OSWEGO COUNTY – Elections can be tough. Campaigning is non-stop, grueling, and intense. It goes from zero to 60 in a seeming nanosecond, and back down to zero in what seems even faster. Primaries are rather rare here, but this year broke the mold, resulting in an unusually high number of them, mostly in the usually quiet Republican party where committee endorsements typically end any doubt as to who will be the Republican candidate.
This article will focus on statements from the winners and losers from three of those hard-fought Republican primary races: for County Court Judge, for the town of Mexico’s county legislator, and for supervisor of the town of Parish.
In what for many was probably a surprise from beginning to end, Armen Nazarian, a little-known Schroeppel town justice, defeated three-term County District Attorney Gregory Oakes for the County Court Judge’s seat soon to be vacated by the retiring Judge Walter Hafner Jr. Perhaps more surprising than his victory was Nazarian’s earlier endorsement for the position from the county Republican committee. Oakes seemingly had all the credentials along with 20 years of experience arguing cases before the very court in which he was seeking to take up Hafner’s seat. But the machinations of the Republican party can at times seem to be the epitome of Winston Churchill’s “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” And so, when all the interviews were said and done, it was Nazarian who emerged with the highly-prized endorsement. He then went out and proved himself a very worthy candidate and a very good campaigner.
After his decisive June 22 primary victory, Nazarian put this statement up on his Facebook page:
“First and foremost,” he said, “I need to thank everyone who voted for me. Elections are nothing without voters, and these people followed through and supported us where we needed it most, at the polls. I need to acknowledge everyone who has supported our campaign over these past several months. Everyone who has contributed their time, money and energy to helping us. A countywide campaign can be a daunting thing, and so many people chipped in to help us get out in the community, meet voters and build awareness; too many to name individually right now.
“I was relatively unknown in Oswego County political circles, but the Republican and Conservative Committees in the county gave me the opportunity to present myself to them, kept open minds, heard me out, gave me the benefit of the doubt and got behind me. It has been a true honor to run this race with the endorsement of those parties. My own committee of friends and family, especially my wife, met every challenge head on, and adapted to and overcame whatever obstacles presented themselves. It was an experience that I know none of us will ever forget.
“The community of gun owners in the county recognized that this was an election that could directly impact rights that they hold very near and dear. I know that they are relying on me to protect those rights if I am made the licensing authority for pistol permits. I will not let them down if that comes to pass. And finally, I am aware that the law enforcement community put their faith in me and got people out to vote. I will ensure that good police work is always upheld in my courtroom.
“I spent a lot of time throughout this campaign carefully explaining who I am, where I come from, and what kinds of values that I was raised with. I am very proud to have won the Republican and Conservative lines in today’s primary election, and I look forward to serving the community that I grew up in as Oswego County’s next County Court Judge this November after the general election, always with those values in mind. My family and I cannot thank you all enough.”
“It has been quite a whirlwind,” Nazarian said in a recent interview. And now in the lull between the primary election and the traditional start of serious general election campaigning, he is taking some family time while also bringing his law firm to a close.
“I’m working on winding up my practice and preparing to take the bench,” he said, “because I really want to focus on doing the very best job that I can possibly do. I feel like I owe that to the voters. I owe that to the people of Oswego County.”
And while he’s winding up his practice, he intends to “unwind from what was a very busy campaign but a very positive experience.”
Nazarian stopped taking on new cases at the beginning of the year, “so that I would have time…I wanted to make sure that when we got down to the last 60 days of the campaign, that I was going to have plenty of time to be out knocking on doors, talking to people, and working on the campaign. I really didn’t think it would be a responsible thing to do for me to run my normal caseload because I wouldn’t be able to give my cases the amount of time and attention that they deserve. And if the primary didn’t go our way, we would have been able to build that back up because we have a very positive reputation. Thankfully the primary went our way and are able in an appropriate and responsible way to wind down our practice, finish up the cases that we have remaining, and then focus my attention on preparing to take the bench in January and be ready on day one.”
