by Rachel Hunter
The Village of Gouverneur Republican Party Caucus was held on Saturday, March 16 at the municipal courtroom to nominate candidates for village offices to be elected during the General Election on Tuesday, November 5. All duly enrolled members of the Republican Party in the Village of Gouverneur were eligible to participate.
The caucus was called to order at 9:15 a.m. by Gouverneur Republican Committee Chairman Eldon Conklin who was later sworn in as caucus chairman alongside Bonnie Reed as caucus secretary by Attorney Henry Leader of Gouverneur. Also sworn in were tellers for the caucus.
There were 82 eligible voters and six guests in attendance (including Village of Gouverneur Mayor Ronald McDougall) for a total of 88 in attendance.
The public notice was read, and Chairman Conklin said it had been posted at the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections, Village Office, Town Office, Save-A-Lot, Newvine’s NAPA Auto Parts, Kinney Drugs (both stores on Main St. and Clinton St.), 1 E. Main Street, Gouverneur Community Center, Northland Veterinary and Washburn’s General Store.
Nominations were opened for village mayor. Incumbent Ronald McDougall of Gouverneur received the first nomination, and George Harder of Gouverneur received the second. Former Village of Gouverneur Mayor Dorothy Vorce then said the following: “I am sure there are a lot of new Republicans here today that don’t know George. I am not going to make a speech, but I am going to tell you about George, and it will take me about three minutes.
“George is very well qualified… He served for many years on the planning board. He was a member of the board of trustees. He went to live in Clayton and he was gone a couple years. He got so lonesome for all you folks in Gouverneur that he decided to come back, and he is here now. He was my deputy mayor when you folks gave me the honor of serving as your mayor. He is very, very well aware of all the departments in the village and how they function as well as the layout of the village, etc. He is very knowledgeable. He listens to complaints. He doesn’t always agree, but I found that out the hard way. If he is not right, he is not afraid to say he is not right, and if he is right, he doesn’t say, “I told you so.” He is very accessible and a very good problem solver. George will be a hands-on mayor. He wants to work together with the town and the village boards to improve Gouverneur. He wants to create a village that will attract businesses, provide safety and security for the residents, and make Gouverneur a community to be proud of.
“This has nothing to do with George… I think this is wonderful that all these Republicans are out today. This is terrific, but there is one Republican who has always attended every caucus, and he is not here and that is Bill Scozzafava. And I would just like to say that his spirit here today is here with us, and that he is proud of all the Republicans… and he would like to see a Republican, I know, on the ticket.”
Chairman Conklin then asked if there were any more nominations for mayor, and upon hearing none, closed the nominations and the voting began. The ballots were passed out, and all eligible voters cast their ballots. The tellers counted the vote, and the final tally was Ronald McDougall (57) and George Harder (25). Applause filled the room as the incumbent, Ronald McDougall, won the nomination. “Do you accept this nomination, Mr. McDougall?” asked Chairman Conklin. “Yes, I do,” Mayor McDougall said as he extended appreciation to all those in attendance. All then gave Mayor McDougall another round of applause.
Nominations then opened for the two village trustee seats. Nominations were received for Rick Wood, Scott Hudson, and Shelly Simons-Washburn. The nominations were closed, and the voting commenced via the ballot process once again. Once all votes were casted, the tellers counted the votes and Chairman announced the tallies as follows Shelly Simons-Washburn (62), Rick Wood (55), and Scott Hudson (33). Chairman Conklin asked Mr. Wood and Mrs. Simons-Washburn if they accepted the nomination. Both accepted, and extended their appreciation to the Gouverneur Republicans for their support.
Chairman Conklin then welcomed St. Lawrence County Undersheriff Brooks Bigwarfe, candidate for St. Lawrence County Sheriff, to talk about his background, experience, and platform.
Brooks was born and raised in St. Lawrence County, and has been serving the county for the past 32 years at the SLC Sheriff’s Office. He started his career in 1987 as a Deputy working patrol for seven years before being promoted to Juvenile Officer giving him the opportunity to go into schools and talk with students about the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program (DARE). During that time he became a K9 Officer and worked for many years with his dog “Bo” tracking and apprehending criminals, finding lost children and adults, and working with drug interdiction.
As his career continued he was promoted to Detective Sergeant assigned to the Investigative Unit. There he worked on numerous major crimes including homicides, robberies, and sexual abuse crimes. One of the greatest accomplishments of his career was being one of the Lead Investigators in the Amish kidnapping case where he along with his team captured, arrested, and prosecuted two of the most dangerous criminals our communities had ever seen. For this he was invited to Washington D.C. and awarded the Missing and Exploited Children Law Enforcement Heroes Award for dedication to the protection of children and exemplary performance of duty.
In 2016, Brooks was promoted to Undersheriff where he began a different phase of his law enforcement career. He incorporated regional training with all the law enforcement agencies of the County to include the local police departments, Border Patrol, Rangers, ICE/Homeland Security, Park Police, and State Police. He enacted new policies and procedures, has written and supervised numerous grants for the Sheriff’s Office to increase revenue, and has assisted the Sheriff with the budget process. Throughout his career, Brooks has worked hard to make St. Lawrence County a safer place to live – and hopes to continue on that journey as St. Lawrence County Sheriff in 2020.
