JOHNSTOWN – The May 12 death of Thomas Suydam has left a void in his community and changed the political landscape of what had been shaping up to be one of the most consequential city treasurer races in recent decades.
Thomas Suydam, a native of Gloversville, was a certified public accountant who had worked as a partner in the George J. Dorfman & Co. CPA firm, chief financial officer of plastic vial manufacturer Capitol Vial and had run a real estate agency in Mayfield on Route 30.
After learning his incumbent City Treasurer Michael Gifford was not running for re-election in November after serving in the position since the 1990s, Suydam filed a petition to run for the office as a Democrat.
“I have known and respected Mike since we worked together at George J. Doman & Co. CPAs some years ago when it was headquartered in Johnstown, and I was in the firm’s Albany office,” reads Thomas Suydam’s campaign brochure. “The position of Johnstown City Treasurer demands a seasoned professional. This is not the time for on-the-job training!”
Suydam’s wife, Patsy Suydam, said her husband had seemed to be in relatively good health.
“He had a heart attack,” she said. “It was quite unexpected. He died in his sleep. He had been hospitalized a week or so earlier and had a stent installed, and then the surgeon told me it was remarkable how quickly he responded to the stent. The day before he died he had gone into his office and led a relatively normal day for someone who was just out of the hospital.”
Patsy said her husband was eminently qualified for the job of city treasurer, having been a self-starter since he created his first business selling office equipment, unbeknownst to the manufacturer, when he was only 15 and still in high school. She said he had long been an observer of the political process from the outside, shifting his party registration from Republican to Conservative Party to finally the Democratic Party. She said he was an ardent critic of the city’s 2015 city-wide reassessment, which he believed was deeply flawed, going as far as to offer his services pro bono to city homeowners seeking reductions in their new assessments, and often getting those reductions. Patsy said she wasn’t sure running for city treasurer was a good idea, but her husband, at the age of 76, was committed to running.
Gifford had already announced he would not seek re-election in December, the first of a mass exodus of incumbent leadership for Johnstown with Mayor Vern Jackson, Councilman-at-large Craig Talerico and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Kathi Iannotti all deciding not to run for re-election.
Third Ward Councilwoman Amy Praught, the Republican candidate for mayor on the November ballot, has also announced she must resign her council seat by the end of the month because she has moved into the city’s Fourth Ward.
Suydam was one of three candidates who filed petitions to run for city treasurer after Gifford’s announcement, the other two are Republicans: First Ward Councilman Bradley Hayner and Thomas D. Herr, who will square off in the GOP primary June 22.
Hayner does not have a college degree, but has pointed to his experience serving on the Common Council as well as his time as an assistant branch manager for the NBT Bank office in Vail Mills as experience that would help him in the treasurer’s office.
Herr’s Facebook profile indicates he “Studied Accountancy at State University of New York at Cobleskill” in 2010 and “Studied Bachelors of Science in Accounting and Business Administration at SUNY Plattsburgh” in 2012.
Johnstown’s city treasurer office has no formal education requirements and is open to any citizen over the age of 18 residing in the city.
Fulton County Democratic Election Commissioner Gerry Ryan, also a member of the Fulton County Democratic Committee, said because Suydam died prior to the Democratic Party primary his name will not appear on the November ballot.
“On the petition Tom filed to run, after you put in your name and all of that stuff, there’s actually a space to put in a “Committee for vacancies”, Ryan said. “And you need that committee in anticipation of exactly this, but nobody thinks they’re going to die, so we have a pretty high percentage of people who don’t name that committee, and unfortunately Tom was one of them. The law provides that the Committee for Vacancies can actually choose a successor candidate, but since he didn’t have a committee, nobody can choose a successor candidate.”
Ryan said the Fulton County Democratic Committee is researching to see if Suydam’s death would allow the committee to nominate a replacement candidate directly to the November ballot for Johnstown city treasurer.
“We haven’t quite figured that out with the [New York state Democratic] committee,” Ryan said. “If we could, if the state Board of Elections says we can, then we’ll certainly work hard to find a candidate, but Tom was an ideal candidate. He was a CPA, he’d been in the field for a long time and knew a lot of people.”
Michael Rose, the Democratic candidate for Johnstown mayor in November, said he was greatly saddened when he heard about Suydam’s death.
“Tom was a brilliant financial mind, and we’ve lost a great man,” Rose said.