It's into this dysfunctional world that the North Country's newest State Senator is preparing to go. Republican Patty Ritchie is leaving St. Lawrence County government today for the first time since she started work at the local DMV office almost 25 years ago.
Ritchie's been county clerk for 11 years. Her successes in that position were the foundation of a winning campaign to unseat Democratic Senator Darrel Aubertine.
David Sommerstein stopped by Ritchie's office to talk politics, issues, and what she's leaving behind. He has this profile.
The St. Lawrence County Clerk’s office isn’t much bigger than a walk-in closet. It’s kind of dark and dingy, too.
It’s pretty tiny, but it’s served me well over the last 11 years.
Patty Ritchie sits in the now bare room. Her photos are gone. I imagine shots of family and friends doing what they like most – snowmobiling, ATVing, hunting – although she didn’t get a deer this fall.
There was no time to go to the hunting camp this year [laughs]. I can shoot fairly well though, but, yeah, no time to hunt this year for me. The rest of the family went. [laughs]
All that’s left in the office are a pile of wrapped bundles on the floor – flowers for her staff.
Part of my success has been because of the great staff that I have, so I had to bring over 29 flower arrangements in my car, so it was quite a trip this morning.
Ritchie ran as an Albany outsider, a practical clerk who raised millions for the county by processing DMV materials for New York City, who took on Governor Paterson’s plan to require everyone to buy new license plates and won.
She also campaigned as a people-person and a pavement pounder. She kept track of the number doors she knocked on, and touted it everywhere she went.
In the end I think it was close to 8,000 doors I had gone to.
On the stump and in interviews, Ritchie side-stepped detail and deep policy. Instead, she stuck to three core messages.
Jobs, the fact that people are overtaxed, and the state kept spending money they didn’t have.
In the year of the Tea Party, those themes resonated across the country. Ritchie certainly wasn’t hurt by an anti-incumbent wave, either.
The challenge now is to square those messages with the reality of massive deficits. How do you lower taxes without slashing state jobs that prop up much of the North Country economy?
Ritchie concedes there are no easy answers.
Our political interview concluded, we step out into the main clerk’s office. Today’s the office Christmas party. You wouldn’t know but for a little plate of cookies.
DAVID: Kinda quiet for a Christmas party…
PATTY: Well, the Christmas party doesn’t start for ten minutes.
Around us, it’s business as usual.
Among Patty Ritchie’s detractors, the concern is that, license plates fight aside, Ritchie’s a soft-spoken, untested lawmaker. They argue she’s not the kind of leader the North Country needs in rough and tumble, knives-drawn Albany. They worry she’ll just obey her party’s leaders, many of whom are based in the Hudson Valley and Long Island.
Ritchie sees things differently.
I don’t necessarily think just because someone is a nice person and someone values the people who are around them and values other people’s views means that they’re not a fighter. That was a pretty grueling campaign. I held my own. Y’know I’ve gotten a lot tougher over the years and I have every intention of going toe-to-toe even with my own colleagues if it means I protect the district.
If last year’s battles over prison and state park closures, pay freezes and job cuts are any indication, Patty Ritchie will have a lot to protect while achieving her goals of lower taxes and smaller government in Albany next year.
For North Country Public Radio, I’m David Sommerstein in Canton.