962 decision by the United States Supreme Court of Baker v. Carr, a case of equal protection and voting rights in the Tennessee Legislature. In a 6-to-2 ruling, the Supreme Court said that, because two-thirds of the state's senate

was elected by one-third of the state's population, it was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In that case, more people lived in the cities and they were underrepresented in the legislature, while a. smaller number lived in the county but had more representatives.

"We're really elected officials,'' said Barrett. "All of those registered Democrats, we represent them."

Barrett contends that the exact opposite is happening in Albany County where the city Democrats are attempting to bring back the days of the "Democratic machine," reminiscent of politicians like Daniel O'Connell and Erastus Corning IIi.

"It's obviously a throwback to the O'Connell and Corning days.

"They're trying-to turn the clock r back," said Barrett. "When you control the chair, you control the attorney, you control the rules, you control the vote, and you control the direction of the county...We have to call their bluff."

Popular vote?

The crowded room of the Polish Community Oenter is where the votes were cast, as supporters of both Commisso and Bosworth filled the convention hall.

After Barnette made her decision to hold a standing vote, two people were dispatched to do the counting amidst the standing visitors and committee members.

"You had to stand for 15 or 20 minutes. It was quite a dynamic situation," said Bosworth. "It was a very tedious and difficult count."

Commisso told The Enterprise before the vote that, if he won, he would bring a strong leadership style to the chair, committing himself full-time to the position. He added that he will continue to work with the towns' leaders and has constantly maintained a "good working relationship" with the towns.

Commisso is also an Albany ward leader and the county legislature's majority leader. His legislative district encompasses Guilderland's McKownville.

Bosworth said of the city contingent, referring to Barnette and Commisso, "I'm sure they were hopeful that they would win, they were close allies."

While Barnette chaired the county's party, Commisso was the second vice chair on her slate.

"One person, one vote. That's what the Supreme Court said," Barrett said. He added that previously during Corning's and O'Connell's political reign, supervisors from each individual town were given only one vote at the county committee.

Each Hilltown, like Berne and Rensselaerville, and each suburban town, like Bethlehem and Guilderland, were given one vote, while the city of Albany had over 20 votes because of its wards.

Furthermore, Barrett contends, as city population declines and suburban population increases, a racial issue has begun to arise within the city Democrats.

"Forty percent of the city is African-American and Hispanic, and 25 percent of the city is impoverished. Generally, those people don't vote. The mix in the city isn't the kind it used td be;" said Barrett. "Mayor Jerry Jennings has created a racial barrier.

"He has Betty Barnette, but she's only window dressing. They don't have proper representation," he said. "The city's base is anchored in the more affluent white neighborhoods...People of color dominate the inner-city and the 15,000 University at Albany students are predominately white."

The college students, who are only usually active in presidential and gubernatorial elections said Barrett, coupled with Albany's transient neighborhoods, create artificially inflated voter numbers in the city.

"There is no system for purging the enrollment lists. Transient neighborhoods are very hard to keep track of," said Barrett. "It's hard to wrench power from people who have a vice grip on it."

The position of Albany County chair became effective immediately following the vote. With Commisso as chairman, his slate includes: Bruce Shultis as first vice chairman; Peter Cannon as second vice chairman; Robert D. Carlson as treasurer; and Carolyn McLaughlin as secretary.

"Challenge this in the court. Let's have the weighted votes," said Barrett. "Win or lose, let's do it right."


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