Community Concern

CASSADAGA – The Cassadaga Branch Library has put together a series of “Fight Cabin Fever” speakers, and the first to come and talk to the residents was new Stockton Town Judge Mark Cunningham.

Carolyn Wenger, library director, said one patron approached her and said area residents needed to get out more. This long, harsh winter has just started and it has caused many of those residents to stay indoors.

Wenger said the speaker series accomplishes two goals: getting people out and about and showing off the new renovations to the library.

“We are open and ready to see people,” she said. “We had to be closed three years to renovate, but we want people to come back.”

The patron asked Wenger to see if the new judge would come because she wanted to meet him.

“I thought it was a great idea, so I called a few people to see if they would come and talk,” Wenger said.

Cunningham opened up the conversation by talking about growing up in Westfield.

“I grew up right in the Grape Belt,” he said. “My father poured concrete.”

Cunningham received his education at Jamestown Community College and SUNY Brockport, where he earned two degrees in political science.

“My original plan was to be an attorney,” he said. “I found out it wasn’t as glamorous as they made it out to be in TV shows.”

During his time at Brockport, he completed an internship at the Monroe County public defender’s office.

“I looked into some cases there,” he said. “I wasn’t stuck behind the desk; I got to get out and meet people. It was really interesting work.”

His political career started after he graduated at the Chautauqua County public defender’s office as the No. 2 investigator. He took a position as the No. 1 investigator at the Cattaraugus County public defender’s office in 2003, and is still there.

“When I was in high school, I attended court in Westfield and was fascinated by it,” he said. “I thought I would want to do that.”

Cunningham knew former Judge Otis Barber from working in the county when he had to go to Stockton Town Court on occasion, and in 2010, he moved to Cassadaga with his family and approached Barber.

“One thing I am good at is the court system,” Cunningham said. “I am no stranger to the courtroom; I have seen it all, from homicide trials to robbery.”

Amy Ames is his appointed court clerk.

“She has done a fantastic job,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham addressed the drug problem that has gotten out of control in the last few years.

“Unfortunately, we have a huge drug problem,” he said. “It takes decent people and makes them do bad things.”

Cunningham said Barber wanted someone who was going to stick around and not just be here for one term.

“I am not going anywhere; I love the community,” he said. “It is something I can give back to the town; something I am good at.”

Cunningham said he would encourage young people to come see the system and how it works.

“They would be welcome to come and sit in,” he said.

Weddings have never been really interesting to Cunningham.

“My wife asked when I was going to start doing weddings,” he said. “I told her never, because I never thought they would be fun.”

Cunningham said he got a call on New Year’s Eve asking if he wanted to do a wedding.

“The couple said it was their dream to get married at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s,” he said. “My wife told me to go do it because it would be fun.”

Two weeks later, Cunningham had another wedding to perform.

“Funny thing is it actually is fun,” he said. “I thought I wouldn’t be good at it and ruin their special day, but I did good.”

The couple raises weimaraners, German hunting dogs known as the “gray ghosts.”

“We have one called Arrow, because when he runs, his ears pin back to the sides of his head and he looks like an arrow,” he said.

Arrow will be participating in the Reading to Rover Program at the Cassadaga Branch Library in the future.

“When you bring the dog in for the kids to read to him, it helps to build confidence with the children,” Wenger said. “The dog can’t criticize or tell them how to say a word, so it helps to have kids read to dogs.”