Caucus or primary? Guilderland Dems mum

Enterprise file photo — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 

Attorney Peter Barber, foreground, leaves the federal courthouse in Albany last summer.

GUILDERLAND — A year after a subcommittee was formed to research the question of whether the Guilderland Democratic Committee should continue using a caucus system or switch to a primary, the subcommittee has given its recommendation to Jacob Crawford, head of the full committee. 

But Crawford declined to tell The Enterprise what the results were until he has had a chance to distribute the recommendation to the members of the executive committee and meet with them in mid-October. 

The issue arose last year because Christine Napierski, who had been appointed as a Guilderland town judge and wanted to keep the post, sued after the town’s Democratic committee had chosen to back Bryan Clenahan instead.

 Napierski along with her father and law-firm partner, Eugene, filed a suit in federal court to stop the July Democratic caucus. The caucus went on, Clenahan was chosen, and he ultimately won the November election in a landslide. 

Crawford told The Enterprise Tuesday that he would distribute the recommendation that afternoon to the executive committee. 

“I don’t want to get ahead of the executive committee,” Crawford said about his decision to hold off on releasing the subcommittee’s recommendation. 

The subcommittee members who have looked into the respective benefits and drawbacks of the caucus and primary systems are James Cohen (who is on the planning board and also running against Republican Mark Grimmn for the Albany County Legislature’s District 29), Sharon Cupoli (on the zoning board), Betty Head, Deb Riitano, Brandon Russell, Steve Wickham (who ran unsuccessfully against Dustin Reidy in the June primary to become the Democratic candidate for the legislature’s District 30), and Daniel Centi. 

The Democratic Party dominates in Guilderland, so being chosen as the Democratic candidate, in most cases, ensures winning a seat. 

The subcommittee was formed in September, but decided to wait until after the November election to begin its research, to allow members to focus on getting Democratic candidates elected. 

Subcommittee member Daniel Centi told The Enterprise earlier that statewide election reforms passed in January of this year that speeded up the election calendar, moving the primary from September to June, meant that the subcommittee had been unable to issue a recommendation in time to take effect this year. 

 By law, a switch from one system to the other — caucus to primary, or vice versa — requires a two-thirds vote of the entire committee, and needs to take place at least four months before the primary date, to take effect that year. 

The executive committee has 10 members, Crawford said. That committee will make a recommendation to the full committee, which has a total of 60 members, and could go against the recommendation of the subcommittee. 

“Then, technically speaking, the full committee could disagree with the executive committee,” Crawford said.

If the full committee decides to stay with the caucus system, no vote is needed, he said. If it decides to change, a two-thirds vote — 40 members in favor — would be needed. 

There is no primary scheduled now until June 2021, so there is little time pressure on the committee, Crawford said; if a primary were scheduled, the committee would need to make a decision by February. He added, “But my hope would be to have it settled sooner rather than later, just to have it settled within the committee.” 

For now, he said, the Democratic committee’s focus is on planning an upcoming fundraiser that will allow it to have sufficient funds to run the fall campaign and also getting signs and flyers distributed. 

The Albany County Board of Elections has no oversight over caucuses, Republican Commissioner Rachel Bledi told The Enterprise earlier. Primaries, on the other hand, are run by the board of elections. 

Caucuses require participation in person at a set place and a set time, whereas primaries allow voters to vote in polling places close to home at a time that is convenient, and also allow for absentee ballots. 

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