Voting takes place Tuesday, Sept. 9
Candidates from within districts in the Town of Bethlehem:
Election district 8 — County Democrats: George Harder; Bethlehem Reform Democrats: Pam Skripak and Jennifer Birn
Election district 9 — County Democrats: Jack Cunningham; Bethlehem Reform Democrats: Josh Kapczynski and Matt Meyer
Election district 10 — County Democrats: Frank Murphy; Bethlehem Reform Democrats: Linda Miller and Maureen McLeod
Election district 14 — County Democrats: Fran Royo and Jim Kelly; Bethlehem Reform Democrats: Amy Conway and Jeff Kuhn
Election district 22 — County Democrats: Matt Clyne and Shelly Andrews; Bethlehem Reform Democrats: Susan Hager and Suzy Sodergren
Election district 28 — County Democrats: Steve Vazci and Pat Dorsey; Bethlehem Reform Democrats: Matt Miller and Howard Shafer
Election district 31 — County Democrats: Bonnie Fahey, Judy Coyne and Michael Coyne
Two committee members from each district are selected. They serve for three-year terms. Candidates listed in blue are incumbents.
Bethlehem Democrats could see a potential change in leadership as some committee members primary to keep their district seats, setting up a showdown between the party’s old guard and a progressive movement from within.
Among those up for re-election on Tuesday, Sept. 9, are Democratic Committee Chairman Jeffrey Kuhn, who is also a town councilman, and Matthew Clyne. Clyne was replaced by Kuhn as chairman in 2012 following a push for reform from some of the committee members.
“Two years ago, there was a movement to reform the Bethlehem Democratic Committee, and that resulted in myself becoming the new chairman and Matt Clyne removed as chair,” said Kuhn. “I think what you’re seeing is Clyne and some loyalists trying to take back control of the party, and one of the ways is by trying to remove me from the committee and primary me for my spot.”
Former Bethlehem supervisor and longtime Democratic committee member Jack Cunningham, whose seat is also up for reelection, said the current party leadership hasn’t delivered on the promise of reform.
“From what I understand, and in my own dealings, the leadership has made a concerted effort to set up primaries against people who were on the committee prior to their (Reform Democrats) leadership,” said Cunningham, a Clyne supporter. “I was told by Mr. Kuhn that the committee met and decided who would run and be endorsed for those seats, and those were discussions I and other committee members weren’t a party to.”
The Bethlehem Reform Democrat movement began in May 2012, when group organizers said they were frustrated with the inner workings of the town’s Democratic Party and did not like the direction the party was headed in. They said the point was “not to form a new party, but to be proud of and participate in” the current party. Supervisor John Clarkson also had endorsed the movement and its candidates for office.
That year, members of the Reform group put forward 40 candidates for committee seats, winning 26 out of 62 seats in the September primary.
Kuhn, who was not an organizer of the movement and has never considered himself a member, said he does support their initiatives. He became chairman in October 2012, after a weighted voted by the committee.
At the time, Kuhn said he decided to run because he could no longer back the current committee leader and decided he would accept the nomination if someone put his name forward.
Although Clyne lost the position of chairman, he remained a committee member.
Now, Clyne loyalists and former Reform Democrats, now calling themselves progressives, are attempting to knock each other out of the committee, but Kuhn said he believes the majority of committee members will continue to be from the progressive side despite the election’s outcome.
“I think there is a personal loyalty to Matt Clyne and a personal investment in the old machine-politics system,” said Kuhn. “You can see that is basically what motivates them. They’re not motivated by the desire to see Democrats elected or the party’s principals. Several of the people who support Clyne and are primarying either overtly or covertly supported Republicans in the 2013 election.”
In recent years, the new Democratic Committee has worked to change how the party operates within the town. Many of the changes were implemented because of the earlier requests from Reform Democrat candidates who called for greater transparency and more oversight of the party.
Meetings are now open to the public, and Kuhn said the committee also changed the interview process for campaigns and how it endorses candidates.
“We now endorse candidates based on merit, not who the person knows,” said Kuhn.
Cunningham said that in his own race, neither of the candidates running against him live in the election district they’re running for. Kuhn said the same issue is also occurring with candidates from the other side.
There is nothing legally preventing that from happening, though, as candidates can run for a committee district seat even if they don’t live within that district. Eligibility for seats is determined by Assembly district, so a candidate could potentially run for a committee seat in a certain district, even if they don’t live within the town.
“This is something that’s always happened, but they (the Reform Democrats) ran on a commitment to introduce reforms,” said Cunningham. “When I asked if something was going to be changed, I was told by Kuhn that it wasn’t realistic because it can’t be done for every election. That’s fine, but it was their commitment to the public, and now it’s gone by the wayside.”
Cunningham has not been endorsed by the party, and he has also not hidden the fact he supported his brother, Dan Cunningham, who ran as a Republican for the Bethlehem Town Board.
“I’m obviously going to support my brother,” he said.
Kuhn said the party saved its endorsements for members who would “work for and support the election of Democratic candidates.”
“The others have done nothing for (the party), or in several examples, have overtly worked to support Republicans, and that’s why we can’t support their continued membership on the committee,” said Kuhn.
Matthew Clyne did not return calls for comment.
The state primary elections will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 9.