Wilbur nabs party endorsement, Thorpe will primary for county clerk

Above, the two Republicans who have announced they’ll seek the vacant Oswego County Clerk position: at left, Volney’s Jacqueline Thorpe and at right, Hannibal’s Terry Wilbur.

OSWEGO — The office of Oswego County Clerk is again vacant, and the same two Republicans who mounted write-in campaigns for the seat in 2020 will now try to earn spots on the ballot to contest the office in what will likely be a November election.

Last year, Oswego County Clerk Michael Backus resigned his office in September to take over pandemic response as Oswego Health’s chief operating officer, but the two-term incumbent’s decision came too late in the year to remove him, even while running unopposed, from the ballot.

After news of Backus’ September resignation, two Republicans — Hannibal’s Terry Wilbur and Volney’s Jacqueline Thorpe — announced their intention to seek the Clerk’s office outright as write-in candidates. Despite not campaigning and publicly deferring on all matters political, Backus was re-elected in November 2020.

“It was a pleasure to serve my home county in elected office and I was honored in the confidence in me this past November,” Backus told The Palladium-Times this week, noting he’s now out of the electoral arena entirely and leaving the choice of the next Oswego County Clerk to “the will of the people this November.

"My only focus is providing quality, reliable health care and responding with the community partners to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as it pertains to vaccinations,” the Mexico Republican said.

Backus’ third term was brief: he was sworn in Jan. 1 and tendered his second resignation a week later after attending housekeeping administrative tasks, including selecting several members of the office’s executive staff. Specifically, Matthew Bacon was re-appointed as First Deputy Clerk — a role he performed for the lion’s share of Backus’ 8-year tenure.

In both Backus’ resignations, first in September and again in January, the vacancy created caused the automatic elevation of Bacon to Acting County Clerk. This is due to a New York law mandating counties have a de facto leader in their clerk’s chair — clerks and their staff handle deeds, permits, judgments and other business essential to everyday government and civic operations.

A civil servant by trade, Bacon told The Palladium-Times in a recent phone interview he has no interest in seeking elected office.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has the authority to call a special election for Oswego County Clerk, or to appoint someone to fill the position. Those look like remote possibilities, however, as a spokesperson for Cuomo told the Pall-Times Friday there are "currently no plans for an appointment."

Wilbur and Thorpe both this week confirmed their intention to seek the Republican and Conservative Party ballot lines after the Oswego County Republican Committee met Monday for candidate designations. Wilbur was unanimously chosen to be the GOP-endorsed Clerk candidate, but Thorpe said she would contest that at the ballot box.

If the county clerk race is contested in the November 2021 general election the candidates would be bound by New York’s standard political calendar, according to local and state election and legal officials. “Standard” here is a relative term as 2020 saw a number of state voting and election reforms take effect, including an earlier petitioning season. While for decades the circulation of designating petitions took place in the summer months, candidates must now collect signatures to earn a place on the ballot during the notorious Oswego County winter. Feb. 23 is the first day petitions can be signed, with the period ending April 1. Filing of petitions must be complete by April 5. Last year, the New York State Board of Elections lowered signature thresholds due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but has not yet taken similar action this year.

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