Division rankles Democrats in Tupper

TUPPER LAKE – Two younger Democrats in this town are frustrated and challenging their party’s leaders to step down.

Sabrina Sabre-Shipman and Ron LaScala said the local Democratic Party committee has marginalized them, and they insist it’s time for a change.

Sabre-Shipman is a member of the committee who unsuccessfully ran for a town board seat last fall. LaScala unsuccessfully ran for a village board seat in fall 2012.

“The boys’ club needs to be broken up,” Sabre-Shipman said. “There are a certain few members of the committee, not only the Democrats but the Republicans as well, that are taking it upon themselves to decide how this town is run and who is going to be the leaders of the town. They try to push out anyone new with vocal ideas, and they try to push them to the side so they can have who they want in control. That’s not the way politics are supposed to be. It’s supposed to be the people deciding, but when you have those people controlling it, it’s hindering our town completely.”

Sabrina Sabre-Shipman

After the election results came in Nov. 5, Sabre-Shipman told the Enterprise she wanted to remain in politics and rein in younger voters. She kept that promise when she vied within the Democratic Party for a seat left vacant when town Councilwoman Patti Littlefield, a Republican, assumed her new role as supervisor in January.

The Democratic committee instead endorsed former Councilman Jerry Fletcher – who had chosen not to run when his own seat was up for re-election last fall.

Littlefield’s seat eventually went to Rick Skiff, a Republican, in a 3-1 town board vote in January. Councilwoman Kathy Lefebvre, a Democrat, cast the lone vote for Fletcher. Councilman John Quinn, also a Democrat, voted for Skiff.

Quinn told the Enterprise there were two reasons he voted for Skiff: The young Republican showed an interest in obtaining the seat, and a five-person board is better for the community. Quinn said those factors trump party lines.

“At the time we made the appointment, we had two Democrats on the board,” Quinn said. “The two Republicans were adamant that they wanted Rick Skiff. If we go to a two-to-two vote and nothing happens, we’d have a four-person board. There’s a reason you have five people on a board: It’s so you don’t get into ties, and you have more people looking things over and running the local government. I felt, for the betterment of the community, I’d vote for Rick Skiff, who is a registered Republican. I am a registered Democrat, but I want to do what’s best for the community, not what’s best for a party or a person.”

Sabre-Shipman said the party did little to support her run last year, and the last straw for her was when the party backed Fletcher. Emails between her and Democratic Committee Chairman Dean Lefebvre, which she forwarded to the Enterprise, confirm that she informed the committee on Dec. 27 she was interested in filling the vacant seat.

“In the midst of going back and forth of trying to select a candidate, I was told by Dean Lefebvre after the election that I would definitely be the one because I did run and I did have a good standing,” Sabre-Shipman said. “It was a good turnout of voters for me. Then Jerry Fletcher’s name was brought in, and I found out by email they had picked him.”

Dean Lefebvre is married to Kathy Lefebvre and was supervisor of the town of Altamont (now Tupper Lake) for 18 years, from the 1980s to the 2000s. In an email dated Jan. 1, he announced that the committee had chosen Fletcher.

“It (is) the desire (of) the committee by a 10 to 2 vote that Councilors Lefebvre and Quinn remain steadfast in supporting (J)erry Fletcher because this is the fairest possible action for the electorate of Tupper Lake,” Lefebvre wrote. “The reason being (is) that this way no person is given an advantage in next fall’s election for the seat. In other words the voters will decide next fall. (J)erry Fletcher has told me and other committee members that he will not run for the seat next year. So please I ask that you two Democratic Councilors support (J)erry Fletcher and not back down even if it means that the Town goes a year with only four councilors.”

Sabre-Shipman said Lefebvre’s line of reasoning – to not give any candidate the advantage of incumbency – was flawed because the committee backed Quinn’s appointment to the town board last summer when Councilman David Tomberlin resigned.

“They put John Quinn up to be appointed and they knew he was going to run, but they didn’t offer me that option at the same time,” Sabre-Shipman said.

Lefebvre said the committee had hoped a Republican board member would back Fletcher. He called Shipman-Sabre’s complaints “sour grapes” because she lost the election.

He and Democratic Committee Vice Chairman Rickey Dattola added that Sabre-Shipman refused to follow guidelines set by the committee, including campaigning door to door and having her name on election campaign signs.

“You can’t run for office and not want your name on signs,” Lefebvre said. “She was included in our ads in the press. The committee did the same for her as they did for John Quinn. In the end, the voters decide who they want to elect.”

Sabre-Shipman said she doesn’t like campaign signs because she considers them an eyesore and said there are other, more modern ways to get people’s attention.

