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Republican St. Lawrence county clerk Patty Ritchie
Republican St. Lawrence county clerk Patty Ritchie

Ritchie leans on DMV success to topple Aubertine

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Republicans are banking on big wins on Election Day. In New York, the GOP is trying to retake the State Senate after 2 years of Democratic control.

One of the races that could make the difference is Democrat Darrel Aubertine's 48th Senate district in Oswego, Jefferson, and the western half of St. Lawrence counties.

Republicans are united behind St. Lawrence county clerk Patty Ritchie. Ritchie is calling for change in Albany. And she's leaning heavily on her successes in the county's department of motor vehicles office. David Sommerstein reports.

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David Sommerstein
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Republicans are promising big gains in Congress and statehouses nationwide. The energy's trickling down to this little meet and greet in the basement of the Waddington library, a stones throw from the St. Lawrence River.

The Republican party's on a roll, and we need your help on Tuesday, November 2nd... [clapping]

Nancy Martin chairs St. Lawrence County's Republican committee. She introduces the 30 or so people here to one woman who she hopes will convert the momentum into an actual victory...

I'd like to introduce Patty Ritchie.

Ritchie's a soft-spoken presence...in a black suit with lavender lapels. She says she's been campaigning since April...door-to-door style across the sprawling district.

My vehicle just rolled over 26,000 miles since we started. Been to over 6,000 doors. It's tough times for a lot of people. They're really angry with what's going on in Albany, but out of that comes something good. People, for the first time since I've been involved are angry enough where they're paying attention and want to be heard.

In an interview afterwards, Ritchie says the North Country gets the short end of the stick in downstate-dominated Albany. She cites the plan to close Ogdensburg's prison as an example.

They didn't look at closing Sing Sing that's on the Hudson River that the property value [sic] can be resold a lot easier than reselling the OCF property, so once again, the first thing they do is look for the North Country or central New York.

The references to Albany, with its late budget, deep deficit, and chaotic legislative sessions are all resident Nancy Foster needs to hear.

Whatever they're doing is not working. We've got to bring in some new blood and new ideas, and I see Patty thinks out of the box.

Foster's referring to an innovative program Ritchie instituted as county clerk. Her office processed motor vehicles paperwork for downstate auto dealers, raising millions of dollars in revenue for St. Lawrence County. Ritchie also drew statewide attention for fighting Governor Paterson's revenue raising plan to require all drivers to get new license plates. Both comprise Ritchie's core sell to voters, like in this TV ad...

POLITICAL AD: "When Albany told us to buy new license plates, she stood up for us. And the Albany politicians backed down. And Patty stood up for us by finding a way for the St. Lawrence county clerk office to give back millions of dollars to local taxpayers..."

Jack McGuire is a politics professor at SUNY Potsdam. He says Ritchie's campaign leans heavily on her DMV work.

I mean, you can see it even in the yard signs that are up. So, you know, they look like the New York license plate, so I think that's what she's really working on.

The strategy seems to have put Ritchie in a strong position in the final month of her bid to unseat Democrat Darrel Aubertine. In a recent Siena College poll, she led Aubertine by three points. That's within the margin of error, but a strong showing considering Aubertine has outspent Ritchie 2 to 1.

But even with Ritchie channeling the Tea Party anger at incumbents, McGuire says Aubertine will be hard to beat.

Darrel Aubertine is a fairly well-liked person. Because of his policies in helping to preserve the prison in Ogdensburg, he might just have inoculated himself against this kind of anti-incumbent fervor.

Aubertine beat Ritchie in an Assembly campaign in 2002. At the time, Ritchie was accused of running a weak and inarticulate campaign. Joe Gray, a longtime Republican activist in St. Lawrence county and current Massena town supervisor, says she's better now.

She's done some homework. She's spent some time on the issues. And she's able to speak articulately about them and apparently strike a nerve with voters.

The race has been short on issues, though, with Ritchie spending more time one on one with voters than detailing her platforms on the stump or in the media.

Over the summer, Ritchie accused Aubertine of allowing cuts to agriculture in the state budget, only to have the state Farm Bureau defend Aubertine, saying the cuts would have been worse had Aubertine not intervened.

June O'Neill is vice-president of the St. Lawrence County Democratic committee. She accuses Ritchie of laying low on purpose.

Every time she opened her mouth, she put her foot in it. Her handlers have a big muzzle on Patty Ritchie. And I'd like to ask her to come out, come out wherever you are. We'd really like to know what you stand for.

Ritchie says she's "absolutely" open to debating Aubertine. But in a Watertown Daily Times article, organizers of debates in Oswego and Canton said the Ritchie campaign was "carefully neutral" about committing to the face-offs.

In Waddington, Ritchie says her actions as county clerk speak louder than words can.

I'm running on my record. I know how to bring in the revenue and keep it for the taxpayers and I don't spend frivolously.

With voters clearly discontent over budget deficits and high taxes, Ritchie hopes that argument is all she'll need to unseat Aubertine on Election Day.

For North Country Public Radio, I'm David Sommerstein in Waddington.

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