GOP split over county clerk candidate

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By EJ Conzola II

In an echo of the division wracking the Republican caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Washington County GOP Committee is fighting internally over the party’s candidate for county clerk.

The county Republican Committee earlier this year endorsed Town of Easton Assessor Lisa J. Boyce over two-term incumbent County Clerk Stephanie C. Cronin, who had been endorsed by the committee in her earlier runs. The decision split GOP leaders between those who backed Boyce and those who still support Cronin.

Cronin attempted to circulate nominating petitions to force a GOP primary but was unable to collect enough signatures without the committee’s endorsement. She did collect enough signatures — aided by her GOP supporters as well as the county Democratic Committee, which did not put up a candidate of its own — to run as an independent.

The deadline for submitting independent petitions is later than that for the major political parties.

Cronin will appear on the Nov. 7 general election ballot as the candidate of the ESCAPE Party – an acronym for Elect Stephanie Cronin – Attitude, Perseverance, Experience, which she said was suggested by one of her backers.

Cronin’s campaign relies heavily on her experience, which totals 18 years in the county clerk’s office, including eight years in the top position. She also touts what she said were her accomplishments in the position, including the institution of appointments in the county Department of Motor Vehicles – one of five county departments the clerk oversees.

However, it was the continuation of that program that prompted some Republican leaders to break with Cronin.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted New York state to close DMV offices and permit appointment-only transactions as a way of reducing the potential spread of the virus while still allowing necessary work to get done. Once the pandemic waned and DMV offices were allowed to reopen, some members of the county Board of Supervisors urged her to drop the appointment policy because it made it difficult for some members of the public, said Fort Ann Supervisor Sam Hall, who serves as Boyce’s campaign manager.

The use of appointments in other departments Cronin oversees also limited timely access by other county employees, Hall said.

“You cannot operate like that,” Hall said.

“If there hadn’t been a reason, she would still be there,” he added.

Boyce declined to comment on the campaign, referring all questions to Hall.

Hall complained that Cronin’s appointment policy effectively precludes walk-is from accessing the DMV. However, Cronin argues that the appointments have streamlined operation of the office, eliminating the lines that can make a visit to the DMV an hours-long affair.

Walk-ins are permitted in the office based on the availability of staff, she added.

The clerk’s office website states: “Please note that we also accept Walk-Ins based on availability each day! Please come up to the door and wait for the check-in person to come greet you to ask if there is availability that day.”

Hall said Boyce plans to open the DMV to walk-ins “on day one.”

Cronin noted that she also implemented a check-in policy that helps DMV customers make sure they have all the necessary paperwork before their appointment, a policy that can prevent delays or the need for a repeat visit and in general make the public experience smoother.

Cronin also noted that the DMV office offers scheduled satellite facilities in some of the county’s far-flung towns to save residents from having to travel to Fort Ann.

Hall said Boyce plans to increase the number of satellite facilities if elected, something Cronin has also said she hopes to do.

While the operation of the DMV has become central to the campaign, Cronin also pointed out she has obtained multiple grants to help the county and local governments meet state demands for document storage. Many of the smaller towns were essentially drowning in paper because of state requirements to retain certain records in perpetuity, and that many of those records were being stored in less-than-ideal conditions. The more than $330,000 in grants her office has received is enabling the towns to digitize their records, significantly reducing the amount of storage space required and helping preserve the information, she said.

The county has also received a separate grant to help preserve historic documents not covered by the state retention requirements, she added.

Hall downplayed Cronin’s grant claims, saying the application process was initiated under Cronin’s predecessor.

“It’s not like she invented a new rocket ship,” he said.

While Cronin has stressed her experience in office, Hall said Boyce would bring a different – but applicable – type of experience to the job.

The role of the county clerk is largely managerial in nature, Hall said, and Boyce has “multiple layers … of management” on her resume. Her current position in the county Department of Social Services involves managing staff, and her various prior management roles will make it easy for her to take on the duties of county clerk, he said.

The county clerk’s position is the only county-level office being contested this year.  County Treasurer Albert B. Nolette, Sheriff Jeffrey J. Murphy and coroners Vicky J. Campbell, James M. Gariepy, Robert D. Lemieux and Thomas J. Vincent are all running unopposed.