Sizing up the race for executive

By now, the platforms of the candidates for county executive have come into focus. Both Ron Johnson and Vince Horrigan have spent an incredible amount of time during the last three months making their views known and knocking on doors.

The more the voters know, the better since neither is really a known commodity to Chautauqua County residents as a whole in the political landscape.

Johnson, a former judge in the village of Fredonia and town of Pomfret, has a great deal of experience in the adult health-care field. Horrigan, as a one-term county legislator from Bemus Point, was greatly respected during his time with the American Red Cross.

When it comes to the major issues of the county, however, there are differences – some major – between the two.

In the north county, a good campaign run begins with the Chautauqua County Home. Johnson, who knows support for keeping the Home under government control is overwhelming in Dunkirk-Fredonia, believes changes are the key to eliminating the deficit at the facility.

Horrigan, however, thinks otherwise. “For-profit and not-for-profit homes in Chautauqua County take care of 81 percent of all nursing home residents. They do it with no property tax subsidies,” he said in an article earlier this month.

Johnson’s support of the Home – unsurprisingly – won him the endorsement of the CSEA. That being said, he is a firm believer the union must be willing to come to the table to talk concessions in salaries and benefits for the Home to be sustainable. If that can happen, saving the Home from a sale could be an option.

Economic development and jobs are other buzzwords for voters to be aware of in the coming seven weeks. No matter how many plans candidates want to put on the table, none fixes the elephant in the room – Chautauqua County’s notoriously high taxing levels.

In pushing for new jobs, one candidate’s view is sunnier than the other. Johnson, in a recent news release, was critical of current efforts. “The record of job losses over the last eight years is clear and the record is terrible,” he said. “We must have new leadership for our economic development and job creation efforts.”

Horrigan is a bit more optimistic, pointing to private and public partnerships. “We must grow our job base from within our existing companies by focusing on our top, medium and small businesses and supercharge them with support from our academic, commercial and (county Industrial Development Agency) resources.”

Johnson, however, has no encouraging words for that county entity. “Our Industrial Development Agency has cost too much and achieved too little,” he said, noting that if he is elected there will be changes.

But the IDA is not alone in the “cost too much and achieved too little” category. You could file that under all of Chautauqua County in its schools, towns, village and cities. No one is getting any type of bargain living here when it comes to paying taxes.

Historically overburdened by layers of government, consolidation topics have been few and far between by the candidates. Horrigan has spotlighted a “lean” county government, while Johnson believes new leadership will be the difference with the county workers who “deserve better than what has been dished up by the current administration,” he said.

What Johnson forgets is that the current administration led by County Executive Greg Edwards increased county hiring – after former executive Mark Thomas left office – and also was part of a pay-raise package for workers approved in 2008. It was not all bad.

No matter who wins, Johnson or Horrigan will likely face their toughest test in Mayville with a downsized group of legislators. If any group is willing to sabotage progress or change, look no further than many of this party-loyal bunch, which is more apt to be protecting a “local identity” for votes than seeing a greater good.

It almost goes back to a point this corner made after Edwards announced he would not seek a third term: the county executive may carry some clout as a spokesperson, but it’s a losing proposition when trying to get things accomplished.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.