For the first time in a long time, the town board election in Clay will be preceded by a primary. Three Republicans and one Independent are vying for three slots on the Independence Party line on the ballot.
According to Rand Allgaier, chair of the Clay Republican Committee, it’s not uncommon to have a contested race in the general election, but a primary is a rare occurrence in Clay’s recent political history.
“It has been several years since there’s been a primary in Clay,” Allgaier said. “We’ve had candidates against us, just not on the primary basis. It’s just a second election that you need to prepare for.”
With the retirement of Town Councilor William Weaver and resignation of Councilor Jim Rowley to run for Onondaga County Legislature, three town board seats are up for election. The Clay Republican Committee selected longtime board member Naomi Bray and challengers Brian Hall, a deputy Onondaga County Clerk, and Ryan Pleskach, a contractor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as their candidates, and the Independence Party has endorsed all three.
While the Clay Democratic Committee has not fielded a full slate of Democratic candidates for the town board election, it has endorsed Independent candidate and self-employed real estate agent Kevin Meaker for the Independent line. The committee has also endorsed Democrats Maureen Patterson, a retired administrator for the Liverpool Central School District, and attorney Andrea Ferro.
Mike LaPoint, chair of the Clay Democratic Committee, said his committee has seen a huge spike in enrollment since the 2016 election.
“We went from 18 committee members to 45 members,” he said. “We expect later this year we’ll reach our capacity of 92 members.”
Historically, the Clay Town Board has been dominated by Republicans. The last Democrat who held a seat on the town board was Don McLaughlin, who served from 1976 to 1995.
But according to Allgaier, party affiliation has little to do with government at the local level. Allgaier cited accomplishments under Republican rule in Clay such as the solar array at town hall, the Project Green Community Garden and its ability to stay under the state mandated tax increase cap at budget time.
“These are all steps that aren’t political. They’re independent of politics, and I think the Independence Party recognizes that. The town has historically sought to remain that way,” he said.
Party lines aren’t a big deal for the Democrats either, according to LaPoint.
“It didn’t matter to us if [Meaker] was a Democrat or not,” LaPoint said. “He truly has a passion for the community he lives in.”
LaPoint said he does not know why the Independence Party declined to endorse Meaker, but he said Meaker gathered more than 140 verified petition signatures on his own. “They can’t kick him off the ballot,” he said.
While the Clay Town Board may not “run party line-related,” as Allgaier said, that doesn’t mean that party lines do not matter entirely.
“The takeaway here is that Naomi Bray, Brian Hall and Ryan Pleskach are the endorsed candidates by the Independence Party,” Allgaier said. “The other is not endorsed. The party did not select him to be one of their three endorsed.”
The primary takes place from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12. Only voters registered with the Independence Party may participate in this primary‚ not unaffiliated voters who are sometimes referred to as “independent voters.” Visit ongov.net/elections to look up your polling place.
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.