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GUEST COMMENTARY: The rule of law

A philosophical battle for the soul of the local Democratic Party has been taking place over the last several years. On one side are the progressive good government reform advocates – people like Bethlehem Supervisor John Clarkson and Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan. On the other side are entrenched remnants of the Albany political machine, now led by Matt Clyne in his dual role as both chairman of the Albany County Democratic Committee and commissioner of elections, who view the party primarily as a patronage vehicle to support their own power.

Grassroots Democrats in Bethlehem have been at the vanguard of efforts to reform the party, and in 2012 Mr. Clyne was removed as chairman of the Bethlehem Democratic Committee and I succeeded him. The current contest to elect delegates to the judicial convention to select the Democratic nominee for Supreme Court – and Mr. Clyne’s illegal and undemocratic efforts to quash the candidacy of Judge Margaret Walsh – is but the latest chapter in this story.

In contrast to basically every other elected position in New York State, there is no direct primary for Supreme Court justices. Instead, delegates to a judicial convention select party nominees. This odd arrangement has allowed party bosses to maintain almost complete control over who is eventually elected to serve as a judge.

For far too long, the leadership of the ACDC has selected nominees on the basis of personal connections or “service to party” as opposed to merit, qualification or experience. The embarrassing reality of this broken system is that Albany County’s judicial district is now the only one in New York State where every elected Supreme Court justice is a white man – despite the fact that women and minorities comprise a large percentage of attorneys in the area.

When a vacancy on the Supreme Court opened up this year, word immediately circulated (before any interviews were conducted) that the ACDC would endorse County Legislator Justin Corcoran, a close associate of Mr. Clyne who has handled his political legal work for years. The ACDC’s predetermined endorsement of Mr. Corcoran notwithstanding, other candidates, including Family Court Judge Margaret Walsh, announced that she would interview for the ACDC’s endorsement. Although Judge Walsh is an objectively more qualified candidate for Supreme Court, to the surprise of no one, Mr. Clyne’s hand-picked law committee endorsed Mr. Corcoran.

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