By CRAIG FREILICH
POTSDAM -- A Conservative Party candidate in the 116th Assembly District contest announced Monday that he had challenged his opponents to a debate Tuesday, but he might be the only one there.
Russ Finley of Lisbon said in an email that the debate was set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 26, at the community room in Potsdam Town Hall, 18 Elm St.
But other candidates who responded to our inquiries indicated they did not plan to attend.
The 116th District, known as the “River District,” includes all of the towns in St. Lawrence County along the St. Lawrence River plus the towns of Canton, Potsdam, Rossie, Macomb, and DePeyster, and part of Jefferson County.
Primary contests on Sept. 9 will sort out who will represent the Conservative and Republican parties in the November election.
The incumbent is Democrat Assemblywoman Addie Russell of Theresa, who is running again and faces no challengers from her party.
She said she thinks debates are useful, and would be useful for people who will vote in the Republican and Conservative primaries, but she will not debate anyone until after the primaries.
“Debates provide voters with a unique opportunity to get to know candidates who may be unfamiliar to them and are an important part of our electoral process,” Russell said in an email response.
“Primary voters in the 116th Assembly District should be able to hear where the various Republican and Conservative candidates stand on the issues before casting their votes in September.
“After the primary election is over and the voters have had the opportunity to select their candidate, I look forward to discussing the issues that face the people in the 116th Assembly District,” Russell said.
Finley, who has the backing of the Conservative Party leadership in St. Lawrence County, and John Byrne III of Cape Vincent, with support of Republicans, have both complicated the nomination process with “opportunity to ballot” petitions filed with Boards of Elections in the district.
The petitions allow each candidate to try to get the nomination of the other’s party in the primary through write-in votes. With the successful petitions, a voter in the Republican or Conservative party primary can write in the name of anyone regardless of the person’s party affiliation, if any. So Finley is hoping for write-ins in the GOP primary and Byrne seeks votes in the Conservative primary.
But it seems Finley’s hopes for a debate this week will not be fulfilled.
Attempts to reach John Humphrey of Brownville, another Republican who will be on the GOP primary ballot, did not elicit a response.
Byrne, who first seemed surprised by Finley’s invitation, said in a phone call he would attend if Russell would be there.
“He’s done this twice before,” said Finley, who says he challenged Byrne to participate in debates in Watertown and Massena, which Byrne did not.
That leaves Finley, who might have an audience in Potsdam but no one to debate.