Nojay, Sessler deliver upset to the county GOP
In the Sept. 13 Republican Primary election, Livingston County had the attraction of two close contests, for the 133rd State Assembly seat and county district attorney.
Unofficial results have just a 19 vote separation in the district attorney contest between former Livonia Town Judge and private practice attorney Steve Sessler who is ahead with 1,792 votes and former first assistant district attorney Eric Schiener with 1,773 votes.
The district attorney contest remains very much ‘up in the air’ as The County News goes to press Tuesday evening, but on Wednesday morning 220 absentee ballots received by the county Board of Elections will be opened and counted.
In the contest for the assembly nomination, Avon native and former mayor Richard Burke secured 1,939 votes in the county, to give him a 314 county vote margin over radio talk show host and attorney Bill Nojay’s 1,625 votes. However, Burke’s relatively small Livingston margin evaporated when tallied with Nojay’s 1,085-to-373 showing in Monroe County and 732-to-188 showing in Steuben County.
Burke has accepted his defeat and thrown his support to Nojay. “I thank my supporters in this hard fought primary,” Burke said, confirming, “Bill Nojay has my full support as the Republican nominee for the 133rd District Assembly seat.”
“I feel sorry for Richard, but we’ll get along fine with Bill,” said Livingston County Republican Chairman Lowell Conrad.
Livingston County turned out 3,625 Republican voters for the primary, representing 22.46 percent of the total registered Republican electorate of 16,140. The town-by-town turnout was 579 in Avon, 178 in Caledonia, 188 in Conesus, 410 in Geneseo, 120 in Groveland, 139 in Leicester, 204 in Lima, a remarkable 738 in Livonia, 161 in Mount Morris, 227 in North Dansville, 141 in Nunda, 66 in Ossian, 51 in Portage, 83 in Sparta, 106 in Springwater, 62 in West Sparta and 172 in York.
Conrad sees the turnout as “average, but necessarily good, even.”
Conrad supports Schiener as the Livingston County Republican Committee’s district attorney candidate of choice, but he acknowledges Sessler’s excellent showing and exceptional turnout in his hometown of Livonia and in adjacent Conesus, which is in the Livonia School District.
“But if you take Livonia out, Schiener carried the county [in the unofficial pre-absentee count].” Conrad pointed out.
Conrad also noted Sessler advertising himself as a Conservative-endorsed Republican.
“I don’t know how much mileage he got out of that,” Conrad added, pointing out that Sessler’s persistence on the Conservative line in November, in the event Schiener has secured the Republican line in the primary, could “spoil” Schiener’s chances by drawing away votes and giving victory to the Democratic candidate, Greg McCaffrey.
In the assembly contest, Conrad noted that Burke will be on the Conservative line, but, ceding to Nojay, he will not be campaigning. Schiener’s attempt to appear on an independent ‘Law and Justice’ line remains in limbo pending a Board of Elections evaluation of a Sessler challenge against the petition signatures. In the event Schiener loses to Sessler, his presence on the second line will be moot since Schiener too will not be campaigning against a Republican nominee selected in the primary.
The Sessler upset
Livingston County Conservative Party Chairman Jason McGuire, who also serves as a volunteer for the Sessler campaign, shared some thoughts and observations about his candidate’s outstanding showing in the primary.
Having received barely ten percent support from the county Republican Committee in June, Sessler closed the gap to point where his unofficial primary showing put him 19 votes ahead of Schiener.
Without revealing some of the campaign’s “trade secrets” which will still be needed, McGuire noted, “The political landscape in Livingston County is changing as it is across the state and nation. Up until this point, people have looked at traditional campaign methods: You get an endorsement and put up a yard sign and figure you have locked down the vote.”
“But you haven’t,” McGuire continued. “Election law requires that the voters pick their candidates. The person who can take the message out there with as many means as possible is most likely to gather the momentum to win.”
“It’s like having a train that’s left the station and people don’t know its rolling down the tracks until it’s going too fast to stop. We got to a point where we sensed that the other candidate was now playing catch-up.”
“We use social media as a means to organize and energize our base,” McGuire advised. “We maximized the fact that students were home from college and tapped into their network.”
The ‘ground game,’ including traditional highway signs and print ads, got underway in the final three-to-four weeks. By that point the campaign had generated momentum and enthusiasm so that “people were coming to us wanting to get on board.”
Sessler’s resilience in the face of near-complete rejection by the county committee “speaks to his character,” McGuire said. “We looked at what he stood for. Steve has worked his tail off with honor and integrity. He did not walk away discouraged. We just dug in and decided we were going to make this happen. That drew people that wanted to stand with him.”
“We also had an aggressive absentee ballot plan. When we start opening up those ballots, you’re going to see. Steve has shown leadership, not only as a candidate but also as a future district attorney.”
McGuire noted that Sessler’s volunteer staff is informally organized. “Nobody grabs any titles.”
The weekly campaign meeting typically had 25 persons gathered around the table — and not always the same persons. In total the campaign has 60-to-70 volunteers.
“We had so many people coming on board we could plug any holes as they happened. It was just a great team effort,” McGuire stated.
“Win or lose, Sessler really made a statement.”