Campaigning is an all-absorbing personal experience and can truly change a candidate. A judicial campaign is especially conflicting because of the strict impartiality that must be maintained. Personal relationships that are formed while campaigning must be held at bay once elected to probably a greater degree than is true of any other elected office.
“We made a lot of great connections, a lot of great relationships,” Nazarian said of his campaign. “It’s difficult from the perspective of a judge in a judicial campaign, because when my campaign window closes, I do need to be as impartial as I can be going into this position and taking the bench in January. It’s a tricky thing, but I do hope to maintain some of those relationships. I certainly have a deeper understanding of where the public is at right now, what their concerns are but also a very healthy respect for the constituency and for anyone who’s gone through this process before. It really is a grueling process, but it was something we looked at from the beginning as potentially a healthy, positive experience for us and our family whether we won or lost, and that’s what it turned out to be. It really did turn out to be something that was great for us, great for our kids to go through and see how all this works. We put our hearts and souls into it, and thankfully we got a result that felt consistent with how it was going as it was going on. We tried to keep it very positive, something we could look back on, win or lose, and say we were proud of.”
He has not talked with Greg Oakes since the primary, “but I have a lot of respect for him and his campaign and his committee,” Nazarian said, “and I’m expecting we are going to be working together in the future. I look forward to that. I don’t have any concerns in that regard. We’re both professionals, and from my perspective, I don’t take any of it personally.
“All I can say,” he concluded, “is I’m happy with the result, and I have a lot of respect for District Attorney Oakes and his committee and his campaign. I know that they put a lot of hard work into their campaign, and I‘ve got a lot of respect for anyone that’s been through this process. It is a lot of work, but there are a lot of positives that come from it. I have a great respect for parts of the county I never really got to explore before, never really got to spend a lot of time in. It’s a beautiful county. There’s a lot of beautiful places and beautiful things to see and enjoy in our county.”
Losing a race for a position you wanted badly, especially after working so hard to obtain it, is a difficult disappointment and often the source of a lot of introspection.
Gregory Oakes offered this statement following the primary:
“While I am disappointed in the outcome of the election, I am pleased that I still get to serve Oswego County as District Attorney. This election highlighted the importance of having a DA who acts with integrity, free of political influence. I have spent the past 20 years seeking justice in the courts, and I’m committed to continuing that important work.”
The race for the Republican line in November for Mexico’s 7th district county legislator probably couldn’t be more different from the Nazarian-Oakes contest.
Two political newcomers faced off in a rather contentious battle that ended with Frank Bombardo, managing to eke out a slim 21-vote victory over Amanda Magro.
Bombardo made remarks on the primary and upcoming election in a recent interview.
“I’m very humble about the supporters that I have, before and after,” he said. “This is my first-ever election, and I’ve got to just keep on putting my foot on the gas and make sure I win the general election in November.
“I really don’t know too much about my opponents. My focus is to get my face and my name out there to show people who I am, knock on some doors, introduce myself, tell them what my beliefs are and what I’m going to do for District 7.
“(Current District 7 Legislator) Brad Trudell has been fabulous,” Bombardo said. “He’s been helping me along, telling me the ins and outs. I’m talking to (Legislative Chairman) Weatherup, (Legislator) Martino, also other state officials, like (Assemblyman) Will Barclay, the possible governor Lee Zeldin, and trying to get my network established so I can be very productive right from the get-go. They’ve all been very supportive.”
He said Trudell especially has “helped me tremendously.”
Bombardo said he’ll be attending meetings of the Legislature. He’s “been to a couple of them already.”
Of his political policies, he stated, “I want to try to continue to stabilize property taxes and control DSS (Dept. of Social Services), Medicaid fraud, and of course, I’m always going to support the blue.”
He said he’d “knock on everybody’s door (regardless of party). I hope that people would see what I believe in and what I stand for, and hopefully I’m victorious in November.”
Bombardo said the Mexico Republican party has been helping him. “They have a lot of different ideas on what I could be doing and should be doing. We work together.”