“Going forward, I have been endorsed by the executive committee of the Republicans and by the Conservative Party also. I have been out there, pounding on doors for the last six weeks. I’ve met a lot of people in this fine North Country weather,” he said. “I’m not going to change much of what Sheriff Kevin Wells has. He is one of the best guys you will ever meet. I am not saying that because his mother is here, it is the truth. I know I am in Gouverneur, and this is his base and everybody knows him. He is one great guy. He really is. He is truly a great guy that likes people, cares about people… He has been my mentor, and he has been helping me so much with my campaign every day and every night. I bounce a lot of questions off him.”
Bigwarfe then focused on the issues, outlining them one at a time.
Opioid Crisis: Bigwarfe hopes to continue the fight and expand efforts to combat the opioid and methamphetamine addiction crisis facing many families and communities in St. Lawrence County. Not only arresting offenders who make our communities unsafe, but also assisting other agencies on treatment and educational solutions to the drug problem.
“Opioid addiction is rampant in the county,” he said. “It’s not an Ogdensburg problem. Its not a Massena problem. It’s a St. Lawrence County problem. We’ve got people coming up from Philadelphia, Penn. We have people coming up from New Jersey, Syracuse, Rochester coming into our communities and bringing the awful, nasty drugs. I know the Sheriff is big on this. I have been right there beside him. I want to increase our investigations on this… The opioid crisis is something I am going to tackle.”
Bigwarfe also talked about the School Safety Initiative he created that would expand on the school safety initiative that began two years ago. Under this plan, Deputies have a presence in schools including attending school events. Working with school superintendents and administrators, the Sheriff’s Office will assist with school safety including policy and procedures, training, mock drills, and other safety measures determined to make our learning institutions in this County a safe place for students and staff.
“We’ll go into all the schools in the county with our officers,” he said. “Even when they are on patrol, I want them stopping in for many reasons. Number 1, they should know the schools, know the layout in case, God forbid, something happens. They’ll know all the egresses, the entrances. They’ll know how to get in their and keep everyone safe. It is good to have police officers get into schools and for the kids to see police officers to know that we are their friends. We work a lot of bad situations, but we are out their helping the communities. So, we want police officers there. And we don’t just want them there during the school day. I want them to go to functions like sporting events, plays… any of those things, I want officers in there at no cost to the taxpayers. We do it during our shifts. I know they are talking about getting some patrols into the schools. We’ll support that if we can. We have to work through legislative body. We’re trying to work through that, and hopefully get into some schools this fall. That School Safety Initiative is something that we have been pushing, and I am going to push it if I become Sheriff event more.”
Bigwarfe also said he will make the SLC Sheriff’s Office be fiscally responsible, and to seek grants and find creative ways to keep costs down. “I pretty much with the Sheriff run our budget. It’s an $11 million budget. We have the jail, civil department, and the criminal division. It adds up to about $11 million. I’ve been involved in the budget processes. We keep our costs down, and we do it several ways. Number one, getting grants. I have been the grant writer for the last three years. I have brought in probably $300,000 or $400,000 into the Sheriff’s Department that saved the county money, whether it be for boat patrol, snowmobile patrol. We get a grant called the Stonegarden Grant which brings about $200,000 that puts boots on the ground that helps give us more patrols. You can be 90 miles in, we can drive from this grant all the way through the county. That’s a federal grant. Obviously we want more grants. We get grants from (NYS Senator) Patty Ritchie for cars, for overtime, for drug asset money. There’s ways to get revenues that keep our cost down. I will continue to do that… and get the most bang for our buck. We’ll do due diligence to keep that budget in check.”
Bigwarfe also promised to keep the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office’s open-door policy. “Kevin has an open-door policy. I see it every day. People come in, knock on the door, and he tells them to come in, and sit down, and he says, “What’s your issue? What’s your problem?” That will continue. That’s a great thing for the Sheriff that knows that county, knows the people. When they can walk in or call and make an appointment… When they have a concern, he talks to them. That will continue. That is a great policy to have as a Sheriff.”
Bigwarfe also said he wants to expand the K-9 Unit. “This one is dear to my heart,” he said. “I was a K-9 unit officer for 10 years. We have one K-9 at our department right now that is pretty much for drug extradition or interjection. I want to get a dog in there that is going to track people if they get lost, kids if they get lost, Alzheimer’s patients if they get lost, or criminals that we lose from the scene like the bank robbery. I want to get a K-9 unit that basically all he does is track. I can do that for a cost of probably $5,000. I can raise $5,000 in donations. It is not going to cost anyone any money. That, going forward, is going to be one of my prime issues. This is a countywide thing that helps everyone.”
In conclusion, Bigwarfe said the following: “If I am elected Sheriff I will continue to work for the citizens like I have been doing for the last 32 years.”
There was a small question and answer period, followed by a round of rousing applause, and then Chairman Conklin took the floor.
All were encouraged to sign the petitions for the following: two delegates for the 4th Judicial District – 117th (Henry Leader of Gouverneur and Emery Webb of Edwards), St. Lawrence County Sheriff (Brooks Bigwarfe of Potsdam), Town of Gouverneur Supervisor (David L. Spilman, Jr. of Gouverneur), St. Lawrence County Clerk (Sandra Santamoor of Canton), NYS Rep State Committee – 117th Assembly (Karen Simmons of Fowler and Emery Webb of Edwards), Town of Gouverneur Councilman (Jay Bowhall of Gouverneur), Town of Gouverneur Councilwoman (Jaimee McQuade of Gouverneur), and Town of Gouverneur Justice (Stanley Young of Gouverneur).
The Village of Gouverneur Republican Caucus was then adjourned by the Village of Gouverneur Republicans.