GLENVILLE -- Schenectady County Legislator James Buhrmaster of Glenville, one of just two Republicans on the legislature in recent years, has died after a long illness.
Buhrmaster, who was 73, had been a member of the County Legislature since 2004, much of that time as the only Republican. He represented District 3, which includes Glenville, Scotia and Niskayuna, and was the legislature's minority leader.
The legislator, who died early Tuesday morning, had suffered a stroke last fall while traveling in Maryland, and later suffered a related infection. He had not been able to attend meetings in recent months. He announced in February that he wouldn't run for re-election this fall.
"I just can't do the Legislature any more. I need to concentrate on my health. I need to spend time with my family and my grandchildren," Buhrmaster said at the time.
The County Legislature's other Republican, Brian McGarry of Rotterdam, called Buhrmaster a "confidante, mentor and friend."
"First and foremost, Jim was a devout family man who loved his wife, children and family unconditionally," McGarry said. "Having served together on the County Legislature and known each other for many years, Jim ... would always take my calls and discuss issues with me."
Buhrmaster came from a large and notable Glenville family, and operated a fuel oil dealership. McGarry said he brought his knowledge of the private sector to his public role.
"I will always remember fondly the friendship we had, serving in a small but vocal minority, but I could always trust his judgment and would always value his opinions," McGarry said.
As word of his death spread on Tuesday, veteran politicians offered praise.
Buhrmaster "was a wonderful person, trusted advisor and good friend. Jim Buhrmaster was truly one of the good guys," said state Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville.
Glenville Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle, who is Schenectady County Republican chairman, said Buhrmaster was always an articulate spokesman for the Republican point of view, and a gentleman -- someone he worked well with, even when they disagreed.
"I was deeply saddened today to learn that we have lost a dear friend and valued colleague with the passing of Jim Buhrmaster," Koetzle posted on Facebook Tuesday morning. "Jim was an icon of the community; a fierce public servant, a business leader and a strong advocate for our party. Our grief and sadness at this time are little compared to what Jim's family must be feeling. Our hearts and prayers go out to them."
Democrats and independents also liked and respected Buhrmaster.
"Mr. Buhrmaster was a true gentleman, and a dedicated public servant who brought his knowledge of the community and business experience to the Legislature," said County Legislature Chairman Anthony Jasenski, D-Rotterdam. "As a leader, Jim was willing to work with the membership of the legislature to set aside partisan differences on issues for the betterment of our residents."
“We came on the legislature at exactly the same time," recalled Legislature Majority Leader Gary E. Hughes, D-Schenectady “I can tell you that serving as member with him and him being minority leader and me being majority leader, he was always a gentleman. I told him what I was going to do and he told me what he was going to do. There were no surprises between us."
Hughes also recalled Buhrmaster's friendly demeanor. "You always got a handshake and a big smile. He was very cordial.”
"He was always a gentleman," said another veteran of Schenectady politics, City Councilman Vince Riggi, an independent. "He’s going to be sorely missed because he was a person who could balance office as best he could under a Democratic-controlled county Legislature.”
Buhrmaster was a Republican candidate for Congress in 2008, losing to Paul Tonko in Tonko's first run for the Capital Region's congressional seat.
“Jim lived a life of meaningful service," Tonko said. "He set out to improve the quality of life of the people of Schenectady County and proved time and again to be a person of exceptional integrity."
"During our congressional campaign in 2008, Jim conducted himself with dignity and an abundance of character," Tonko continued. "I knew his parents Ken and Flower as warm, loving people who valued service to community, and with Jim the apple did not fall far from the tree. To his family, friends and his many supporters in Schenectady County and beyond, I offer my humble and heartfelt condolences for what is truly a great loss.”
At one point, Buhrmaster also chaired the county's Republican Committee.
The election this fall to fill the seat Buhrmaster held will be between Democrat Michelle Ostrelich of Niskayuna and Republican Juliano Febo of Glenville. His death means the county Legislature must pick someone to fill the seat until then within the next 45 days.
Buhrmaster is the second veteran county legislator to die in barely a month's time. Karen Johnson, who was better-known as Schenectady's first female mayor but went on to serve in the County Legislature, died on June 10 after a long illness.
Funeral arrangements for Buhrmaster have not yet been announced.