November 30, 2021

Two Republicans seeking to succeed Ames as county judge

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

The Cortland County Courthouse on Wednesday.

Thirty days after the last election, two lawyers have announced their candidacy for Cortland County judge. There are only 335 more campaigning days until the next one.

Republicans David Alexander of Cortlandville, a Cortlandville town justice, and Keith Dayton of Virgil, the Cortland County public defender, announced they want to succeed Judge William Ames, who must retire by the end of 2017 because he turns 70.

The 10-year post will pay $192,300 next year. The position hears cases in county criminal court, family court and surrogate court.

No Democrats have yet come forward, said county Democratic Chairman Tim Perfetti, but there’s time. “Ames hasn’t retired yet,” Perfetti said Wednesday. “How about we settle down from the election we just had?”

“Cortland is currently in a crisis state: Crime is up, the jail is overcrowded, families are breaking down, domestic violence and child abuse are on the rise, the economy is depressed, and substance abuse and mental health issues are at epidemic levels,” Dayton said in announcing his candidacy. “I will implement a long-term plan to deal with these issues.”

“A lot of the issues we’re facing today are caused by poverty,” Alexander said. “How do I protect their individual rights? How do I get the help to them? When you’re out protecting the most vulnerable parts of the community, it weighs on you.”

Both candidates have experience outside the legal field from which to draw. Alexander was a dairy farmer in Cortlandville for 16 years, and was the grandson of a Cortlandville supervisor who lost a primary race for state Senate to Leighton Hope of Cortland in 1963. He’s also spent 17 years as an attorney with the Area Agency on the Aging. “Folks don’t want an erosion in their quality of life,” he said.

Dayton has degrees in economics and is just a dissertation away from his way to a Ph.D from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. He has a background in behavioral economics he says helps him guide convicts on the route to rehabilitation.

“It’s all about incentives,” Dayton said. “In order for incentives to work, there has to be a credible threat.”

As a judge, he could provide both, although he admits his economics background means he takes a rational approach, even if the people appearing before him do not. “That’s the most fascinating part of my job. I’ve got to understand. Maybe that’ll be my Ph.D topic — how to teach rational processes to people who aren’t rational.”

The race between Alexander and Dayton isn’t exclusive. County GOP Chairman John Folmer said he’s talked with another lawyer who expressed an interest in the post, but hasn’t yet made an announcement. There’s plenty of time before the September primary.

“I think it’s too bad our elections have to be a year long,” Folmer said.

Meet the candidates

David C. Alexander
Home: Cortlandville
Age: 61
Education: Syracuse University College of Law, J.D., 1995; Cornell University, B.S., 1978
Experience: Cortlandville town justice since 2014; private practice since 1999; Assistant county attorney, 2004-05; Assistant public defender, 1997-99; associate at Ruthig, Leonard & Van Donsel, 1997-99; associate at Williamson, Clune & Stevens 1997.
Other experience: Dairy farmer, 1978-1994

Keith D. Dayton
Home: Virgil
Age: 48
Education: Syracuse University College of Law, J.D., 1992; Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, M.A. 1992; Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, B.S. 1990.
Experience: Cortland County public defender, 2000-2012, since 2014; City of Cortland assistant corporation counsel, 2012-13; private practice since 1993.
Other experience: Adjunct professor of economics, SUNY Cortland, since 1998; instructor of economics, Syracuse University, 1994-98; instructor of economics, Elmira College, 1996-97; New York Department of Motor Vehicles, since 2009.