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A story best written as an autobiography

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Darrel Aubertine, one of the best known political figures in Jefferson County whose career has ranged from farmer to county legislator to state legislator to commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, can’t seem to stay away from political IEDs.

The most recent example of this is the assertion by state Sen. Malcolm Smith that he “bought” the votes of eight fellow senators in 2008 to help him be elected majority leader. According to state Board of Election records, Darrel’s campaign committee received five donations from Sen. Smith totaling $9,500 in the month before the general election.

The New York Post reported that Mr. Smith alleged the eight candidates he supported were “on the payroll” to vote for him. The allegation is damning and needs to be addressed by Mr. Aubertine. But we presented him a number of opportunities to respond to them before we published Ted Booker’s story on the allegations, and he failed to respond.

Tis a pity. Because I suspect that Darrel’s reaction was one of surprise rather than resignation. We can’t know how all this went down, but let’s be fair: quid pro quo among senators in the same party is part of the definition of politics, and this type of quid pro quo hardly qualifies as being “on the payroll” for anyone.

A quick look at the campaign finance records of any state legislator who has faced a tough election battle will reveal that other state legislators of the same party facing little or no opposition frequently “share” their campaign chests with their embattled colleagues. As a Democrat in a heavily Republican district, Darrel NEVER had an easy campaign. That he would get help from his colleagues should be expected, not wondered at.

Sen. Smith is now under investigation for trying to bribe his way onto the Republican Party line in the last New York City mayoral election. This should tell you all you need to know about Mr. Smith’s ethical challenges and his problem-solving skills. With a couple dozen people seeking a ballot spot to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg, many of them real Republicans, any Democrat who thought cash would bring him an easy Wilson-Pakula designation to run on the party’s line was short in the reasoning department.

The allegation that Sen. Smith had fellow senators “on the payroll” was made to an FBI informant at a restaurant, and smacks of baloney and bravura. It doesn’t ring at all true.

And had Darrel jumped out in front of this, explained this was Sen. Smith’s version and that it didn’t reflect what he and the other senators understood, the lede on the story would have been very different. Unfortunately, he didn’t. Like a lot of politicians in this era, Darrel adopted a rope-a-dope strategy, pulling into a shell until it all blew over. Such a pity, when the truth would have served so well.

It unfortunately doesn’t end there, however. The continuing controversy over Cape Vincent’s Water District 2 has embroiled the Aubertine family, and the dispute, which would likely be a mere kerfuffle in most towns, has once again pitted Cape Vincent residents in a pitched battle. The wind farm developers may have folded their tents and trudged out of town, but the discord they fostered just keeps on and on.

Like the Smith allegations, had Darrel jumped out in front of the water district issue, it probably wouldn’t still be simmering. When the district was formed 17 years ago, it included just four parcels, including the Aubertine’s. In the ensuing years, seven more property owners have tied into public water on Darrel’s property. The problem, boiled down, is simple: those users are not in the water district, and if they want public water, they should be. But Darrel stuck a rake in the propeller on this issue when he refused to let town consultants on his property to check the hookups.

It was a stubborn and retributive act, but it wasn’t sinful. There is no evidence that Darrel is unduly profiting from the outside users tapping into his line, nor other signs of impropriety. The town would be satisfied to resolve this by expanding the district, changing the manner of charging for water to make it fair for everyone, and moving on. But the families involved, including Darrel’s, were on the other side of the wind farm issue from the majority of the Town Council, and that has clouded everyone’s view. Although, to be fair, the council appears poised to compromise more than Darrel and his District 2 neighbors are.

So here is this man, a farmer at heart, embroiled in a couple of major controversies that he needn’t be tangled in. A simple statement of fact in the matter of the dubious Smith allegation, and some movement toward meaningful compromise in the water district matter, could completely clear the air. To date, neither appears to be forthcoming.

We all write our own stories. Our decisions speak for us and when those decisions don’t include explanations, we allow others to edit the text of our lives that we should control. Darrel Aubertine has had a remarkable life by any standard. He has served the town, the county and the state at many levels, and served well. His book is rich and full and fascinating, and now, at this point in his life, he should speak up and make sure he continues to write his own libretto.

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