LARRY TETAMORE/County News File Photo
Eric Schiener, Republican Party nominee for Livingston County District Attorney
District Attorney race
County GOP nominates Schiener, breaking primary tie
The Livingston County District Attorney election will be a three way race.
With the votes tied 1,881-to-1,881 in the Republican primary for Livingston County District Attorney, the county Republican committee reaffirmed support for candidate Eric Schiener.
The former First Assistant DA will face both Conservative Party candidate Steve Sessler, an attorney and town judge from Livonia, and the Democratic District Attorney Greg McCaffrey, appointed by Governor Cuomo to the position in May.
The vote was conducted in the open by roll call with supporters and members of local and Rochester media present. “We do not run a back room operation,” said Republican committee chairman Lowell Conrad. “We are transparent and do things where everyone can see them.”
Schiener got 5,051 weighted votes from committee members Thursday night to candidate Steve Sessler’s 828. An intial June 5 committee vote to endorse Schiener showed a comparable 9-to-1 result, 5,260 to 583.
“I’m humbled by your show of support,” said Schiener to the committee in a speech following the vote. “You voted tonight for a clean, honest campaign. You voted for professionalism over politics.”
Schiener’s route to the nomination has been bumpy, often compared by the candidate himself to a “rollercoaster ride.”
Schiener was pushed out of the District Attorney’s office following Governor Andrew Cuomo’s appointment of Democrat Greg McCaffrey to the post. His support from Republican voters was split by a successful campaign by his primary challenger. When the Sept. 13 primary ended in a tie following an absentee ballot count, the two candidates challenged five irregular ballots in State Supreme Court, returning the vote to a tie. As the Republican committee was set to vote last week, Supreme Court Justice John Ark halted the process — at Sessler’s request — to consider whether a miscounted ballot would be subtracted from Schiener’s total. The judge decided the ballot would stand and the vote remained a tie.
According to Sessler, the split vote represents a disconnection between party leaders and their constituents.
“The committee did not accurately reflect the will of the Republican voters,” he said. “When faced with two candidates who garnered the same number of votes, they made a political decision.”
“With me, my supporters and the mechanism we put together, we tied the strongest political party in this county,” he added. “As a consequence, it’s fair to recognize that the voters I have are truly dedicated. We had 1,881 Republicans who believed I was the right choice.”
Schiener dismissed the thought that a tied primary should have resulted in a closer committee vote.
“The Republican committee members don’t just represent the people who came out Sept. 13. There are 12,000 Republicans who did not go to the polls in the primary, and the committee represents all of them,” he said. “It’s hard for a committee member who’s been told all summer by the other camp that they don’t mean anything, that they don’t matter — I think you saw that sentiment tonight in the overwhelming margin.”
Schiener was an assistant District Attorney in Livingston County for over 12 years; six as “first assistant” — a job he said has largely insulated him from political considerations. “I never put politics above the needs of a victim or above the law,” he said, pointing out how he’s been able to speak to voters about his plans for the office in detail based on his experience.
“I’m not telling the voters about platitudes and high ideals and I’m not going to rest on the past successes of the office. There are a lot of changes I anticipate making and I plan to educate and inform every voter in the county specifically about what I intend to do.”
“The committee tonight put the prosecutor back on the ballot,” he said.
On Wednesday night, the Sessler campaign contracted with Black Umbrella of Utica to conduct an automated phone poll of 9,560 registered Livingston County Republican, Conservative and Independent voters in a hypothetical three-way race against McCaffrey. With a five percent response rate, the poll placed Sessler slightly above Scheiner at 54.7 percent to 45.3 percent for Schiener. According to an online calculator posted by the American Research Group, a sample of that size would have a margin of error of 4.24 percent.
In the Sept. 13 primary, Schiener carried 40 of 63 election districts and 12 of 17 towns in Livingston County.