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The race for St. Lawrence County Clerk

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The election of a county clerk usually doesn't get much attention. The office processes paperwork: passports, pistol permits, mortgages, and vehicle registrations. But this year, people are watching the race for clerk in St. Lawrence County. And the two candidates think that's largely because the office has started making money. Julie Grant reports.

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Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

For those of us who are new St. Lawrence County, a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles is surprising.  There’s not much of a line, and the workers are nice. They really try to help you. 

And it’s not by accident. Providing good customer service is one reason the DMV has started bringing in big bucks – and why it’s become a focal point in the race for County clerk.

Democrat Gavin Regan was appointed to the position by Governor Andrew Cuomo last March.  He says downstate car dealers used to pay people to wait in long lines at DMV offices in the New York City region to process vehicle registrations:

"But now what they’re doing is they’re sending them to us and we’re registering them here and we’re sending them back to them. The big incentive for us to do it is we get 12.75 percent of the income on those registrations, whereas if they were doing them downstate, downstate would be getting them."

Regan says St. Lawrence County brought in 1.5 million dollars from the DMV last year – and he expects even more than that this year. 

Regan worked for North Country Savings Bank, and for the investment firm ING.

He took a trip to the city earlier this year to keep the business coming.

"I think it’s right up my alley, suits me," Regan says. "Because being in the investment business you’re constantly talking to people, it’s sales.  You’ve got to sell what you’re doing to people 6 hours away, and they have to trust you, and they have to see that your program is effective and it works, and then they do business with you."

This business got start under Regan’s predecessor, Pattie Ritchie.  When Ritchie was elected state senator, Republican Mary Lou Rupp was appointed acting clerk. Rupp was working in the clerk’s office at the time, and had previously worked five years at the DMV. 

But when Governor Cuomo appointed Gavin Regan to the clerk’s job, he let Rupp go. Now, she’s running against him.

"I think it helps to have experience at the offices you’re overseeing. And I actually was there when we started the downstate dealer business, so I have a passion to continue it."

If elected, Rupp intends to pursue additional business on Long Island. 

She and her husband own five JRECK sub franchises.  Rupp says she’s focused on customer service.  She says registrations should be processed within 24 hours.

She also wants to develop a veterans identification card, that would entitle vets to discounts at area businesses. Now she says Gavin Regan is acting like it was his idea:

"He’s taking credit for something I had initiated."

Rupp sees these types of revenue sources as a long term way to make money for the county. 

Regan, on the other hand, thinks the state will figure out soon enough what St. Lawrence and a few other counties are doing, and will take over the business. He says he’s working to get on the New York DMV board, so he can help find other income sources for the County.

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