Cuomo unlikely to fill a clerk vacancy

Oswego County Legislature Majority Leader Terry Wilbur, left, and Volney’s Jackie Thorpe, right, are the only candidates who have so far declared their intention to seek the Oswego County Clerk seat.

ALBANY — A top advisor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo says it’s unlikely the governor will move to fill a potential vacancy in the Oswego County Clerk’s office.

Former Oswego County Clerk Michael Backus, who resigned in September to take an executive position at Oswego Health, will still appear on the Nov. 3 ballot due to a technicality of state election law. He will be the only candidate on the ballot for clerk, and if he does receive the most votes, Backus has said he will again resign the four-term position in January immediately after being sworn in.

If a Backus resignation creates a clerk vacancy, it’s likely civil servant Matthew Bacon, promoted from deputy clerk to acting clerk in September, would again fill that role. At that point, according to state and county bylaws, the governor could appoint an individual as Oswego County Clerk if he so chooses.

“Generally speaking, we make appointments when the functioning of the office is an issue,” Rich Azzopardi, Cuomo’s longtime spokesman, told The Palladium-Times this week.

Azzopardi said his office would continue to review the situation. With a reasonable succession plan in place, Cuomo would be hard-pressed to find a reason to wade into a local race that has little bearing on greater Empire State politics.

The situation prompted two local Republicans, Hannibal’s Terry Wilbur and Volney’s Jackie Thorpe, to begin write-in candidacies in hopes of topping Backus’ vote total. Wilbur is the majority leader of the Oswego County Legislature, while Thorpe had until recently worked as a staffer in the clerk’s office.

In 2012, the last time more than one candidate ran for Oswego County Clerk, Backus defeated Phil Vasho by a vote total of 24,099 to 16,174. In 2016, Backus ran unopposed in 2012 and on three ballot lines received 36,594 votes. Tens of thousands of votes are hard to earn even when appearing as a balloted candidate but as write-in candidates, Wilbur and Thorpe face long odds. Thorpe has said she hopes the eventual outcome is a 2021 November election contested for the full four-year clerk term, while Wilbur’s strategy has been focused on winning at the ballot box in four weeks.

Oswego City Democratic Committee Chairman Jonathan Ashline told the Pall-Times on Tuesday his party was planning on running a clerk candidate in the event of an election next year, but declined to identify the person.

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