MONTGOMERY COUNTY -- In a move that seemed to catch many by surprise, the County Legislature voted 6-3 Tuesday night to make Republican District 8 Legislator Joseph Isabel its chairman.
Prior to the vote the two leading candidates to replace two-time chairman District 4 Legislator Robert Headwell, a Republican, were District 7 Legislator Michael Pepe, a Republican, and District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell, a Democrat.
It didn't turn out that way.
Isabel said the political battle behind the scenes for this year's Legislature chairman was the worst he's seen since he was first elected to the county Legislature in 2013 as a Democrat.
"I'm going to make every effort I can to bring everybody together and I think that's the reason they nominated me, to bridge the gap," Isabel said. "Somebody else will be here [as chairman] in about 12 years."
Prior to Tuesday night's vote, Isabel had identified himself as a potential swing vote in the chairman's race, indicating his long positive working relationship with Purtell.
Pepe also appeared to have bipartisan support. Democratic District 6 Legislator John Duchessi indicated that Pepe likely deserved the position for the work he'd done as chairman of the Legislature's Finance Committee.
But Tuesday night neither Pepe's nor Purtell's name was put up for consideration. Headwell introduced a motion to consider Isabel and District 5 Legislator Daniel Wilson, a Republican, seconded the resolution. Wilson had previously expressed support for Pepe.
The motion to consider Isabel passed with Purtell, the Democrat, and three Republicans -- District 1 Legislator Martin Kelly, District 2 Legislator Brian Sweet and District 3 Legislator John Thayer voting against it.
In the vote to make Isabel chairman, Thayer switched to supporting Isabel, with only Kelly, Sweet and Purtell voting against him.
Isabel received bipartisan support for both votes, with Duchessi voting for him, as well as Pepe, Headwell and Wilson.
After some legislative wrangling, a resolution to reappoint Duchessi as deputy chairman was passed unanimously, maintaining the Legislature's bi-partisan character.
"Having no designs on the chairman's position, I'm always a safe bet as the deputy," Duchessi quipped after being sworn in. Duchessi, a former mayor of Amsterdam, is also the executive director of the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency.
Pepe said one reason he did not fight for the chairmanship Tuesday night was because he has recently received some expanded job duties at his full-time job.
Isabel has served as elected official as both a Republican and a Democrat. He changed his party affiliation in 2012 from Republican to Democrat while serving on the Amsterdam Common Council. Isabel then returned to the Republican Party and ran unopposed for District 8 legislator in 2019.
He said he has not yet chosen who will serve as the committee chairman for the Legislature, which is one of the powers of the chairman. He said he will ask all of the legislators for input and then decide.
"I want to watch very closely on the budget this year, and I don't want to see the county get itself in any trouble. I'm going to try very hard to only make spending where we need to spend," he said.
County Executive Matt Ossenfort said there was a bit of uncertainty heading into the Legislature's organizational meeting, but he expects to get along with Isabel.
"I've had a great relationship with all of the previous chairmen and I fully expect to have a good relationship with Joe as we move forward and continue to do the work that we've been doing," Ossenfort said.
He said one of the big items on the 2020 agenda for the Legislature will be the project to move the county's Department of Public Works out of its current location in Fonda, located in the Mohawk River floodplain, to the Glen Canal View Business Park.
"I expect that to go up for a vote in January. That's certainly a big item, and I expect it to be discussed vigorously — it's a major expense," he said.