Although the main race for Putnam County Executive won’t happen until November, Democrat Maureen Fleming is hoping to pull off the difficult task of swiping a third party line from Republican MaryEllen Odell that could improve her chances in the general.
Fleming, the Kent supervisor, is waging an opportunity to ballot (OTB) campaign on primary day, Sep. 13, to attain the Conservative Party line that was given to Odell, the incumbent, by party leaders earlier this summer. Fleming had to collect signatures from Conservative members in order to force the OTB and will need Conservative voters to write her name in to cast a vote for her. Odell will only need Conservative members to darken a bubble next to her name.
Because 9-11 falls on a Tuesday, the primary will be that Thursday.
Fleming said she’s been going door-to- door explaining to potential voters how an OTB works and how they can vote for her. She said she’s gotten a lot positive feedback from the people she’s spoken to.
Fleming has conveyed a message of fiscal prudence, which she believes Odell is not fulfilling during her tenure. Fleming hasn’t raised taxes in Kent since she’s become supervisor in 2014, a point she’s made sure to hit home.
“I really do hope people are energized and realize they do have a choice,” Fleming said. “And choose a real fiscal conservative.”
While the Odell campaign has argued that Fleming is liberal on social issues, Fleming said whatever her positions might be, those state and national issues are irrelevant in a county race.
“I think it’s really to distract people from making you look in one direction and reaching her hand into your pocket with the other,” Fleming said. “She stated positions that I have never taken.”
Odell said Conservatives should select her because of her record the past seven years. Since she announced her run for reelection, Odell has stressed Putnam is the lowest portion of a tax bill in the state out of 62 counties and county government has been able to eliminate all of its long term debt and much of its short term debt.
“This county is in a very good direction, has been seven years since I took office, financially we’ve done a great deal of work,” Odell said.
Odell’s endorsement from the local Conservative Party was unanimous with the entire executive committee selecting her over Fleming. It’s been a team effort between the Conservative Party and the Odell campaign making voters aware of the Sep. 13 election. On primary day, Conservative members will be at polling stations to remind voters who the endorsed candidate is.
“This county has family values and they support the 2nd amendment and they support standing up for America,” Odell said. “To have (the Conservative Party’s) support has been an honor, I’m very confident that it will show in the polls on Sep. 13.”
Attaining the Conservative line can be crucial if a Democrat hopes to topple a Republican in a countywide contest.
Putnam Valley Supervisor Sam Oliverio, who ran against Odell in 2014 for county executive, said if he had the Conservative line, he would’ve beaten Odell. Oliverio, a Democrat, typically received the Conservative endorsement in his runs for county Legislature, but was unable to secure it for the countywide race.
“Any candidate who runs for political office in this county needs a secondary line,” Oliverio said. “It is extremely important.”
Fleming has two minor party lines— the Reform and Women’s Equality line— but both lines combined don’t have nearly as many registered voters as the Conservative Party can boast. She sought the Working Families endorsement, but the executive committee declined to give her the line and Odell did not seek it. (Fleming said it was because she didn’t support a bond in the Carmel school district last year.)
This isn’t the first time Odell has faced a challenge on the Conservative line. Back in 2011, Democrat Alan Schneider attempted to snag the Conservative line from Odell through write-in, but came up well short in the race for county executive. Odell secured 228 votes while Schneider, who died in 2012, only got 56 votes.
While it’s an uphill battle to swipe a third party line from another candidate, it isn’t impossible.
When Patterson resident Andrew Falk ran for town supervisor against Rich Williams in 2015, he waged a successful write-in effort to take the Independence Party line. (Williams still won the general marginally.)
Going to countless doors of Independence Party members over the summer, Falk made his pitch and gave voters instructions on how to vote for him through write-in. He even handed out stamps with his name on it so voters could simply stamp his name on the ballot.
“We killed ourselves working for that,” Falk, looking back, said.