Dems regroup, Hilltown clerk gets post

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Tara Murphy, voted in as secretary of the Albany County Democratic Committee on Monday night, speaks with Carolyn McLaughlin, the former secretary who was elected as the committee’s chair.

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

No disparagement: Carolyn McLaughlin, in her first meeting as chairwoman of the county’s Democratic committee, warned against criticizing a nominee for elections commissioner. Jeffrey Kuhn, in back, favored Judith Mazza. 

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Matthew Clyne listens while Jeffrey Kuhn, who replaced Clyne in 2012 as the Bethlehem Democratic Committee’s chair, criticizes him at Monday’s committee meeting for invalidating petitions for judicial delegates.

ALBANY — Less than a year into her first term as Knox’s town clerk, Tara Murphy faced and won a challenge Monday to take the secretary position on the Albany County Democratic Committee.

Her two-year term fills the vacancy left by Albany City Council President Carolyn McLaughlin, who was voted in as the committee’s new chairwoman without a contest, filling out a slate that some saw as a step in a new direction for a committee that has a modest few thousand dollars and had public rifts in recent months.

Murphy is the first committee leader from the Hilltowns, according to the memory of Gerald O’Malley, a Berne committee chair and longtime member. He said members in the Hilltowns will have a direct feed of information from the party’s headquarters and may garner more attention than in the past.

“I think you’re going to see Carolyn McLaughlin have a meeting up here with the Hilltown people and get their views and find out what’s going on,” said O’Malley.

The organizational meeting ended Matthew Clyne’s tenure as chairman. Some committee members also wanted to oust him from his position as the Democratic commissioner for the Albany County Board of Elections; the board has two commissioners — one Republican and one Democrat.

Clyne retained his post with the county, but he had lost his seat on the Bethlehem party committee in last month’s primary, in addition to his committee seat.

The defeat came after Clyne was rebuked by a group of Democrats describing itself as “progressive,” associated with the Robert F. Kennedy Democratic Club, which includes Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Murphy’s challenger, Colonie Councilman Brian Haak.

Democrats who supported Margaret Walsh, a family court judge, as a candidate for state Supreme Court, filed petitions to run as a delegates to the judicial nominating convention in September, where candidates for judgeships are chosen. The county committee, meanwhile, had backed Justin Corcoran, who eventually won the endorsement for the judicial district, which spans several counties.

As commissioner, Clyne agreed to invalidate several of the judicial delegates and alternative delegates, a move that was later reversed in court.

On Monday, Jeffrey Kuhn, Bethlehem’s committee chair, and Chris Higgins, a county legislator, lambasted Clyne for his actions. Clyne responded that he has never seen the party endorse someone for “two incompatible judgeships,” noting Walsh was running for re-election.

“I back up the Democratic committee’s selection,” he told the contentious group. “So, if that makes me a criminal, you can indict me, but I stand by our own candidates, the ones selected by our party, thank you.”

Murphy won with 53.39 percent of the vote among the members milling inside the Polish Community Center Monday night. Haak, a lawyer in the State Assembly, had 46.61 percent. In the proportionally weighted voting system, Colonie holds the most sway, along with some surrounding suburban and city areas.

Kuhn said Haak represented a “progressive reformer” wing of the party that he hoped would be represented on the executive committee. With McLaughlin’s tenure, he expressed hope that she would welcome more views in decision-making and, in a related matter, help raise more money.

“We’re very homegrown as far as that goes,” Viscio said, noting the county committee doesn’t fund any of the small Knox committee’s work. “Do I wish we could get some funding from the Albany County Democratic Committee? Sure, if they offer it to us. Would we take it? We would probably like a little help.”

Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier, once a possible nominee for the chair, said he was approached about being on the committee. Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said he had suggested Crosier’s name before McLaughlin stepped forward.

Crosier said he doesn’t know what “progressive” meant in the context of Monday night and suggested labels made party in-fighting worse. He agreed that the party has become more exclusive, especially when it comes to selecting candidates.

Crosier said he and McCoy once worked on the same shift as Albany City firefighters. He said he spoke publicly for his union then, at Albany Common Council meetings, and in neighborhood groups, and he met many people through that role, including McLaughlin.

Given the small size of Berne’s committee, Crosier suggested he would have been attractive as a chair because he didn’t make up a “political threat” within the party.

The message about new officers this year, Knox committee Chairman Nicholas Viscio said, was to diversify its members.

“You’ll get a voice that you haven’t had before,” McCoy said of potential Hilltown party leaders, like Crosier.

After a meeting of town chairmen on the topic of new executive committee members, Viscio asked Murphy if she would be interested in running.

“I’m hoping that I was nominated because I’m a young mother from the Hilltowns,” said Murphy. “I think all I can do is hope to fill the expectations well.”

The vote for Murphy from Berne was split, 3 to 2, with the weighted votes giving Haak a slight victory there. Crosier declined to offer an explanation for his committee’s vote, which was unique among the surrounding Hilltowns and New Scotland, which were all unanimously in favor of Murphy. She also had strong support from areas of the city.

The secretary’s duty is formally to keep minutes of the committee’s meetings, prepare a roll of members, and notify members of meetings. But, Murphy said, it will also involve communication with members, especially online, which can aid in unifying members.

“It’s important for all of them to be heard, and we can all have our respective opinions,” she said. “I think people aren’t being heard right now.”

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