PORT HENRY - Essex County Democrats met last weekend to celebrate a successful election year alongside one of the most high-profile Democrats in the state.
The party held a holiday celebration Dec. 12 at Boni's Bistro in Port Henry, where State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli was their honored guest.
Essex County Democratic Committee Chair Sue Montgomery Corey said the party has been in election mode since July of 2008 and was finally able to take an opportunity to celebrate.
That effort has apparently paid off for Essex County Democrats as they gained three new seats on the board of supervisors and saw two sitting Democrat supervisors gain re-election. Many Democrats lost their challenge bids at the town level, but Corey commended them for their effort.
"We were thrilled to have so many high-quality candidates run this time around," said Corey. "We look forward to continuing to work together."
Essex County, traditionally a Republican stronghold, broke in favor of President Barack Obama and then-Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand in the 2008 elections, as well as Democrat Scott Murphy in the March 2009 special election to fill Gillibrand's vacated seat in the 20th district.
With the majority of new voters in Essex County registering as Democrats, Corey said the myth that candidates can't run here as Democrats and win can now be forgotten.
Perhaps the most significant victory for local Democrats as of late has been that of Democrat Bill Owens in the special election for the 23rd Congressional District. Owens became the first Democrat to represent the area since the 1870s, and had originally planned to attend the dinner in Port Henry.
"We're sorry he's not here to celebrate with us," said Corey, noting how the Congressman had to cancel his visit due to illness. "We're thrilled [about his election]. We think he's just a great guy."
Still, she said, Owens' offer to visit was meaningful, as was the presence of DiNapoli.
"Tom DiNapoli is one of the nicest, most principled people in state government, and we have promoted and adopted his message of open, transparent government," Corey said.
DiNapoli issued a report in late October criticizing the State Legislature for repeatedly diverting funds from the state's Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund over the past several years.
According to the report, only 35 percent of the money in the fund has gone to repair roads and bridges since 1991. He pointed to the Crown Point Bridge as a specific example of crucial infrastructure that fell into severe disrepair as a result.
"Knowing he put out that report was part of why we wanted him to come here," said Corey.
DiNapoli took time during the dinner to speak with Denton Publications, and was asked about his report and other issues facing the state.
"We need to address this problem, and if we don't do it right, we're going to have more emergency situations like the one we had here in Essex County," he said.
He also stated that while the state works to cut its spending, it should do so in a way that doesn't just shift the burden to local municipalities.
"It's not going to be easy," he said, stressing the need to reduce spending by consolidating services at the state and local levels. "We need to recognize that we don't have the money to do everything people would like us to do."
Speaking in front of those present at the dinner, DiNapoli emphasized his desire for the state to get its spending under control.
One of the challenges facing the state right now, DiNapoli said, is that its revenue streams have been diminished significantly by an ailing financial sector. That, combined with deficit spending year after year, is draining state resources so much that it does not have enough money to fulfill appropriations in the current budget year.
"If we make decreases in the middle of the year that affect schools, that affect local governments, we're putting the whole state in a state of crisis management," he said. "We need to get together a budget that will hold together and not fold mid-year."
DiNapoli also renewed his call for better funding of roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects.
"We analyze that there is at least $80 billion of infrastructure funding that is needed over the next several years that we don't have the money for," he said.
Also present at the dinner was Essex County District Attorney Julie Garcia, who lost her recent re-election bid after having been endorsed by Essex County Democrats. Garcia, who remains a Republican, spoke briefly, thanking those present for their support.
A notable absence was Jay Supervisor Randy Douglas, who is expected to be chosen as the next chair of the Essex County Board of Supervisors after receiving significant support from many Republicans on the board. Corey said his town was holding a special Christmas party for its employees that same evening, which required his presence.