Democrats add twist to Republican primary

Publisher’s notebook

OBSERVER Photo Austin Morgan, Democrat-endorsed candidate for the 57th Senate District, showed plenty of emotion during Monday’s debate.

Republican primary candidates George Borrello and Curtis Crandall were not the only ones debating the issues of the 57th New York state Senate District earlier this week. There was one other engaged participant, though he was not invited to be seated at the table.

Recent Cornell University graduate and Democrat-endorsed candidate Austin Morgan attended the event held at Dunkirk City Hall, which was sponsored by the Chautauqua County League of Women Voters. While being unnoticeable during the early session between incumbent Kevin Muldowney and Ron Hall for the county legislator district one contest, Morgan’s mannerisms were visibly evident in the second hour.

In opening remarks, Morgan briefly cheered Crandall who took on Borrello as being the party’s endorsed candidate. “It appears to me that Mr. Borrello was a hand-picked candidate by (state Senate Minority Leader John) Flanagan,” Crandall said, leading to a quick burst of applause from Morgan.

“There has been an awful lot of money that has been put into his campaign.”

Seven minutes later, Morgan came to the podium and addressed both Borrello and Crandall as “career politicians.” While both have a combined 45 years of public service, the candidates also come from strong private-sector backgrounds.

Borrello retired from the company he began once he ran for county executive in 2017 and has since helped manage Sunset Bay summer businesses in recent years. His opponent oversees Crandall’s Memorials, a family business that has been in operation since the 1800s.

Morgan also displayed fist pumps after Dunkirk Democratic Chairman Ned Divine questioned the candidates. Divine asked just how effective, through money and leadership, a Republican could be in this district when the state is solidly controlled by the party that leans left.

For the young, enthusiastic candidate who wears his emotions on his sleeve, his age and inexperience may be the least of his problems. His bigger issue, of course, is overcoming the solid red brigade of residents that makes up the district of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany and a portion of Livingston counties.

Even in the most recent presidential and gubernatorial elections, this region votes Republican. It has a lot to do with the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms while another unhidden sentiment is the misplaced disdain for New York City. We in Western New York certainly do not share the Big Apple’s values or beliefs, but we embrace the big bucks the downstate economy sends our way to maintain our many underutilized schools and rural governments.

Crandall’s record in Allegany County is stellar. He is the longest serving chairman there — 14 years — and has held all leadership positions while serving as legislator. His oversight includes nine consecutive years of property tax decreases while bringing fiscal stability to the county of 47,000 residents.

But where Crandall has not excelled in this primary is getting his message out in this area. On Monday, the evening of the debate, his first political signs began appearing in northern Chautauqua County. Most are in public places or on corners, not in front of homes.

There also have been whispers this week — from members of both parties — the Democrats are quietly working for Crandall. Seeing Morgan’s reactions in the audience early in the Dunkirk debate give those statements some credibility.

That being said, many here believe Borrello has been excellent as the county executive in his first 18 months. He’s worked in a bipartisan spirit during much of his tenure and has a record of getting things done, whether it be the building relationships with businesses or taking on the complex issues of Chautauqua Lake.

In this race, he has been making the rounds and knocking on doors across the four-county district. Crandall’s name, though it does not resonate with many here, has high recognition to the east. Low turnout at the polls Tuesday and apathy from Republican voters can make a major difference in the outcome.

Democrats already seem energized. The party, and even the Republicans, never saw the March resignation of popular Sen. Catharine Young coming.

So nothing in politics is always what it seems. This GOP Senate primary has been off the radar of many until the last five days. Involvement by the Democrats, however, has made it much more riveting.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.

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