And lastly, he concluded, “I want to thank all my supporters, all the people that backed me, and the Mexico Republican party. They’re doing an awesome job helping me. And hopefully, if everything works out good, I’ll win in November.”
Amanda Magro still feels she should have been the endorsed Republican, but she’s not dwelling on it. She’s intensely gearing up to run against Bombardo in November on her own Pizza Party independent line. She had plenty to say in a recent interview.
“I think going into this, it being my very first election, there’s a lot of things I learned that I would do differently next time,” Magro said, “planning things out and being a little more strategic, but I think overall, it’s been a great learning experience. I’ve learned a ton, met a lot of new, great people. But, obviously, I lost the primary, and being as it was my first election for something like that, I think I did pretty well. I think I surprised a lot of people.
“Obviously, there’s always more to be done. There’s always more you could have done. You’ll never be totally satisfied with the amount of work that you put in. There’s literally not enough hours in the day to be able to accomplish all the things that you want to do or that you should do. Overall, I’m happy with the outcome. Obviously, I would have loved to win, but I knew going into this it was going to be a challenge. He had a team of people behind him. I’m one person. Granted, I did have some help from some friends in the community, and I have a lot of local support. The mayor of Mexico supports me. The highway superintendent supports me. I did have a lot of support in Mexico. I got an endorsement from the mayor, and the highway superintendent was helping me, giving me tips on things to do and talking to people that he knows. That was a huge help. I have a friend in Mexico that is really involved in local politics, so he was helping. Other than the handful of people that helped me get petitions signed and whatnot, I didn’t have anybody out there doing work, like a committee does. So, I think if I’d had an army too, I could have done better. But, I didn’t, and that’s okay. The people that have been helping me have been amazing. I’m really humbled by the support that was given.”
Is she going to run in the general election in November? “I think so, yes,” she replied. “On the Pizza Party line. There are a couple people who’ve said, ‘I don’t know how serious people are going to take the name,’ and then I thought, you know, everything is so serious, and I’m definitely not making fun or light of anything. It’s just a name. Being as I own a pizzeria, I just thought it was fitting. I’m more than just a pizzeria business owner, but it’s so much of what I do. That’s how a lot of people know me.”
In the general election, she’ll have to appeal to people in all parties or no party. “Honestly though, none of that changes for me. I’m not going to go out and say things that I don’t truly mean,” Magro continued. “I’m going to be myself no matter who I’m speaking with. I’m not just looking to be the voice of the Republicans. I’m looking to be the voice for everybody in Mexico. I don’t care what you’re registered as. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m not that kind of Republican.
“We have to be a little bit more modern in our thinking to be able to go where we want to go,” she said. “There isn’t a huge need for electric car-charging stations in the village of Mexico, but, if you’re looking down the line, and you know that there are grants out there available for municipalities that are consciously trying to be energy efficient, well then, put in two electric car-charging stations, because you have to think about not just right now, but what’s going to happen five years down the road to the best of your ability.
“I truly value conversation. I like being part of the conversation, and I think that is why I’m so involved in so many things, because I’d rather be part of the conversation than hear it after and only hear little snippets and not really understand what’s happening. I like to say I have good communication skills. I don’t have a big ego. You can disagree with me, and that’s okay. That’s the beauty of a conversation. We don’t have to agree, but if we can respect each other enough to have a conversation, we’ll both walk away with more knowledge.
“I’d love to do a debate, and I thought about reaching out to Frank (Bombardo) to see if he would agree to one. But I’m not sure if he would be open to that. But it doesn’t hurt to ask, I guess.
“I wrote a letter to the editor thanking everyone for their support because I truly am so grateful for the amount of support that I received during the entire campaign process and the primary election. It was overwhelming. I am so, so, so grateful.”
She seems to receive a lot of advice.
“I’ve been advised to drop out,” she said. “I’ve been advised to go ahead. If it was a landslide, I’d say, ‘Okay, it was a good run. I learned a lot, but I think I will just back out.’ But, it was 21 votes. I’d be foolish to not try one more time. I know myself, and I would question myself every day what could have happened. I feel I have to go to the general election because it is so close.”
