SCHENECTADY COUNTY — There was a shakeup in Niskayuna Democratic politics last year when a group of progressives who were endorsed, in part, by Schenectady County Legislator Michelle Ostrelich ousted a number of longtime committee members.
Among those unseated from the Niskayuna Democratic Committee was disability advocate Michele Dollar, who’s now focused on knocking Ostrelich off the Democratic line in District 3, an area covering Niskayuna, Scotia and Glenville, in the race for the Schenectady County Legislature.
Primary elections are June 27.
“The decision was based on my own experiences with Ostrelich,” Dollar said in a text about choosing to run.
Such misgivings stem from the late 2010s when the now-lawmaker called on the Schenectady County Democratic Committee to embrace a more diverse nominee pool while not acknowledging Dollar, who uses a wheelchair due to complications with multiple sclerosis (all local Democratic committee members are also members of the larger countywide organization). Dollar felt “marginalized” by the experience.
Ostrelich said that she was addressing racial and ethnic diversity, and believed that the nomination pool outreach should expand.
Dollar’s frustrations continued to boil as then-committee incumbents last June learned about competitors days before the election — an anomaly in local party affairs.
“Her endless campaigning has stripped her of all self-awareness and empathy,” Dollar said in a statement. “I will be a county legislator for all residents of the District 3 — not just those who agree with me.”
Anonymous negative mailers were also sent out targeting the status quo on the Niskayuna Democratic Committee. Dollar filed a state Board of Elections complaint regarding the matter in November.
Ostrelich has disavowed the mailers and declined any association with it, but doesn’t regret the overall shakeup. She’s satisfied with the change.
“Our committee is now more diverse than it’s ever been in regard to racial diversity, ethnic diversity,” Ostrelich said. “And it’s filled with people who are working hard, want to be there and represent many aspects of Niskayuna, so the change has been incredibly positive.”
Dollar called Ostrelich’s involvement in the committee election a means of dismissing “the contributions of a woman of color, an LBGTQ+ young man, a Jewish senior citizen, me, and others all to further her own career.”
Ostrelich was appointed and later elected to the county Legislature in 2019; she filled the seat of lifelong Republican James Buhrmaster. She unsuccessfully challenged seasoned GOP incumbent James Tedisco for a state Senate seat in 2018 and 2022.
Ostrelich, herself, was a registered Republican until 2017, a status she has linked to inheriting the party affiliation of her parents and attempting to bring the party “to the left” in primary elections. However, the GOP’s alignment toward Donald Trump was a deal-breaker.
Dollar, a lifelong Democrat and activist for disability rights, would be the only physically disabled lawmaker on the board if elected.
She has the backing of former Niskayuna Deputy Supervisor Lorene Zabin and town Democratic committeewoman Linda Rizzo, an outspoken Ostrelich critic.
The Schenectady County Democratic Committee on Jan. 26 endorsed District 3 legislators Ostrelich for a second term and Thomas Constantine for a fourth term.
Both candidates are running on a single ticket, despite broader ideological differences.
“She’s been fair to me,” Constantine said. “We do have a difference of political opinion as gets outside of Schenectady County.”
They both champion the Niskayuna Co-Op reconstruction project on Nott Street, a reconfiguration that Dollar believes stills lack accessibility and adequate parking. Ostrelich and Constantine disagree.
Constantine said that he wouldn’t mind running with Dollar should Ostrelich not win the Democratic line. He’s flattered that Dollar respects his work.
“Tom Constantine is a good man,” said Dollar in a text. “I look forward to running with him after I win this primary.”
Whoever wins the primary will go on to face town Republican Committee-endorsed candidates Stacie Agostino and Anthony Simone in the general election.
The GOP is also vying for two seats on the Niskayuna Town Board. Democrats have held a comfortable majority on the Town Board and all municipal affairs for years. In recent years, only two Republicans have held office — Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed, who did not seek re-election at the end of 2021, and Jason Moskowitz, who is currently the lone Republican on the council.
Voter enrollment data between 2008 and last year shows the number of registered Democrats growing from 5,877 to 7,804, Republicans dropping from 5,101 to 4,178 and independents growing from 4,323 to 5,109.
Ostrelich was the subject of a month-long anonymous ad blitz from a shadow group that went by the name The Kennedy Project last year. The group faced a volley of criticism after comparing the Jewish woman’s largely Jewish campaign staff to a British comedy sketch depiction of Nazis.
On the other hand, Ostrelich, among several others, currently faces a lawsuit alleging involvement in an anonymous online defamation campaign targeting former Niskayuna Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw’s daughter. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, but the case is still ongoing, according to attorney Thomas Abinanti.
The junior McGraw has requested $1 million in damages per defendant.
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or [email protected] Follow him on Facebook at Tyler A. McNeil, Daily Gazette or Twitter @TylerAMcNeil
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Osterlich disavowed knowing anything about the June Primary brochures then why is Osterlich’s name and Supervisor Puccioni’s name on the brochures. Does Osterlich think that no one has a copy of these brochures?
As far as making the committee more diverse is also untrue. Unless you call diversity placing Osterlich and her friends in leadership positions on the committee.
Also if Osterlich cares so much for Schenectady County, why didn’t she join Jim Tedisco in his fight for the St. Clare’s pensioners? She put NO effort in this fight. Senator Tedisco, who she tried to defeat twice, has been recognized for his efforts by the pensioners and the Attorney General. Osterlich only fights for herself or for an issue that will garner her publicity. I can say one thing about her, she definitely does loves endless campaigns. Since 2017, this is her fourth campaign.