Oswego County Clerk: Behind the ballot, many moves make for unusual race

Above left is former Oswego County Clerk Michael Backus, whose resignation in September set off a chain reaction of candidate announcements from Volney’s Jacqueline Thorpe, above center, and Oswego County Legislature Majority Leader Terry Wilbur, R-Hannibal, above right, and speculation about the future of the four-year office.

OSWEGO — The race for Oswego County Clerk had a definitive winner on Tuesday night, but that’s not the end of the quest for the office.

Mexico’s Michael Backus had served as Oswego County Clerk since 2013 but resigned in September to take an executive position at Oswego Health, sparking a quirky, last-minute race.

 Two Republicans — Hannibal’s Terry Wilbur and Volney’s Jacqueline Thorpe — declared their intention to seek the office through write-in campaigns. Due to the timing of his resignation, New York election law prohibited the removal of Backus’ name from the ballot.

As of 1 a.m. Wednesday, Backus had received 23,775 votes with a total of 11,080 write-ins reported by the Oswego County Board of Elections. Write-in result breakdowns were not available as of press time, but Backus’ lead looks to be all but insurmountable.

It was always going to be an uphill battle for the candidates, but Wilbur used his considerable political resources as Oswego County Legislature Majority Leader to mount a sizable campaign in the election’s final two months.

“We had a well-organized, well-oiled machine going into this but we knew it would be a very daunting task,” Wilbur told The Palladium-Times, noting that roughly 11,000 absentee ballots remain to be counted. “I’ve been elated with the outpouring of support I’ve received from all corners of the county, and I look forward to carrying petitions in February and March and running for Oswego County Clerk.”

Thorpe has indicated she’s shooting to contest the office in a November 2021 election.

“My course really hasn’t changed,” Thorpe told The Palladium-Times from her home where she — like most Americans — was watching coverage of the presidential race. “I anticipated running in 2021, and I’ll be lining up support for that.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo could move to fill the clerk’s office via an appointment, but early indications suggest that’s unlikely. A more probable scenario (and confirmed with Backus on Election Night to be still the plan) will be for Backus to take office, re-appoint longtime aide Matthew Bacon as Deputy Oswego County Clerk, then resign for a second time. Bacon would then be automatically elevated to Acting Oswego County Clerk, a role in which he has served since Backus’ first resignation.

If a special election for November 2021 is called to contest the clerk’s race, county law states the winner would start serving on a new, four-year term.

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