Murnane hopes to bridge gaps in Franklin County after retiring as hotel owner

Jim Murnane, a Republican candidate for Franklin County legislator stands in front of the Best Western hotel he has owned for the past 26 years. When he decided to sell the property the chance to run for office fell in his lap. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

SARANAC LAKE — Jim Murnane is spending the start of his retirement running for Franklin County Legislature on the Republican line.

The Saranac Laker recently sold the Best Western hotel he ran for 26 years and turned 51. While asking himself, “What’s next?” he found the answer on the front page of the Enterprise. Franklin County’s District 7 legislator Barbara Rice, a Democrat from Saranac Lake, was resigning to take a job as the governor’s assistant secretary for economic development.

“I immediately thought to myself, ‘Well, that’s something I think I could do, and something I think I could do effectively,'” Murnane said.

Murnane has held political office before as a Harrietstown town councilman but had not expected he would seek political office again.

A career’s worth of working with budgets, business partners and people of all kinds in the hotel industry makes him confident he’s cut out to determine how to best spend Franklin County’s $99 million-a-year budget.

Murnane said he wants to build three “bridges”: bridges of communication between the northern and southern ends of the county, between the Democratic and Republican parties, and between the North Country Community College board and the Franklin County board.

“This sounds kind of flowery, but you know, you hear people say the more that people in the world get together and talk, you see that their differences aren’t that severe,” Murnane said.

Murnane lives this way naturally in his life. He said the man he sold the Best Western to is different from him in many ways. Jay Patel is an Indian-American from Virginia who is Hindu. Murnane is a Catholic from Plattsburgh, and he said they have many cultural, personality and religious differences. They can’t even eat the same foods.

But when he invited Patel to tour the hotel for a week last month, they talked day after day.

“At the end of the week, there were no differences,” Murnane said, listing the similarities in their families, dreams and careers.

He said he thinks Rice did a good job representing the southern end of the county but said with more people and government up in Malone, it is easy for the south to be left out.

The county board has a Democratic majority, but he said county issues are not about party issues and that he wants to ignore the divisiveness of national politics.

Murnane said he is a big supporter of education and wants to support the community college any way he can. The Franklin and Essex County boards have been split on the future of the college under current President Steve Tyrell’s administration, regardless of political party.

Tyrell has been the target of a vote of “no confidence” passed by the Essex County Board of Supervisors this April, while a similar resolution raised at the Franklin County Legislature failed to pass for lack of a quorum and may be raised again.

NCCC recently unanimously voted to renew Tyrell’s contract for one year.

“I think [Tyrell] is working hard and doing the best that he can,” Murnane said. “But I think that everyone could communicate better.”

Murnane, who has sat on NCCC foundation board, said that with Tyrell set for another year at the helm, it is up to the two counties, which are the primary funders of the college, to do what is best for the students and the community. He reiterated communication as the key to making good decisions.

“I think it’s important that we get everyone in a room and communicate,” Murnane said. “I think that there’s been some breakdown between the leadership of the college, the Franklin County Legislature and the Essex County Board of Supervisors. I think it would make everybody more comfortable if they feel like they’re all heading in the same direction.”

Murnane said both boards are interested in moving to make NCCC a more technical college, which he supports.

Murnane also said he wants to improve broadband coverage across the county, and that he wants to financially support the Adirondack Regional Airport, which is run solely by Harrietstown and is the only airport in the county with passenger airline service. (Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Adirondack Regional is the only airport in Franklin County.)

The airport receives some financial support from Essex County and $25,000 a year from Franklin County, but Murnane said with the business the airport brings to the area, including $100,000 a year in fuel sales tax alone, it should get more in return.

“The airport, vis-a-vis the town, contributes so much more to the county than the county ever gives back,” Murnane said. “Moral support is nice, but it’s about the bucks.”

Murnane has the Conservative Party’s endorsement and is currently getting signatures to run in the Republican party. He has spoken with town supervisors about their needs and, now that he closed the sale of his hotel last week, will be spending much more time on the campaign trail, he said.

In November he will run against Democratic interim county Legislator Melinda “Lindy” Ellis of Saranac Lake.