Local Politics: Monroe County

Last Tuesday, Nov. 6, Monroe County did not receive the full political overhaul that seems to be necessary if the county legislature is going to ever accomplish anything that doesn't involve back-door contracts and clauses that allow the legislature to hide information from voters.

That being said, the fact that the Republicans will now only hold a 15-14 edge as opposed to the 17-12 cushion they previously had over the Democrats could be enough to at least bring some suspense to meetings that have been highlighted by the familiar sight of County Executive Maggie Brooks scowling in the corner of the room as her Republican caucus consistently votes as a block under all conditions.

The insistence that all Republicans vote together at meetings has sucked the life out of any debate on any issue, with the Democrats knowing that they have no chance of winning the Republicans' approval on any measure that they propose.

If you don't believe me, just ask Republicans Ciaran Hanna and Robert Colby. Last year, they voted with the Democrats against a measure that would allow the county executive to present the county's budget after Election Day. The measure still passed, 15-14, but the rest of the Republican caucus let Hanna and Colby know that they were not pleased with their vote. They were both stripped of their committee leadership positions, and for a while the two were prohibited from entering the legislative chambers with the rest of their caucus.

Last week's ouster of Republican incumbents Ray DiRaddo of Greece and David Malta of Webster in favor of Democrats Dick Beebe and Carmen Gumina, along with Republican Majority Leader Bill Smith being forced to leave office due to term limits, could be the beginning of the end of Republican dominance at the county level.

The "our way or no way" philosophy of Brooks, county Republican chair Steve Minarik and legislature President Wayne Zyra must be wearing on some of their legislators. Nobody in the legislature has flipped parties since Republican Chris Wilmot switched over from the Democratic side in late 2004. If a Republican were to do the same today, it would give the Democrats control of the legislature for the first time since 1993.

This idea may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Perhaps one of the teachers on the Republican side, such as Fairport's Mike Barker or Chili's Mary Valerio, could cross over. This would make sense, seeing that Brooks' latest attempt to solve the county's budget crisis involves cutting $29 million in taxpayer dollars that is supposed to go to the county's schools.

A move to the Democratic caucus could make sense for both Barker and Valerio. Barker is a former Democrat, but he also was just reelected. Valerio was reelected in 2005 and will likely be challenged in 2009. Given that Democrats have recently won town elections in Chili, she could be in trouble in two years. A change in party affiliation could save her political career, not to mention the amount of tax dollars it would save Monroe County residents.