“I don’t feel that going door to door as a politician is a good use of my time,” Sabre-Shipman said. “It’s an intrusion on someone’s privacy to knock on their door and ask questions. I thought using social media was a better way of doing that, and a way to get the youth involved in the campaign and to get the youth vote.”

Dattola also said he took issue with Sabre-Shipman endorsing Littlefield’s bid for supervisor instead of backing the incumbent, Democrat Roger Amell.

“I made the decision to back Patti because I felt she was better for Tupper Lake,” Sabrina-Shipman said. “Roger said some terrible things at the meeting before election night, and he made a negative comment in a WNBZ (radio) interview about how myself and John Quinn weren’t going door to door. Roger wasn’t supporting his own party, so why would I support him?”

Lefebvre said he would welcome another run by Sabre-Shipman, but she says she’s had enough. If she were to run again, she said, it would be under a different party affiliation.

“Look, I’m not the only one who thinks Dean should step down,” Sabre-Shipman said. “They’re no longer even acknowledging me. I’m not planning on running this fall anymore because, after dealing with it this fall, I honestly don’t want to deal with it again. I’m just going to bide my time and stay on the sidelines and try to get involved in other ways.”

Ron LaScala

Ron LaScala is another who thinks Lefebvre should step down as committee chairman.

“I would like to put out a challenge to Dean Lefebvre and Rickey Dattola to step down and let some new blood enter the party,” LaScala said. “They’ve been running things long enough, and it hasn’t been working. Tupper Lake needs a change.”

LaScala unsuccessfully ran for village board in 2012 and said the process left him more frustrated than anything. He forwarded a string of emails to the Enterprise in which he repeatedly asked Lefebvre when and where the Democratic caucus would be held, without a response.

LaScala called Tupper Lake’s Democratic Party dead. He noted that only two of the town board’s five members are Democrats, and there are no Democrats on the five-member village board. During the last two elections, the Democratic Party endorsed Mayor Paul Maroun, a Republican, and didn’t have a candidate for the two Republican seats that were expiring on the village board last year.

LaScala said that’s a problem, especially considering that political lines in Tupper Lake aren’t that lopsided. According to the Franklin County Board of Elections, 1,424 active voters in the town and village combined are registered Republicans, compared to 1,067 registered Democrats.

“They don’t have a single Democratic member on that village board, and they’re not worried about that?” LaScala asked. “Dean told me they were happy with who was sitting on that board, and I thought, ‘Really? They’re all Republicans.’ I would think that, sitting on the Democratic committee, you would want to find someone to run and fill your ticket up. It’s your job to grow your party.”

Lefebvre said the lack of candidates was not intentional, and he encouraged people to step up if they want to run.

“I always like how people are wondering why,” Lefebvre said. “We didn’t have a candidate, so we endorsed Paul Maroun, as we had done two years before. Paul seems to be doing a decent job. If there are Democrats out there who want to run for mayor, let them start by running for village trustee. I’d be happy to hear from them. There are two openings on that board this year. Let’s not throw stones and not enter the arena.”

According to LaScala, the party doesn’t support all of the candidates it does have. He said he began campaigning on his own after repeated attempts to coordinate with the Democratic committee were ignored.

“About halfway through the campaign, I realized I was on my own,” LaScala said. “It’s like they threw me $500 and said, ‘Have fun; you’re on your own.’ I spent a lot of my own money, and I spent a lot of my own time because I wanted this job, I wanted to help my community, and Dean wasn’t there to help me. There was nobody saying, ‘Let’s go campaign,’ or, ‘Here’s an idea.’ Nothing.”

Lefebvre called these allegations “an attempt to cause a stir.” He said LaScala is welcome to run again, but Dattola had a different opinion.

“Ron is not the type of candidate that I would vote for, but he is a Democrat and we did support him with money,” Dattola said. “We did tell him what we felt needed to be done, as a committee, in Tupper. We gave him a budget, and he basically ran his own campaign. He got beat, and that was the last I had contact with him. He might be disillusioned, but I don’t know what he wants the committee to do. If you want to run your own campaign and you lose, that’s your bag.”

Dattola said he has been vetting a few candidates for the next election cycle, in which two village seats and one town seat will be up for grabs.

“I think you have to run on issues,” Dattola said, again referring to LaScala. “You can’t just run on, ‘This is wrong.’ You have to run on ‘what I’m going to do to make a difference, to make the community better.’ I think it’s hard to do that. It’s a really easy thing to criticize, but it’s much more difficult to govern. If you can’t tell me what you’re going to do to make things better, then you’re probably not going to win.”

LaScala regularly attends village board meetings and said he has considered running this year, but he isn’t ready to finalize anything yet.

Contact Shaun Kittle at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or skittle@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.