Ritchie’s challenge to Aubertine could tip balance in state Senate
By CRAIG FREILICH
With the state Senate almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, the race between Democratic incumbent Darrel Aubertine and Republican challenger Patty Ritchie could determine which party is in control of that body next year.Aubertine was a dairy farmer for decades in his hometown of Cape Vincent before being elected to the state Assembly in 2002. He was sent to the Senate in a special election early in 2008, and re-elected in the regular election that fall.
Ritchie, a Heuvelton resident, has a reputation as an innovator and leader in her current position as St. Lawrence County Clerk, a position she has held for over a decade.
Right now, St. Lawrence County is divided by two state Senate districts. District 48 comprises most of western St. Lawrence County including Ogdensburg, Canton and Gouverneur, and all of Jefferson and Oswego counties. Republican Joe Griffo is battling Democratic Challenger Michael Hennessy in Senate District 47, which is made up of the eastern half of St. Lawrence County including Potsdam and Massena, all of Lewis County, and much of Oneida County, including Utica.
A Siena Research poll last month indicated Ritchie was leading Aubertine in that high profile race. The Griffo-Hennessy contest has so far generated little publicity.
Beyond regular day-to-day control of the agenda, the party in power could have the upper hand in the re-drawing of district lines that occurs every 10 years after the most recent U.S. Census of population.
And while both Aubertine and Ritchie say they would be in favor of reforming the way that the notoriously partisan process of redistricting is done, it remains to be seen how it will play out.
Both candidates spoke with North Country This Week recently about economic issues, the reported anti-incumbent feeling among voters, and redistricting.
Economy and Jobs
On the economy and its effect on business and jobs, Ritchie says she has heard plenty from voters about the jobs picture in the district.
“I’ve been out every day for six months. I’ve knocked on 7,000 doors, and jobs is one of the first things people talk about.
“Albany seems to be doing the opposite of what should be done. They’re raising taxes, and spending has increased by $14 billion, and over-regulation is hurting business.
“First, we should put a cap on state spending. We can’t keep increasing taxes and passing them down and spending money they don’t have. So we should put a cap on, cut taxes, and remove some regulations that are stymieing business.”
Sen. Aubertine says that his reaching out to interested parties during decision-making on legislation has resulted in better legislation and more cooperation on bills that could improve the economic picture in the state.
“As an example, the Power for Jobs program, without question affecting thousands of jobs, many business organizations were very supportive of the legislation. One reason they have been so supportive is the process, which I believe in, related to Power for Jobs and the same process on the Farm Labor Bill – inclusion, bringing business to the table in crafting a program, not just handing it to them after it’s done. Everyone had a seat at the table. We can make New York State a very business-friendly state.”
Another recent piece of legislation Aubertine is proud of is the North Country Power Authority bill.
“The Alliance for Municipal Power has been around for almost two decades. They’ve spent 17 years trying to get a municipal power program in place, trying to make it happen – not without a lot of hard work on a lot of people’s parts. The plan to lower the cost of electric power in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, with over 20 municipalities involved, had the support of over 100 resolutions from municipalities and community organizations. With the North Country Power Authority, they can begin making this a better place for businesses to set up shop and create jobs.”
Asked if he felt there was an anti-incumbent trend among voters, Aubertine said, “I think so.
“I like to think the mood of disappointment in incumbents is more directed to people who have been there for their careers. Some people have been in the Senate for over 30 years. I’ve been there two years. I think I give people a reason to support my candidacy. The reason? What I’ve been able to accomplish. But change for the sake of change is not the right thing to do.”
Ritchie says she hears about the disappointment with incumbents, “Absolutely. Every day I’m out, people tell me how sick and tired they are of Albany. They think they forgot about us up here. They want change, and I believe that will benefit me as a candidate.
“Just about every other house I go to, they say they’re not voting for a single incumbent. You get a real sense of what people want going door-to-door.”
Which Party in Control?
About one party or another being in control in the Senate, Aubertine says “A lot of people are caught up in that idea. I for one have no desire for either party to control anything. In my estimation, that’s the problem. We need less partisanship, not more. People need to believe in government, not parties.
“Not to diminish the role of parties – parties give people a chance to participate – but parties should not be in position to govern. If you put good people in office, you’ll have good government. I’m convinced of that.
“To the extent we can remove partisanship from government, we will improve it. That’s one reason I’m proud to be on the Independence Party line, too.”
“This election is very important,” Ritchie says, “and a lot of it has to do with reapportionment. One-party control has driven the state into the ground. The Democrats can say what they want, but they only have themselves to blame. They’re in control of all three houses.”
Aubertine says he believes district reapportionment – shifting district boundaries based on new population data -- carried out by an independent group is the way to go. He says he is sponsor of a non-partisan redistricting bill in the Senate.
“We should have an outside third-party group take a non-partisan look at the redistricting setup, so political parties are not designing lines so they will be better off --- no matter which party you’re talking about.
“That’s the kind of thing we need to address issues in Albany – and in Washington, for that matter. Getting the partisanship out would be a plus for everybody. I’ve believed that all along, and I continue to believe that.”
“I was one of the first people to sign on to New York Uprising’s pledge,” says Ritchie, referring to former New York City Mayor Ed Koch’s organization that, among other things, is promoting neutral redistricting. “I believe frankly it should be done without regard to either party.”
Ritchie said she is grateful for the “several hundred people who have stepped up to volunteer” in her campaign. “I’ve met a lot of people. It’s been a great experience. Unfortunately so many people are so upset, and have lost faith in their representatives. I hope to do something about that.”
As St. Lawrence County Clerk, Patty Ritchie established four local Department of Motor Vehicle offices, and is credited with bringing downstate money to the county by seeking out and handling downstate vehicle registrations through the county mechanism.
She also gathered and led opposition statewide to a plan by Gov. David Paterson that would have required all New York vehicle owners to get new license plates, for a fee, even if there was nothing wrong with their old ones. She is president of the New York State Association of County Clerks.
Ritchie grew up in DePeyster, graduated from Heuvelton Central High and SUNY Potsdam, and lives with her family in Heuvelton.
Darrel Aubertine says he is the only farmer serving in the New York State Legislature.
He is chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, the Legislative Commission on Rural Resources, the Legislative Commission on Water Resources for New York State and Long Island, and the Senate Majority's Upstate Caucus. He is Ranking Majority Member of the Senate Energy & Telecommunications Committee.
He has a reputation for not hewing strictly to the Democratic Party line. He has been a strong advocate of farmers, leading the movement in the state for stricter labeling of dairy products and opposition to a bill that would have granted more rights to farm laborers. He has sponsored legislation to reserve some low-cost electric power to people and businesses near the New York Power Authority hydroelectric facilities in the St. Lawrence River, and, more recently, to establish a North Country Power Authority to allow towns in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties to jointly establish and run a municipal electric company.