Montgomery County executive contest taking shape
MONTGOMERY COUNTY Matt Ossenfort is no stranger to the door-to-door, handshaking, petition-signing rigmarole of political campaigns.
In a decade on the political scene, he’s helped out with numerous campaigns, but Tuesday night was Ossenfort’s first experience knocking on doors on his own behalf.
The 32-year-old Amsterdam resident and state Senate senior legislative analyst is running as a Republican for Montgomery County executive, a position that will come into existence Jan. 1, 2014.
County voters approved a charter restructuring the current county government last November. On the first of the year, the current county board of 15 town and city ward supervisors will be replaced by a nine-member legislature and an elected executive to oversee all department heads.
Official candidate petitions for all the new positions were made available by the Board of Elections on Tuesday, and Ossenfort got right to work.
“I was out the other night, knocking on doors all over the place,” he said. “It’s going to be a long haul.”
Ossenfort said his experience and age will work to his advantage. As chief of staff for former Assemblyman George Amedore, a large part of his job consisted of helping individual constituents resolve problems.
“Whether it was helping someone get a culvert installed under their driveway, or anything else,” he said, “I helped people achieve those small victories. That’s what I really love to do.”
He hasn’t spent a lifetime in Montgomery County government, but said that’s a good thing.
“I’m not short on experience,” he said, “but I can offer a new perspective, and honestly, I think that’s what people voted for last November.”
Ossenfort though, is up against a formidable opponent. Longtime St. Johnsville town Supervisor Dominick Stagliano, a Democrat, is also running for the position. He’s been waiting for the county to install an elected executive as long as Ossenfort has been alive.
“You need a single voice to speak for the county,” he said. “We didn’t have that until now.”
After years of pushing for a government restructuring, he said running for the new position just felt like the natural thing to do.
Stagliano served as mayor of St. Johnsville in the early 1990s and has served on the Board of Supervisors since 1998. He said those years gave him insight into the character of the county that will help ease the transition to the new government structure.
“It’s not going to be a smooth transition,” he said. “The charter commission left a lot of things for us to figure out. I think I’m the guy to help with that.”
Both candidates will have to collect nearly 500 signatures by the second week of July. The position will pay $85,000 a year.
According to Root town Supervisor John Thayer, the current chairman of the Board of Supervisors, the executive race is the only one generating excitement and political competition.
“It’s early yet,” he said, “but usually by this point, I’m hearing this guy is interested in that position and that guy is running for this position. I’m not hearing as much of that this time around.”
Thayer is running for the District 3 legislative seat, but could think of only a few colleagues embarking on campaigns for the other eight. He said current 1st, 2nd and 4th Amsterdam city ward supervisors Vito Greco, Jeffrey Stark and Barbara Wheeler will all seek election to the new Legislature, but many other supervisors haven’t decided what to do.
He couldn’t explain the lack of enthusiasm.
“I don’t have a political science degree,” he quipped.
Stagliano had a simple answer. In the current government, there are 15 seats on the board, with each supervisor also working at the town level. Under the new system, there are still 10 town supervisors, plus the new nine legislators and the elected executive.
“That’s 20 seats,” he said. “I think we’ve got more seats than interested people.”