The Democratic Party is facing internal turmoil in a battle over its only declared candidate for Onondaga County executive. The party’s executive committee says it’s withdrawn any support for candidate Toby Shelley after remarks on profiling. Bill Carey says it’s a battle centered on Shelley’s backing from local conservatives and the meaning of “profiling.”
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Toby Shelley says county voters deserve a choice for county executive. Approached to take on the job of being a challenger, Shelley’s first support for running for county executive came from the Conservative Party.
“We felt that he would be a good contrast to the current county executive. Obviously, we have some issues with the county executive’s fiscal policies in Onondaga County and Shelley offered a refreshing change,” said Onondaga County Conservative Party Secretary Bernie Ment.
But, when it came to his own Democratic Party, Shelley faced criticism from those questioning Conservative Party support for things like profiling by police.
“Bottom line, we believe law enforcement should be supported, rather than simply reined in,” Ment said.
Shelley said his own position is nuanced. He told a columnist at the Syracuse New Times there is a difference between racial profiling and so-called “police profiling.”
He then said, “[…] For example in Marcellus, a community that is mostly Caucasian, if you see someone who looks different, you might just stop and talk to them, ask how they’re doing,” he said.
“We could have worded that better. It was taken out of context. If you listen to the entire context, you’ll find that there’s a distinct difference between racial profiling, which I am totally opposed to and have never done, and police profiling which would protect communities,” Shelley said.
For some Democrats, though, the statement crossed a line.
“This is a national wound, that’s bleeding right now. And just to make careless remarks like that is, you know, appalling,” said Onondaga County Democratic Chairman Mark English.
The leadership support is gone, but Shelley still expects to gather enough petition signatures to be on the ballot as a candidate for both Conservative and Democratic parties.
“I feel good. I feel confident,” he said. “Our campaign continues to fight. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the right fight to make. We will get out petitions done. We have good support. We have good people helping us.”
For now, the Democratic chairman isn’t saying what might happen if Shelley does ends up on the Democratic line.
Candidates have until July 9 to file petitions with the board of elections. Just over 2,000 signatures are required to qualify for the county executive race.
“This has been brutal. Since Wednesday, it’s been a very brutal experience. For everyone. Toby too,” English said. “And we’re not prepared to make flat statements like that.”