Franklin Co. races shape up

SARANAC LAKE – Barbara Rice is running unopposed, so far, for re-election to her seat on the Franklin County Legislature.

Barring a challenge from an independent, the Saranac Lake Democrat will win another three-year term on a seven-member county board that, come Jan. 1, will look very different than it does today.

The seats of three veteran legislators – Chairman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay; Guy “Tim” Smith, D-Fort Covington; and Gordon Crossman, D-Malone – are up for grabs in the November election. Crossman and Smith have decided not to seek re-election. Jones is giving up his seat to run for the state Assembly seat currently held by Janet Duprey, who’s not seeking re-election.

“We’ll certainly miss Gordie and Timmy and Billy,” Rice said. “That’s almost half our board. We’re going to lose years and years of experience right there.”

No opposition

Three years ago, Rice won election to the District 7 seat in a three-way race over Republican Ed Randig and Independence Party candidate Curtis Reynolds. District 7 covers the towns of Harrietstown and Franklin, which include the communities of Saranac Lake, Vermontville, Lake Clear, Onchiota and Loon Lake.

This year, Rice was the only person to file party designating petitions by the July 14 deadline. Tuesday was the first day to file independent petitions; the last day to file them is Aug. 23.

Rice said she hopes the lack of opposition so far is a sign people think she’s doing a good job, but she also thinks it’s a symptom of people not being interested in running for office.

“I’ll continue to work extremely hard for my constituents whether there’s someone running against me or not,” she said. “I think it’s as much a commentary on people really do not want to get involved in elections. This year, the national election has been so ugly in some ways that I think it’s impacted people wanting to get involved.”

In June, Rice was endorsed by the Franklin County Democratic Committee. She also sought the support of the Franklin County Republican Committee, attending one of its meetings at the start of the summer.

“The committee felt she was a very strong candidate,” said county GOP Chairman Ray Scollin. “They like the work she’s doing. They don’t agree with all her issues, but there’s not a big gulf between the Republicans in the 7th legislative district and Barb Rice. Nobody wants to run against her that we’ve seen. I expect there would be a letter of support from the Republican Party for her bid this year.”

Rice said getting the support of the GOP committee, in addition to the Democratic committee, would be phenomenal.

“I think more importantly what came out of the meeting to me was the opportunity to speak to an audience I don’t normally get to speak to and take questions,” she said. “I think that was positive both for me and the Republicans who were there.”

Other seats

Rice is one of two legislators who, so far, are running unopposed. The other is Don Dabiew, D-Bombay, who’s seeking re-election to his District 5 seat in the western part of the county.

In District 1, in the county’s northwest corner, Republican Michael McDonald of Westville and Democrat Paul Lauzon of Fort Covington are seeking to succeed Smith.

Republican Tom MacDonald of Constable will vie against Democrat Greg Janisewski of Chateaugay for Jones’ District 2 seat in the northeast.

Crossman’s seat in District 3, which covers the towns of Brighton, Duane, Bangor and half of Malone, will be contested by two Malone residents: Republican Andrea Dumas and Democrat Jon Hutchins, who’s the county’s highway superintendent.

Democrat Carl Sherwin is seeking re-election to his District 4 seat covering the other half of Malone. He’ll face Republican Louise Taylor.

Locally, the most closely watched county race will be for Republican Paul Maroun’s seat in District 6, which covers the towns of Tupper Lake and Santa Clara. Maroun, who’s also the village of Tupper Lake’s mayor, is expected to face a challenge from Timber Lodge Motel owner Don Dew Jr. Dew ran as a Republican for town board in 2013 and plans to run as an independent against Maroun, although he hadn’t filed his petitons as of Tuesday.

GOP in-road?

Democrats currently outnumber Republicans 6-1 on the county board, and they’ve held a majority for years. With the departure of Jones, Smith and Crossman, however, Scollin says this could be a chance for the GOP to make some in-roads and possibly even grab a majority.

“I think it’s possible,” Scollin said. “I think a majority would give us a real direction change. Short of that gives us a better debate, but it doesn’t necessarily give us a direction change.

“We think this is going to be a tough year for the Democrats because of where we stand as a county. We think the fiscal stress on our county is significant. This board promoted a bed tax. Where are we at with that? They put all this effort into that, and it seems to me there’s not a structure in place to deal with the taxes they collected.

“Our candidates are very interested in job creation and getting the infrastructure in place, like broadband, to be able to do that.”

Not partisan?

Rice said she doesn’t look at the legislature as Democrats vs. Republicans.

“When we sit at the table together, I don’t think our party affiliation enters into the way we do business,” she said. “I know I’m saying that from the standpoint of having six of the seven legislators Democrats, but most of the issues we deal with are not partisan or emotional social issues. Sometimes we divide more around geographical issues, which is why Paul (Maroun) and I sometimes align, us being from the southern end of the county. Even with that, I think our board has worked very well together for the last three years.”

“Having a new set of eyes and a fresh perspective, regardless of what party they are coming from is not a bad thing. We have a lot of really big important issues we have to contend with. However it breaks out in the end, we’ll learn to work together.”