Not ready for prime time

Local politics tend to attract a rather odd cast of characters and nowhere is this truer than in upstate New York. While most upstate counties are primarily rural, or in the cases of Erie, Monroe, and Onondaga dominated by a one large city, Broome County is more or less evenly divided between the urban “triple cites” surrounding Binghamton and the bucolic countryside of dairy farms and retired IBMers. In normal times, voter turnout in local elections is fairly equally distributed with only a slight biase toward the rural areas. But these are not normal times since the County sits atop a potentially rich deposit of natural gas-bearing Marcellus Shale. The prospect of a windfall from gas drilling has energized the countryside, and none there so much as those with no interest in actually farming the land. Having lived for years on the largess of Big Blue, these gentlemen farmers take this as nothing more than their due. And, being retired they have little else to do than to lobby for the state to permit fracking at whatever cost to the environment or local communities. What a perfect opportunity for a single-issue candidate!

Enter Debbie Preston, supervisor of the Town of Conklin, a sprawling hodgepodge of scrub farms and scruffy auto repair shops along the Susquehanna River upstream from Binghamton. Li’l Debbie is an ardent proponent of fracking, which in the minds of the local Republican Party trumps the fact that running a town whose 5441 residents constitute less than 3% of the population of the county might not qualify her to lead a county of 200,000 that includes a major state university. So after a campaign well lubricated by gas industry money she was elected County Executive by an overwhelming vote of the rural residents of the county and a decidedly lukewarm reception from the rest of us.

Now the sideshow begins. The term that best describes Ms. Preston is “bumpkin.” But beyond that is her apparent lack of understand of what is and is not appropriate for a County Executive to do. One thing that is not appropriate is to attempt to sneak through the county legislature a no-bid contract to a campaign contributor to do repairs on the county jail. In fairness, said contractor also contributed to the campaign of Sheriff-for-Life David Harder as well. Naturally, Preston and Harder are thick as thieves, prompting the Executive to dress up in a sheriff’s department uniform for an appearance at a fund raiser for the sheriff. Never mind that this constitutes impersonation of a law enforcement officer or misappropriation of county property depending on how tolerant one is of such nonsense.

But none of this tops the latest revelation suggesting—nay, shouting—that Ms. Preston is not ready for prime time. It turns out that Li’l Debbie has been supplementing her $92k salary by selling her homemade jewelry from her office. Apparently, there was even a nice display of her works in the County Office Building. “No problem,” says she, this is no different than her selling Avon from the Conklin Town Offices. But, it is a problem because it is in violation of County law. Well, maybe since the county personnel handbook makes an exception to the law banning outside activities being conducted from County offices for certain commercial ventures. It is pretty clear, however, that the exemption is intended to allow the sale of Girl Scout cookies and such, not a side business peddling baubles for profit. The fact that she has reportedly closed down her little side business does not, in my opinion, absolve her of responsibility for cheapening her office.

Much has been made around the environmental and social costs of oil and gas booms. Among those costs have been an increase in political corruption. Here in Broome County we have discovered a new one: the election of tinhorn politicians not ready for prime. Who knows, maybe she’ll go on to be nominated for vice president.


1 Response to “Not ready for prime time”

  1. 1 Jonathan Caswell March 24, 2014 at 19:48

    Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

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