By Joe Mahoney The Daily Star
---- — The election for Otsego County treasurer in November will be a rematch of the contest in 2009, with incumbent Democrat Dan Crowell climbing back into the ring to face GOP-backed Edward Keator Jr. of West Oneonta.
Crowell’s pivot — he had taken himself out of the race in July even though his name was to remain on the ballot — came after Acting Treasurer Russ Bachman tossed in the towel in what had been his quest to prove he had enough valid signatures on nominating petitions to earn a ballot berth.
Local Republicans had questioned the legality of numerous signatures garnered by the Bachman campaign, and in the end Bachman conceded those petition flaws were fatal to his candidacy.
County Democrats will now shift their support to Crowell. Bachman, an unaffiliated independent, said he is behind the sitting treasurer whose term was interrupted this year by military service “100 percent.”
In 2009, Keator, who has since been named the village of Cooperstown’s treasurer, garnered 6,149 votes to 6,305 for Crowell.
Bachman’s chances of replacing Crowell were sent reeling when Republicans noticed that many of the signatures his camp collected were on petitions circulated by Democrats who had earlier signed Crowell’s petittons. That rendered those signatures invalid, according to a lawsuit that Cooperstown lawyer Martin Tillapaugh brought against Bachman and the county Board of Elections on behalf of Keator’s supporters.
Bachman, an Edmeston resident with considerable money management experience in the private sector, agreed to give up his candidacy once it became clear that he did not have the 909 legally valid signatures he needed to stay on the November ballot.
His abrupt exit from the race, expected to be enforced by a court order, leaves Democrats in a position of promoting Crowell as their candidate less than two months after Crowell said his military obligations prompted him to withdraw from the contest.
Crowell will have Row A on the ballot.
“If elected, I would serve to the extent my obligations would allow, and exactly as is currently taking place, ensure there is stability in a seamless and capable leadership if and when other duties arise,” Crowell said Tuesday.
Crowell, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves, said he was home on leave this week, but will return soon to Fort Bragg, where he has been undergoing special operations training.
He said he does not anticipate being able to personally campaign for his re-election, due to his current deployment.
In the meantime, Crowell said: “In response to this situation, I am seeking what clarity I can get on my military obligations on the horizon so that I can convey this to the community in advance of Election Day to inform their decision.”
GOP operative Vince Casale, who is involved in promoting Keator, said Crowell should articulate for voters how he can serve as treasurer given the military obligations that were the catalyst from his earlier withdrawal from the race.
“The people of Otsego County need stability in the treasurer’s office,” Casale said.
Crowell said he found it ironic that Republicans worked hard to disqualify Bachman as an independent candidate after earlier trying to woo the acting treasurer to run with GOP support and after giving the cold shoulder to Keator’s initial attempt to line up Republican support.
“A lot of people on both sides of the aisle have questions about Keator’s capabilities for the job,” Crowell said.
Casale said Republican officials initially took a pass on getting behind Keator because Crowell appeared poised on seeking re-election.
“They changed the playing field,” he said.
Otsego County GOP Chairwoman Sheila Ross said Crowell’s renewed interest in taking the job puts her Democratic counterpart, Richard Abbate, in the position of “flipflopping.” She predicted that Crowell, if he wins the election, would once again seek to have Bachman appointed as acting treasurer.
Abbate said the Republican challenges to Bachman’s signatures amounted to “technicalities” based on arcane sections of state Election Law. But Casale said many of the signatures were disqualified after being found to be in violation of routine rules prohibiting any voter who signed a petition for one candidate (such as Crowell) later circulating petitions for another candidate, in this case Bachman.