Is 2021 the year a Democrat is elected in Allegany County? Three hopefuls running Nov. 2 – Wellsville Daily Reporter
Ly Kesse looked at her ballot four years ago and didn’t see anyone who shared her political views running for county legislator. This election cycle, she decided to do something about it.
Kesse is running on the Democratic line in District 5, which covers Alfred, Allen, Almond, Birdsall, Burns, Grove, West Almond and Canaseraga.
“There were three Republicans running completely unopposed (in 2017). That just sat wrong with me,” said Kesse, of Alfred Station. “Give voters a choice. Myself, as a voter, I got tired of not seeing anybody who represented my viewpoints on the ballot. This is an extremely red county.”
The last time a Democrat was elected to the Allegany County legislature, George W. Bush was still in his first term as president. Mike McCormick of Andover was the last Democrat to serve a full term on the board from 2005-2009.
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Kesse and two other candidates, Nic Gunning and Brian Webb, are trying to become the first Democrat elected to the county legislature in 16 years.
They face a crowded field.
Kesse is up against three incumbent Republicans, Brooke Harris, Phil Curran and Janice Burdick, plus Dustin Gordon of the Patriot Party. Gunning and Webb are running in District 1 in northern Allegany County, a race that includes three Republicans, incumbent Phil Stockin, Jennifer Ricketts Swales and Kevin Fred Demick, plus two independents in Bridgette Tojek (People’s Constitution) and Shane Enders (People for Allegany).
Today, McCormick serves as chairman of the Allegany County Democratic Committee. Can Democratic candidates make inroads in a county dominated by Republicans?
“That’s the big question,” said McCormick. “I encourage our candidates to connect with the voters and identify as yourself. The Democratic Party is always people-focused. If you portray that to the potential voter, it’s not to say they’ll vote for you but at least they’ll have a better image of a Democratic candidate.”
Registered Republicans in Allegany County more than double registered Democrats, and all 15 seats on the Allegany County Board of Legislators were held by Republicans from 2017-2021. In the previous term, the minority party was represented by Kevin LaForge of Wellsville, a member of the Conservative Party.
Just one Democrat ran for a seat in Belmont during the 2017 election cycle. Harris suspects that the interest generated by the 2020 general election has carried over to the local level. Kesse agrees.
“I think for the last four years with Trump in office people have become aware of how important politics is and how it impacts all of us,” said Kesse. “You have to start building local parties. A lot of people have been motivated to participate politically, which is good because politics should be a participatory sport, not a spectator sport.
“I think a lot of people are realizing that you can’t just ignore what’s going on. You need to participate. More people are willing to roll up their sleeves and dig in. Whether you’re on the red team or the blue team, it doesn’t matter. It’s the participation that matters more than anything.”
Regardless of whether a minority candidate wins a place on the board next week, Allegany County government will look different over the next term. Legislator Curt Crandall, the board’s long-serving chairman, is not seeking reelection. Two others, Judy Hopkins and Karl Graves, also decided to retire from the legislature, and incumbents David Decker and Bill Dibble were defeated in the Republican primary.
While Dibble is running on an alternate party line, a third of the board may be new in 2022. The group is guaranteed to have a new leader as Crandall steps aside. The Republican has led the Board of Legislators as chairman for the last 16 years, the longest tenure in county history.
“The leadership structure is going to be different, but I’m not sure how that plays out,” said Harris. “I think most of the incumbents are focused on the general election right now. It’s always good to have some seasoned members stay on and I think that’s going to happen in a couple districts. That will help maintain some of that institutional knowledge, which will help any new board members.”
Harris was a member of a similar freshman class that took office in 2017.
“What I didn’t know when I first got on the board was just the sheer vastness of county operations, the services provided to the citizens of the county and so forth,” said Harris. “Anytime you step into a new position like this whether it’s town board, school board or county board, it’s a learning process. As always when you reach the end of your first term you realize you have even more to learn than you did when you got there.”
Chris Potter can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @ChrisPotter413. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.