January 18, 2022

Panel: Get involved in politics

Group gives advice for people to run for local elective offices

Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

A panel of Cortland County officials, from left, interim Cortland County Republican chairwoman Connie White, Cortland County Democratic Chairman Timothy Perfetti, county Legislator Ann Homer (R-Cortland) and county Legislator Michael Barylski (D-Cortlandville), speak about their political lives Saturday at the Cortland Community Center.

One night last summer, Cortland County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Perfetti was searching for candidates to run for the upcoming 2017 election when he got a call from an unknown number.

It was Michael Barylski of Cortlandville. He told Perfetti he wanted to run for the legislator seat in his district.

Without question, Perfetti told him to come right down to the Democratic headquarters. He did, he ran and got elected, beating incumbent Joe Steinhoff.

Steps to running for an elected office can be that simple. However, during a Cortland League of Women Voters forum Saturday, Barylski (D-Cortlandville), Perfetti, Legislator Ann Homer (R-Cortland) and interim Republican Party Chairwoman Connie White said many more details must be considered.

“It ought to really be your decision (to run for office), not someone else’s,” White said. “Don’t just do it because you’re mad at a candidate or a political situation.”

Barylski had to disagree with White. There were issues in the county frustrating him, and after venting to his wife, she suggested he do something. He did; he ran for office.

Consulting family about running is important, White said, as it will have an effect on them. “Mom may not be home cooking dinner every night.”

Homer was rarely home at night from Labor Day to Election Day two months later. She already works a full-time job, so she said candidates need an employer’s support, too.

For those who want to run, but lack the knowledge on how to do so, Perfetti said some of the blame for the lack of knowledge is on party leadership for not reaching out more.

Before the September primaries, each party will caucus to nominate candidates to run for the open seats. To get on the ballot, candidates must collect signatures on a petition, Perfetti said, a number that varies by office. About 2,500 signatures are needed to run for Congress, fewer than 30 for Barylski’s county Legislature seat; Barylski’s Republican opponent Steinhoff needed more because Republicans outnumber Democrats in that district.

The campaign has no secret formula, either, Barylski said. “The first part of my plan was name recognition,” he said. “Give people a reason to vote for you, even if they know you.”

He added, some people will dislike you just because of your political party.

Running for office: Dates to remember

June 5: First day for signing designation petitions for state/local offices.

July 9 – July 12: Dates for filing designation petitions.

July 16: Last day to authorize designations. And last day to accept or decline designations.

July 20: Last day to fill a vacancy after a declination for state or local office.

July 24: Last day to file authorization of substitution after declination of a state or local designation.

Sept. 13: Primary election.

Nov. 6: General election.

His campaign consisted of lawn signs, mailers and going house to house. Going house to house is the most important task, Homer and Barylski said. Homer focused on speaking with the most-frequent voters, which she found searching the county Board of Elections voter database.

She said she did not pay attention to her Democratic opponent’s campaign.

“Don’t focus on your opponent, focus on what you can do,” Homer said. “Tell people what you can or will do. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

Campaigns can get expensive. Barylski was up against a Republican incumbent in a district with more Republicans. His neighbors are spread wide through the district, making it hard to walk door-to-door. Barylski raised $4,820 and spent $4,813.

Homer won even though she raised less than $1,000.

There are plenty of opportunities for people who want to be part of a campaign, but don’t want to run, Perfetti said. Even with little experience, important roles can be played.

Just make sure to have a thick skin, White said.

“There are so many moving parts to a campaign there is plenty to do,” Perfetti said.