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Serving the community of Ogdensburg, New York
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Lack of leadership and enthusiasm blamed for slim Democratic ticket in recent City Council race

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Voters in the recent Ogdensburg City Council race may have noticed the lack of political party choice presented on the ballot.

That lack of choice is being blamed on a disorganized Democratic Committee in the city and a lack of optimism in politics in general.

With three seats available on the City Council, the race featured one Democrat, incumbent Daniel E. Skamperle, who also ran on the Conservative party line, one independent, Penny Sharrow, and three Republicans including incumbent Michael D. Morley, who was also on the Conservative line, Brian R. Mitchell and James R. Amo.

Both incumbents successfully defended their seats and Mr. Mitchell walked away from the Nov. 5 election as a City Councilor-elect.

City Democratic Committee Chairman Vernon “Sam” D. Burns, who is also a St. Lawrence County legislator representing the city, said the lack of Democrats on the ticket was due, in part, to the inability of the committee to find candidates.

“A lot of us on the committee had approached [potential candidates],” Mr. Burns said. “I think it’s unfortunately a trend that a lot of people are not willing to step forward and run for public office. It takes away from family time. It takes away from someone younger looking to build a career.”

But the Democratic Committee was also in the throes of a leadership crisis during much of the year.

Former chairman Jeffrey Ferrell resigned in the spring after accepting a position with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office, Mr. Burns said, and the committee wasn’t sure who they elected to serve as vice chairman.

Mr. Burns, who was acting as secretary, said the responsibility therefore fell to him to take over as chairman until the committee can find a full-time replacement.

Mr. Skamperle said the committee was able to pull together enough money to donate roughly $500 to his campaign this year to help him buy lawn signs.

Yet meetings, Mr. Skamperle said, were not as organized as they could have been.

“We’re very loose right now,” he said. “We’re all so busy and we just haven’t had much of a chance to get together.”

Mr. Skamperle, who held a fund raiser at the Freight House during his bid for re-election, said the city Democratic Committee wasn’t around to help organize fundraisers during his campaign.

“It’s not like there is no committee,” he said. “We do have a committee.”

But Mr. Skamperle said, “We have been more organized in the past.”

The city Republican Committee also didn’t hold any fundraisers to support candidates, said Chairman Frederick P. Bean, but he noted that there “really wasn’t any competition” in this year’s race.

“I guess [the Democrats] couldn’t come up with any candidates who wanted to run,” Mr. Bean said. “Quite frankly, we didn’t have to do very much.”

With three contested City Council seats, the city’s Republicans managed to field three candidates and won two of the elections.

“Getting involved in politics can be pretty tough,” Mr. Bean said. “With the economy the way it is, it’s extremely difficult to change anything. Most government bodies are trying very hard to maintain what they’ve got. About the only reward you get out of it is the fact that you can maybe save some jobs and maybe maintain some services.”

And that is why, Mr. Bean said, it’s so important to find solid candidates.

“The secret to my success is to find good candidates that I’m 99 percent sure can win,” he said. “I spend a lot of time trying to find good candidates. I’m always looking for people who have an interest in Ogdensburg.”

Mr. Burns said he and other city Democrats were stretched thin between the city races and other elections in the county.

“It was more a matter of some of us [being] involved in some other campaigns,” he said, explaining the failure of the Democrats to get more candidates on their party line. “It was just a matter of so much going on.”

Mr. Burns said he hopes to find a Democratic Committee chairman who can direct the future of the party in the city.

In two years, Mr. Burns said, when the mayor and three councilor seats are up for grabs “we’re hoping that we have a full slate of candidates to offer to the people of the city of Ogdensburg.”

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