Magro said offers contingent on her dropping out of the race have been made.
“There’ve been a couple statements that have said, ‘If you didn’t decide to run in November, then maybe we can put you somewhere somehow. And I respect these people, and I understand the process, but it’s just too close,” she said. “It is too, too close. I think anybody in my position would give it another go. I’m not really losing any sleep going forward, because it’s still just the two of us. In the end, there’s still going to be a Republican in office. It may not potentially be their candidate, but it’s still a member of their party.”
And she concluded with this: “I want to use my platform for something good,” she said, “and I want to give back to the community that has given me so much, and this is just the way for me to be able to do that. And so, I still do plan on going forward. I’m going to give it another go.”
In the seemingly ever-embattled town of Parish, it really came as little surprise that Republicans were running against Republicans in numerous races while snatching up cross-endorsements assuring they’ll have a line to run on in November.
Supervisor Mary Ann Phillips received the Republican endorsement but no cross-endorsements. So for her, it was pretty much all on the line in her primary against Parish Code Enforcement Officer Jim Bernys. She did join the independent Integrity Party along with others, but it remains to be seen if she will run on it now that she has lost the primary.
“I’m trying to get over it,” she said recently. “I just can’t believe that the Republicans did this, but I’m trying my best to get over it, and I’ve got to get on with life.
“All I can say is that the misinformation that’s out there about me, there’s too many people that believe it. My phone number is 315-625-4512. My cell is 315-952-2097. If you have a question, call and ask me, I’ll be glad to go over things with you.
“But, I have not received one phone call, prior to the primary or since,” she said. “And since nobody calls me with any questions, my assumption is they understand everything that’s going on, when in fact, since the vote went the way it did, as far as I’m concerned, they do not. Apparently the misinformation has overrun my correct information.”
Jim Bernys is upbeat about his primary win and his hopes for the future.
“I am grateful to the Republicans that went out and voted,” he said. “They spoke. And I just hope that the Parish Republican Committee actually saw who I was, and that the voters voted for me, and I’m hoping for their help. I have not spoken to the Republican Committee chair. I’m hopeful for their support.”
Bernys did not have the Republican endorsement and has not heard from the Republican Committee since the primary.
But regardless, he is hopeful for his relationships with all Parish officials and employees should he win in November.
“We’ll work a little better together, I’m hoping. That’s my goal,” he said.
As far as November goes, his message remains the same: “Unity, unity amongst everybody. We need to all pull together.”
He is cross-endorsed by the Democrat and Conservative parties. So, he’ll be on three lines.
Although he is the town’s Code Enforcement Officer, he keeps abreast of other important parts of the town’s and village’s government.
“I attend every meeting that I can,” he said, “and I attended the majority of them. I attended pretty much all of the town board meetings since I took office as Code Enforcement Officer. I’ve attended almost all the village meetings, and I’ve attended all of the Planning Board meetings since I became Code Enforcement Officer in November of 2018.
“I’m hoping, if I’m elected, that my board members assist me as much as they can as well as everyone that works in Parish, the town clerk, the town highway superintendent, the Planning Board chair. Everybody needs to work together, and I need their help, and they probably need mine, and we’ll work together. We’re always going to have differences,” Bernys said. “It’s how you work through those differences that matters. I’ve always been one to believe that when the majority speaks, that’s the majority, and that’s democracy. You can fight it a little bit to try to change maybe something again, but you move on. If you’re outvoted, you’re outvoted, and you do what the majority of the people want, because that’s what democracy is about.”
Bernys said he has no particular projects for the town in mind.
“Your first term,” he said, “you have a lot of learning, and how to make things better. I’ve seen how we can improve in spots, but I have no major policies, because, once again, I’m just one spoke in a five-spoke wheel. Even though I may come up with a policy, doesn’t mean the majority of the board is going to like that policy. So, wait and see, and we’ll discuss it with everybody after the election.”
Meanwhile, he said, “I will be out there knocking on doors come September, meeting the people of Parish who don’t already know me or who wish to chat with me and see how we can make Parish great again.”