At the end of the month, Monroe County Democratic Committee Chair David Garretson is stepping down because of "personal concerns regarding health and family," he said in a press release. The MCDC will meet on July 29 to vote for a new chair, though no names are circulating yet.
But turnover at the top — Garretson just took over the job in September — is only part of Democrats' problem: the party is heading into a big local election year and it's almost broke.
Last week, campaigns and political parties across the state had to file their finance reports for the first six months of the year. MCDC reported that it has approximately $62,000 in the bank — the lowest first-half balance the party's reported since at least a decade; the state Board of Elections doesn't have filings prior to 2006 available online. The less cash the party has on hand, the less it has available to spend on important contests, such as the county executive's race.
"We're going to be focused on that, definitely," says MCDC vice chair Jim Vogel. "We're going to come out of this all right. I'm confident of that."
County Democrats brought in contributions totaling $118,019 between mid-January and mid-July — about half of what the party typically pulls in over the first half of the year. (An exception being 2011, when first-half contributions totaled $66,202 under then-chair Joe Morelle.)
Right now, the county Republican Party has a massive cash advantage. The GOP has $503,906 in its campaign account and brought in $359,551 over the first half of the year. The party received quite a few donations of several thousand dollars, many coming from companies, but some coming from individuals. County Democrats typically raise less money than Republicans, but the disparity shown in last week's campaign finance filings is unusual.
Some Democrats blame Garretson for the party's depleted account. One of the key jobs of the county chair is fund-raising, and when Garretson came into the job, he didn't have relationships with many of the party's bigger contributors, say some of the critics. As a result, those donors probably weren't confident, critics say, that their money would be used wisely or effectively. And Garretson didn't recruit established, higher-profile Dems to reach out to donors, they say, which might have reassured donors and brought in some cash.
But top party officials haven't stepped in to help the flailing committee. Mayor Lovely Warren, for example, brought in $225,105 during the first half of the year, and had $371,529 in her account as of last week's filing.
And former chair and Assembly Majority Leader Morelle raised $176,200 during the first half of the year, and as of last week's filing he had $423,584 in the bank.
Right now, no party members have stepped up and said they'd like to be the next chair. But one name has been advanced as a possible candidate: MCDC executive director Jamie Romeo. She declined comment on this story.
Romeo is a good choice, says Anthony Plonczynski, the 21st Legislative District city committee leader. Elevating her would show that the party and its operations can stay stable, he says. And as a former campaign worker and chief of staff for former State Senator Ted O'Brien, she has fund-raising experience and relationships that could help the party, he says.
For years, Monroe County Democrats have been feuding their way toward trouble, and now they may be facing the consequences.