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The Telegram
  • Does experience matter for county legislature candidates?

  • When it comes to electing a county legislator, is previous political experience necessary?
    Not necessarily, say the experts, the legislators, the candidates and the constituents.
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  • When it comes to electing a county legislator, is previous political experience necessary?
    Not necessarily, say the experts, the legislators, the candidates and the constituents.
    In Herkimer County, 17 districts are gearing up for November elections, with eight contested races, some of which have candidates with no prior political office experience.
    Herkimer resident Ray Lenarcic said while experience is a factor in whom he votes for, other characteristics can prevail.
    "Experience is important, but a lot of them aren't experienced," he said. "I want someone who is intelligent, willing to ask questions, dedicated to the proposition that good government is equated with transparency. The person must have vision…"
    E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for Public Policy, said political experience doesn't really come into play until you're running for governor or president.
    "At that level of politics it gets to be much more of an art," he said. "I think that at a level of a county like Herkimer it's more fundamental. If the person has worthwhile private sector experience, (for example)."
    Ilion resident Bridget Trevor-McKinley, a 52-year-old nurse who has yet to hold a political office, is running for county legislator on the Democratic line against incumbent Raymond Johnson, R-Ilion. She said experience could potentially hinder someone.
    "The same old people, the same old ideas," she said. "I think new blood is always a good thing."
    Russ Haven, legislative counsel at the New York Public Interest Research Group, agreed that new people can bring a fresh perspective.
    "People who are around a long time have the potential to get stale and become part of the club," he said.
    Johnson, who prior to taking a county seat had no political office experience, said owning a business gives him a leg up because of connections with developers, among other things.
    "I know the ins and outs around a business," he said. "Like anything, with a business, you learn to live within your own means. You can't spend something you don't have."
    Herkimer County Legislator Jean Maneen, R-German Flatts, said when she first took office her colleagues helped her.
    "Usually the ones that have been on for awhile kind of guide you through and teach you the ropes," she said. "Both parties helped me when I first came on."
    Maneen will be retiring after 10 years as county legislator.
    In the end, Haven said what matters is understanding the needs of your constituents.
    "Politics is a combination of the ability to understand your constituency and in some cases lead, and other cases follow and know the difference of when to do which," he said.

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