MAYVILLE – The Chautauqua County Legislature has voted against the appointment of Jamestown Democrat Chuck Cornell to fill a recently vacated seat in District 12.
Earlier this month, Cornell was selected by Democrats in his district to fill the seat being vacated by Fred Larson – who accepted an appointment to become Jamestown’s second full-time city judge. However, Cornell’s appointment required approval from the legislature, and on Wednesday night it voted 10 to 7 against having him join. It was the first time since 1983 that the legislature did not approve an appointment.
Prior to the vote, legislator Terry Niebel (R-Dunkirk) asked his fellow lawmakers to approve the appointment, saying it was the right thing do to, considering the support Cornell received from party members in his district.
“In the 150-year proud history of this legislature, there’s only been one instance where this body has turned the appointment by a local committee, and that was in 1983,” Niebel said. Not since then has there been any recommendation from a district committee that has been turned down, and there’s been dozens and dozens if not hundreds.”
Despite Niebel’s request, eight of his fellow 11 Republican legislators voted against Cornell’s appointment. Including majority leader John Runkle (R-Cassadaga). Runkle requested a five minute recess prior to the Cornell vote, in which he met privately with other members of his party. Following the meeting, Runkle said that Cornell’s reputation for party partisanship was a contributing factor for voting against his appointment.
“Several people felt that with the infusion of the Mr. Cornell that we might be returning to the days of yesteryear, which I was told by a number of legislators they did not want to do, but that’s my understanding of how the legislators who voted against it felt,” Runkle told WRFA following the meeting.
TWO DEMOCRATS VOTE ‘NO’
The biggest surprise may have been the two ‘no’ votes that were cast by Democrats Keith Ahlstrom (Dunkirk) and Shaun Heenan (Dunkirk). Ahlstrom would only say his vote was due to a letter that Cornell had wrote in November 2013. “This is a personnel-type issue… I would refer back to a letter that Mr. Cornell had in the Dunkrik Observer, I believe on November 18, [to explain] why I voted ‘no’.”
In the letter – which was entitled “Partisan Redistricting Works” – Cornell said the GOP’s recent “tsunami” victory in the 2013 election was due primarily to the new district that were developed “largely by a partisan Albany-based consultant hired by the Republican caucus to draw the lines.” Cornell also specifically mentioned both Ahlstrom and Heenan, saying the two voted against an earlier redistricting plan that was drawn by a nonpartisan, independent commission and as a result, the partisan plan was put into place.
Those voting against the appointment were: Ahlstrom, Heenan, Runkle, Bob Scudder (R-Fredonia), George Borrello (R-Irving), Pierre Chagnon (R-Bemus Point), Mark Tarbrake (R-Jamestown), Lisa Vanstrom (R-Jamestown), Ron Lemon (R-Frewsburg) and John Hemmer (R-Westfield).
Those seven who voted in favor of the appointment were: Niebel, Janet Keefe (D-Fredonia), Chuck Nazarro (D-Jamestown), David Wilfong (R-Jamestown), Paula DeJoy (D-Jamestown), David Himelein (R-Findley Lake) and Legislature Chairman Jay Gould (R-Ashville).
Legislator PJ Wendell (R-Lakewood) was absent.
Following the vote, Chuck Cornell said he was obviously disappointed with the outcome.
“All I really wanted to do was to serve. Public Service has been an important part of my life and I just wanted to serve. I was asked if I was interested. I was chosen unanimously by the committee that lives on the north side of Jamestown and so obviously I’m disappointed that I was not approved this evening.
OPTIONS FOR FILLING THE VACANCY
Also in attendance during last night’s meeting was Chautauqua County Democratic Committee Chairman Norman Green, who said there are a couple of options the local committee will now consider.
“The committee certainly has the opportunity to go back,” Green explained. “I will certainly recommend to the committee that they stick to their guns. I will certainly recommend to Mr. Cornell -we start petitions Thursday, the first day of petitioning season – and I will recommend to Mr. Cornell that he takes it to the people [in the general election].”
Green said he was also disappointed with the two Dunkirk Democrats who voted against the appointment.
“I’m disappointed that two Democrats – two people that we supported – haven’t supported us and it was a sad day from the Democratic representation from the city of Dunkirk,” Green said.
Keith Ahlstrom and Shaun Heanan voted the other way, Cornell would have been added to the legislature.