Independence Party Grows in Orange County

Posted on 30 May 2013 by Community Voice NY

GOSHEN — The Orange County Republican Committee held its 2013 endorsement convention this week in Goshen. Though many in the Grand Old Party remember when its members dominated local government, a significant change affecting party enrollment is afoot in the county.

Voters enrolled in the Independence Party are the county’s fastest-growing bloc. From 2008 to 2012, the number of Independence Party voters rose from roughly 500 voters to more than 10,000, according to data from the state Board of Elections.

“If you look at Washington, D.C., and Albany right now, they are marred with paralysis and even corruption,” said Chester Supervisor Steve Neuhaus. “Every other week now we are reading about a senator or an assemblyman that’s being arrested for one thing or another. The two major party lines have been damaged over the last couple of years of partisan bickering, and that’s why the Independence Party is really skyrocketing.”

Neuhaus is running for county executive as a Republican. He has also won the endorsement of Independence Party. He and other officials familiar with the party say it’s growing because voters are looking to drop the baggage of the reds and blues.

Though the label “Independence” sounds nice enough, the interests and biases of the fledgling party, and how its leaders represent the opinions of its members, remains unclear, in part because Independence Party voters come from all ages and communities in Orange.

‘Independence’ and voters Of all Independence Party members, voters aged 18 to 34 are the largest age group represented. Democratic County Legislator and minority leader Jeff Berkman expected as much.

“It doesn’t surprise me that younger voters would be a part of the growth because they are more independent-minded than older voters,” said Berkman, who was endorsed by the Independence Party in previous elections.

Berkman said that when he first sought the Independence line in his race for the county legislature, his goal was to make government more open and transparent, and he believed the party shared the same goal. But, as it turns out, “Independence” has different meanings for different people.

Within that group of voters aged 18 to 34, hundreds of young voters are from the insular Jewish community of Kiryas Joel. The village is the fastest-growing municipality in the county, and has elected Legislator Michael Amo, the sole county legislator identified as a member of the Independence Party and no other party.

“I had the luxury, given my district of Kiryas Joel, that I could be the Elephant Party and they’d elect me,” Amo said. “Many of my colleagues know that if they do not belong to a mainstream party, they are not going to get elected. For me, I don’t have to worry about that.”

Amo said he lost faith in the Republican brand. He switched to the Independence Party because of its commitment to fiscal conservativism and managed outcomes. “We want to make sure that if we spend a dollar, we get a dollar’s worth of work,” he said.

The power behind the party Along with its growing enrollment, part of the success of the Independence Party is its ability to influence voters’ choices in the ballot box.

In New York, party lines that carry named candidates in columns according to political affiliation are positioned on the ballot according to enrollment.

According to registration data from April, the Democratic Party has the highest enrollment in the county, followed by the Republican and Independence Party. Truly independent voters who remain non-affiliated — sometimes referred to as “blanks” — do not carry their party line although they greatly outnumber Independence voters (see chart).

In November, Neuhaus expects his name will appear on the Republican, Independence, and Conservative party lines.

“The power of it really is that line on the ballot,” Amo said. “If somebody says, ‘I hate those Republicans, but I like Eddie Diana, I am going to vote for him on the Independence line.’ It gives somebody a way out.”

Amo referred to previous endorsements of County Executive Edward Diana by the Independence Party, which declined Diana in favor of Neuhaus this year.

At first, Amo was reluctant to withdraw support for Diana. But the treasurer of the Orange County Political Action Committee, attorney Langdon Chapman, went with Neuhaus, he said.

“I didn’t want to throw (Diana) under the bus for somebody new, even though Mr. Chapman was willing to do that and had some support from other members of the Independence Party,” Amo said. “Mr. Diana decided not to run, and then it was fine with me. We had to go with one.”

Though he is seen as the point man for the Independence Party in Orange County, Chapman is not without his ties to mainstream political parties.

He has had a long career as counsel to Republican state Senator John Bonacic, who has also been endorsed by the party. He is also an attorney with the law practice of Bonacic’s son, Scott. Scott Bonacic is attorney for the Town of Chester, where Neuhaus currently serves as supervisor.

“I am pleased that we have two elected officials in our party in Orange County,” Chapman said. “Frank Palermo, for example, is a Woodbury Town Councilman and Michael Amo is a County Legislator. I have noted a significant spike in enrollment in the Independence Party in Mr. Amo’s Legislative District (Kiryas Joel) and can only assume it is in support of him. However, that large enrollment is not relevant to who the Independence Party supports — as witnessed by Kiryas Joel’s strong support, for example, of Legislator Myrna Kemnitz, who I worked hard against, and who the Independence Party did not endorse, when she ran for the Assembly in 2010.”

Chapman denied having influence over endorsements because he is not a member of the party committee in charge of those decisions.

He became a member of the State Independence Party Committee in 2006. He has worked in the state Senate for more than 20 years, with more than 10 years under Senator Bonacic.


The Chronicle

Fast-growing Independence Party gives voters ‘a way out’

By Joshua Rosenau

Published May 30, 2013 at 10:35 am (Updated May 30, 2013)


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