This Year’s Election Was All About County Home

Election Day 2013 may well be remembered in Chautauqua County as the County Home Election.

Six of nine legislators who voted against the sale of the County Home on Oct. 30 lost their seats in the legislature Tuesday.

County Executive-elect Vince Horrigan has always supported selling the home since the issue came up while his opponent Ron Johnson is the owner and operator of Johnson Adult Homes and was in favor of trying to make the county-owned home profitable again without selling it to a private buyer.

Even the race for county clerk was won by Larry Barmore, who supported selling the home as a legislator, while his opponent Lori Cornell was opposed to selling during her time as a legislator.

“I absolutely believe it had an impact on the election,” said George Borrello, R-Irving, who will represent the new District 6 beginning Jan. 1. “I think that there were a number of factors, but I do believe that, particularly in Jamestown, people felt they weren’t being well represented when it comes to the County Home.”

COUNTY EXECUTIVE RACE

Horrigan, who has hinted at a new County Home sale proposal in the near future, defeated Johnson, who has called the County Home a “great asset,” by more than 3,500 votes. Horrigan garnered 55.88 percent (13,858 votes) to Johnson’s 44.06 percent (10,926).

“I never understood why the issue of the County Home, which is 1 percent of the county budget, had such a huge impact on this race,” Johnson said after losing on Tuesday. “I think the two newspapers in the north and the south end rode that issue and they made it the issue of this campaign. I found that it was different going door to door and talking to the people here, that most people’s issues were jobs and economic security.”

“I think that in the case of the county executive race, Johnson was advocating that he had some kind of plan to turn around the County Home. He never gave us that plan,” Borrello said.

“We (the Republican Party) see opportunity for private investment,” Horrigan said after winning. “We’ve determined the best way to move forward. We’re all working hard.”

Both candidates for county executive had the most votes in cities closest to their hometowns. Horrigan came out on top at 62 of Chautauqua County’s 100 polling places while Johnson dominated the polls in Dunkirk.

At 19 polling sites in Jamestown, Johnson garnered just 21 percent of the votes, falling behind his south county counterpart.

NEW LEGISLATURE

One of the former legislators who lost his seat Tuesday was William Coughlin, D-Fredonia.

When asked if the County Home had anything to do with the election, Coughlin’s opponent Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia, said, “Yes. I would say that some of the Jamestown races were affected by it.”

Scudder added that roughly 87 percent of County Home residents are from the north county region, while there are not currently any Jamestown residents living at the facility.

Both Scudder and Coughlin voted against the sale while sitting on the legislature together.

“The vast majority of my constituents have expressed that they don’t want me to sell the home,” Scudder said. “What do you do? It’s a fine line between making a decision as a legislator, what you think is best, and then making the decision considering the results for the whole county.”

The legislature will downsize from 25 to 19 members in January, which could change the outcome of any future votes. In order for real property owned by the county to be sold, a supermajority vote would be required. For privatization of the County Home to take place in the new year, 13 of the 19 legislators will have to vote in favor.

Ron Lemon, R-Frewsburg, defeated Tom Erlandson, D-Frewsburg, for the new District 16 seat with 62 percent of the votes, the biggest gap in the legislature races.

“The possibility of turning a profit becomes more viable,” Lemon said of selling the facility, and that a private owner “could expand and possibly create more jobs.”

As for the vote on Oct. 30, Lemon pointed out that the six voters who prevented the privatization were from the north county and composed of a mixture of Democrats and Republicans. Those six included Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, Shaun Heenan, D-Dunkirk, Tom DeJoe, D-Brocton, Coughlin, Bob Duff, R-Sheridan, and Scudder.

“I understand why some of them would be willing to vote that way because it’s in their district,” Lemon said. “At some point, I would have hoped one of them would have been willing to put their position on the line for the good of the taxpayers of the county.”

Democrats Fred Larson, D-Jamestown, and Janet Keefe, D-Fredonia, won their respective legislature seats by almost 60 percent against opponents William Prieto, R-Jamestown, and Michael Sullivan, R-Fredonia. Larson is unopposed to selling it to a suitable buyer, while Keefe would like to keep the home county-owned.

“The County Home is a big issue within county government, but the loss of jobs is the real issue in this election,” Larson said, who sat on the county legislature from 1985-93 and served as county attorney from 1998 through 2005.

Additionally, he said of the home, “I really have felt the same way, going back 20 years. If they can break even, that’s fine. If they can’t, I’m not opposed to selling it.”

Larson is more focused on economic development and creating jobs in Chautauqua County. He has stressed the fact that 7,000 fewer people are employed in the county than seven years ago. His opponent William Prieto had agreed prior to the election that he was not opposed to selling the home.

Keefe, an incoming Democrat in the new District 4, is not in favor of selling the facility.

“One of the main issues will be saving the County Home, of course,” Keefe said Tuesday night. “I think we need to create jobs in Chautauqua County (as well).”

“The results of the election were expected,” said her opponent Sullivan, after finding out he had lost his seat. “It is a heavily Democratic district and I ran a campaign to address the issues. There will be another day and another contest, but the issues are still there.”

In the new legislature, 12 members have already made it clear they will vote “yes” in the next vote on whether to sell the County Home. They include: Borrello; John Runkle, R-Stockton; Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown; PJ Wendel, R-Lakewood; David Wilfong, R-Jamestown; Paula DeJoy, D-Jamestown; Mark Tarbrake, R-Jamestown; Lemon; Jay Gould, R-Ashville; David Himelein, R-Findley Lake; Larson; and John Hemmer, R-Westfield.

Five are still opposed to the sale including Scudder; Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan; Keefe, Heenan and Ahlstrom.

Incoming District 8 legislator Pierre Chagnon, R-Bemus Point, and District 15 legislator Lisa Vanstrom, R-West Ellicott, have yet to make their stances on the issue known.