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That sinking feeling

Roiled campaign: Undercurrents seem to be pulling Getman's run for Schuyler County Judge underwater

The following is by the pseudonymous A. Moralis, who has graced these pages from time to time over the years, weighing in on matters both national and local. This week the race for Schuyler County Judge caught his or her attention -- and in particular the plight of one of the candidates.

By A. Moralis

I'm thinking, at least in the dead of night, when I lie in bed, waiting for some sleep that might release me from all of the hype surrounding the Schuyler County judge's race, that I'm really sick of it.

The signs. The letters. The undercurrent. The innuendoes. The crazy ads showing a gun-toting would-be jurist who thinks that X-ing out his opponents' faces is a good idea. I might have used that back in a 7th grade run for class president, but, well ....

Then, in the light of day -- the sunlight restoring my tolerance -- I think that the local run by a quartet for the 10-year seat in County, Family and Surrogate's Court isn't so bad when compared to what's happening, and will continue to happen, on the national stage.

I mean, good God, every day brings a new knuckle chewing move by this or that Democrat or the President or any of a myriad of untrustworthies in Congress -- and it's going to keep on happening for another year.

At least here, the drumbeat of local wannabes ends on Nov. 5 -- barring a tie or a challenge or some other unforeseen wrinkle.

The aforementioned gun-toting and Xed-out ads are the product of the judicial campaign of Republican Steven Getman, whose manager has a flair for both the dramatic and the annoying. I certainly question the candidate's judgment on those ad matters, but I'm not quite ready to render judgment on whatever the hell it was he did or didn't do up in Seneca County years ago when he held the same job there -- County Attorney -- that he holds here.

No, I feel that Mr. Getman, who has done some fine work in Schuyler County, has a right -- or would in a more perfect world -- to want to forget that chapter in his life. I think at heart he is a good man, and I feel a bit sorry that he has found himself ensnared by bits and pieces of that past being circulated in print -- and, voila, certain (possibly erroneous) conclusions being reached.

The thing is, when you put yourself out there for a public office, that past becomes fair game in the media and in public discourse -- whether truly fair or not. And the more a candidate might wish it away by silence, the worse the situation is likely to become.

So ... the guns and X's aside, I have to say the man would have done well -- better, anyway -- to try and get out in front of this whole Seneca County thing; not ignored it and not tried to wish it away.

When asked at a Candidates Night forum at the Watkins Glen Elementary School to explain what happened those years ago, he dodged the issues of legality that seemingly challenged him back then in the form of a lawsuit or two.

If he did do anything wrong, a mea culpa might have gone a long way toward soaking up and dispensing into mist the negativity that seems so turgid now. This was a cancer of sorts allowed to fester and grow. And we know how that goes ....

Words come to mind in the midst of this, triggered by its seeming mysteries: nebulous, cloudy, dark, indeterminate, cryptic, ambiguous, and equivocal. It leaves me wondering: What exactly did Mr. Getman do, if he did. But judging by the fog of sealed records and his own silence on that matter, I have to think he at least might have. We humans are naturally suspicious.

Then again, does it matter? Well, some will proclaim loudly that "Hell, yes, it matters. Judges should be above reproach" and beyond question of character. Others are no doubt more charitable: The past should remain there; besides, we all have a past, and we often can learn valuable lessons from it, and perhaps especially from missteps. He who is without guilt, and all of that.

I've puzzled for weeks about this; how to approach it. It all seems so ... well, partisan, of course. But it also begs the question of fairness (that word again). I might not have commented at all, if not for that Candidates Night. Mr. Getman, by his answer -- which beyond embracing the secrecy of court seals, offered up his ex-wife as the reason for his departure from Seneca County (she didn't like it there) -- really opened the gates of discourse. It's out there now, at least in part.

I'm still not judging what he might or might not have done up there; my reading of it fails to set off alarm bells that anything truly outrageous might trigger. Even accusations by critics regarding his alleged issuance of criminal subpoenas beyond the authority of his office, in an attempt to force the identification of anonymous chat-room participants, seems to me -- while appearing unwise and extralegal -- to lack full context. Bits and pieces gleaned from the past by area journalists and in letters addressed to this website's Forum Page (unpublished, the publisher tells me, for the same contextual reason) do not, to my mind, make for a compelling case. Life is like an onion: multilayered, with multiple interpretations.

Beyond that, Mr. Getman has now circulated a letter, which arrived by mail Monday, saying there was "one thing I didn't count on" when he decided to run for judge, "especially not in a close knit, caring community like our own Schuyler County." That one thing? "That I'd experience derogatory rumors and innuendo about my character and experience."

He then addressed the rumors, but ... dare I say? ... it still left me with questions. I'd like to know the specifics from him of what started the legal entanglement in Seneca County that led to an ultimate resolution -- but has also led to the negative reports he decries. (For a full text of his letter, click here.)

If he can explain it all without creating yet more questions, great.

But having said that, Mr. Getman has fallen short of campaign savvy and, I think, common sense, by permitting this approaching train of awful publicity -- spewing acrid warning smoke -- to overtake him. He is now riding its cowcatcher, seemingly stuck there. His letter seems a less than forthright attempt to disengage.

I reminds me of an old TV show -- a popular one called Falcon Crest. A character played by Susan Sullivan -- the character was Maggie -- found happiness when she got engaged, and was wearing a big rock on her finger. She went swimming in her fiance's pool, and dove underwater to try and pry some toy soldiers out of a drain grate, and the rock -- and with it the rest of the ring, her finger and by extension her body -- got stuck down there at the grate, and she drowned.

The rock in this Schuyler (or is it Seneca) County case, I think, was the promise (or at least potential) of marriage of another sort -- to a 10-year judge's position which, if handled right, bestows its holder with prestige, not to mention a big photo on the courthouse wall. And the appealing vision of that promise -- Mr. Getman's own rock -- got him ensnared in the grate of the cowcatcher fronting the train that has overtaken him. Mr. Getman isn't literally drowning, but he's stuck and figuratively gasping for political traction.

It seems like a losing proposition, unless he can find a way, at this late date, to get in front of it all -- free himself from the cowcatcher and either outrun or sidestep the damn train.

To do that, I suggest, he has to unburden himself a bit more than he did at that Candidates Night or in that letter.

Maybe I'm reading the tea leaves wrong; maybe the politicos I've talked to are wrong, too, and the Republican line that Mr. Getman occupies on the ballot will carry him to victory.

But I doubt it. I think Mr. Getman might doubt it, too. He clearly wasn't happy with the Candidates Night question that raised the specter of his past. The timing was unfortunate, from his point of view, with the election bearing down and little time to counter what happened that evening.

So ... barring the unlikely power of the GOP backing, that cowcatcher would seem to spell defeat. And that's a shame; it's a shame if this whole thing has derailed what should have been a fair shot at the big prize. I believe, from his performance for Schuyler County, that Mr. Getman is as qualified as any of the other candidates -- Matt Hayden, Jessica Saks and Dan Fitzsimmons -- to be the judge. Any one of the four would serve the county well from the bench.

But as the saying goes, it is what it is.

Now, a little truth-telling -- a bit more frankness about that foggy episode in Seneca County -- might be the only chance left for Steven Getman.

Confession (or at least explanation) is good for the soul, you know. Maybe it's good for a campaign, too.




© The Odessa File 2019
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869

E-mail chaef@aol.com