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The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY)

 

Election commissioner to quit

Democrat Edward Szczesniak is retiring, and Legislator Ed Ryan wants his job.

 

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

By John Mariani

Staff writer

 

Onondaga County's Democratic election commissioner plans to retire, and one of the party's unsuccessful candidates for county executive wants to take his place.

 

Edward Szczesniak, the Democratic election commissioner since 1991, said Monday he will give up the post Jan. 31. He made the announcement two months in advance, he said, to provide time for his replacement to be appointed and in place before the Feb. 5 presidential primary.

 

Party leaders have yet to receive letters of interest from candidates to replace Szczesniak.

 

But Ed Ryan, who gave up his county Legislature seat to run unsuccessfully for county executive, said he put a letter to party officials in the mail Monday saying he'd like the job. Ryan lost the Democratic primary to Bill Magnarelli, who in turn lost the general election to Joanie Mahoney.

 

Ryan said he would relish the chance to complete Onondaga County's conversion, along with the rest of the state, from lever voting machines to a new electronic system. That will include not only selecting the system but also getting election workers and voters ready to use it, he said.

 

"I'm just not ready to retire," added Ryan, who is leaving the Legislature Dec. 31 after 32 years. "I'm 60 years old. I can't just sit down. I've been working two jobs all my life. I enjoy having something in front of me to try to accomplish. Fishing or golfing five days a week isn't going to do it."

 

The opportunity to boost his state pension - the post pays $71,471 a year, compared with the Legislature minority leader's salary of $27,545 - is a small consideration compared with the chance to take on the job's challenges, Ryan said.

 

Szczesniak, who turned 64 on Thanksgiving, said he had pondered retirement for some time, to the point of considering not to run for re-election to a new two-year term in 2006.

 

He held off, he said, because the Board of Elections was busy preparing to put the federal Help America Vote Act into place, a process that included the long-delayed adoption of a new electronic voting system.

 

A year later, the selection of systems that comply with New York's strict standards remains stalled and looks as if it may take 18 months to two years to resolve, Szczesniak said.

 

With that prospect looming, he said, "When do you get off the freight train?"

 

Szczesniak said he's proud that he and his Republican counterparts have "conducted quality, fair elections every time we've done them."

 

He and Republican Commissioner Helen Kiggins also have overseen a "major paradigm change" brought about by the Help America Vote Act, including adapting local records to a statewide voter registration data system, consolidating elections into county board control and persuading the Legislature to provide more staff.

 

His successor, he said, will have to be a quick learner with a grasp of how government, particularly the Legislature, works. The winning candidate also will need to understand how the political parties work and how to work with them all, and will need will need the ability to reach consensus with the Republican commissioner.

 

The new commissioner will be chosen by county Democratic Committee members at a time and place to be decided, but by Dec. 17, party Chairwoman Diane Dwire said. Candidates, who must be registered Democrats, should send her a letter of intent at committee headquarters, 248 E. Water St., Syracuse 13202.

 

John Mariani can be reached at jmariani@syracuse.com or at 470-3105.

 

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