New Montgomery County executive in ‘uncharted waters’
MONTGOMERY COUNTY Matt Ossenfort was pretty tired Wednesday.
A day earlier, four months of full-time campaigning culminated in his landslide 7,012–2,714 victory over Democrat Dominick Stagliano, making the 32-year-old Republican Montgomery County’s first elected executive.
It was a big victory after what he termed a “grueling campaign,” but he didn’t have time for laurel-resting.
“These are uncharted waters,” he said Wednesday afternoon, sipping coffee at a Formica table in the Amsterdam McDonald’s. “We need to work out a plan to ease the transition.”
Last year, county voters approved a new charter disbanding the current board of 15 town and city ward supervisors and laying out the bones of a new, nine-member county legislature with an elected executive position. On Tuesday, voters chose the members of that new government and on Jan. 1, the whole system turns over.
Between now and New Year’s Day, it’s largely Ossenfort’s job to make sure the transition can take place in an uneventful fashion.
“I don’t foresee tumult,” he said. “It’s new, to be sure, but we’re not putting a man on the moon here.”
In the next few weeks he plans to assemble a transition committee, with local businesspeople, leaders in education, legal counsel and representatives from each town and village, as well as the new legislature to make sure every angle is covered.
The executive’s major responsibilities are laid out in the charter. In essence, he’ll be the county’s CEO for the next four years, but a lot of things are still flexible.
“I’m the first one,” he said. “So in a lot of ways, I’ll have to shape the position.”
Of course he has some main issues to tackle. The budget is one. Weeks before polls opened, the state Comptroller’s Office released a negative county audit. Ossenfort plans to meet with the treasurer and draft a four-year financial road map to stability, rather than going year to year. He plans to join with other counties to bring in business and lobby for mandate relief, among a whole list of other things.
The job also must be defined on a more philosophical level. It pays $85,000 a year, which is a nice raise from Ossenfort’s current position as a political analyst for the state Senate, and quite a bit more than the county’s median household income. He plans to earn those taxpayer dollars.
“It’s not the sort of job where you’re ever off the clock,” he said. “I intend to be everywhere. If I’ve done my job, at the end of all this, county residents will expect whoever is executive to pick up the phone.”
Wednesday afternoon the job seemed to have taken its toll already. That morning, he said, he woke to 35 missed calls on his cellphone. He looked like a guy coming down with a cold — red eyes, congested voice.
“I’ve been taking Emergen-C,” he said.
He can’t afford to get sick at the moment, even while shaking hundreds of hands. He’s getting married in Syracuse over the weekend — reciting vows just four days after winning a major election. His fiancee, Melissa Dooher, planned the whole thing while Ossenfort worked a full-time job and campaigned.
“We booked the venue before I knew I was running,” he said. “We had the deposit down. Melissa and I had to have a long talk.”
The coffee break and talk with The Daily Gazette came sandwiched between wedding errands Wednesday.
“Before this I picked up the wedding bands,” he said. “Later tonight I’m leaving for Syracuse. I have meetings planned for Tuesday.”
He took a sip of coffee. Despite the rush and need for caffeine, he’s very optimistic about the county’s new direction. All those messages on his phone, he said, were from hopeful people.
Late Wednesday evening, Stagliano had come to terms with his loss.
“I’m a little disappointed, but I actually feel OK,” he said. “I’m retirement age. It’s time to let the young guys take over.”
County voters also chose the nine-member legislature Tuesday.
•The 1st, 4th and 6th legislative districts were declared for uncontested Republicans Martin Kelly, Ryan Weitz and Democrat John Duchessi. Unofficial results show them with 759, 962 and 505 votes, respectively.
•Current Board of Supervisors Chairman John Thayer, a Republican, lost the 3rd Legislative District race to Democrat Roy Dimond, 492–571.
•Democrat Joseph Isabel won the 8th Legislative District seat over Republican Vito Greco, 557–452.
The roughly 500 absentee ballots cast countywide won’t be counted for another week, so certain races are still too close to call:
•Thomas Quackenbush, running as both a Republican and Democrat in the 2nd Legislative District, was leading Conservative Brian Sweet 564-507, but there are still as many as 79 absentee ballots to be counted.
•Democrat Terry Bieniek is leading Republican Daniel Wilson, 765–756, in the 5th Legislative District. In that race, as many as 80 absentee votes will be counted.
• Republican Barbara Wheeler is leading Democrat Jeff Stark, 385–351, in the 7th Legislative District, but there are still up to 63 absentee votes to be counted.
•Republican Alexander Kuchis is leading Democrat Robert Purtell, 657–615, in the 9th Legislative District, but 102 absentee ballots were issued before Election Day and could change that outcome.
Amsterdam’s controller race is also too close to call. Republican Matthew Agresta is leading Democrat Irene Collins, 1,424–1,337, according to unofficial tallies from the county Board of Elections. More than 200 absentee ballots were issued before the election.
These close races may be decided once absentee ballots are counted Nov. 12.