CHESTER — The two most financially well-endowed candidates for Orange County Executive have dropped out, and now the two remaining candidates are sparring over whose campaign is more worthy of underdog status.
The development has broken the pattern of past campaigns, when Ed Diana finished the race as both the top fundraiser and the top vote-getter in the county.
The atypical 2013 executive's race began with four candidates: Republicans Edward Diana, Michael Sweeton, and Steve Neuhaus and Democrat Roxanne Donnery.
This time around, Diana raised more than $225,000 in new political contributions, only to relinquish his campaign due to health concerns.
As for Sweeton, donors gave more than $135,000 to his campaign for Town of Warwick Supervisor. Despite having raised about half of Diana’s total in just ten months, Sweeton too conceded his bid soon after losing the Republican nomination in early June.
Sweeton said his campaign will keep the money.
“We raised those funds for our effort to run for county executive based on certain issues and our vision for the county,” Sweeton said. "That’s the spirit in which we sought the funds, and that will be the spirit in which we expend them.”
And then there were twoOf the two remaining candidates, Neuhaus’s account balance is the most in-line with the high yields of the candidates who have dropped out of the race.
By early June, when Neuhaus secured the GOP line, the Neuhaus campaign had raised roughly $110,000, according to state contribution reports.
Both Sweeton and Neuhaus enjoyed the rich support of the Rosenberg family of Florida.
Based at the same address in the Village of Florida, The Bila Family Partnership gave Neuhaus $10,000, while Viola Real Estate LLC and Rosenberg Land Development LLC together gave $10,000 to Sweeton.
“The Rosenbergs are the children of the family that founded the Shop Rite Corporation,” said Neuhaus, who met the family through his work with several charitable organizations for veterans. "The company is called Big V."
Meanwhile, Donnery has won a fraction of the contributions of her opponent.
Her campaign for county executive has banked a mere $2,629 since 2010 and roughly $12,000 over the entire life of the account, according to campaign records.
Disparities questionedBoth Donnery and Neuhaus call themselves underdogs.
“Our campaign was like ‘The Little Engine That Could,’" said Neuhaus, comparing his fundraising efforts to those of Sweeton and Diana. "We’ve had to go up against two big bruisers."
Donnery said her campaign account has been slower to grow because of the style of her campaign.
“It’s got to be smaller because we’re running a grassroots campaign, going to the people,” Donnery said.
Each candidates poked holes in the other's claim to be the one running a scrappy, authentic campaign.
“Steve Neuhaus is the pay-to-play guy,” said Donnery. “He is a continuation of the past. If you elect him county executive, all you are going to do is change the name tag. There is going to be absolutely no change.”
Of the four campaign accounts, Diana and Neuhaus are the most similar. Together, the incumbent and the newcomer hold more than 40 individual and group donors in common, including donations from local developers, contractors and conservative leaders like William DeProspo, chairman of the county GOP.
“So, Eddie Diana has been the county executive," Neuhaus said. "A lot of those same donors that are donating to him — like the building trades, the construction contractors, all those different types of organizations that represent a lot of business interests — now that the dust is starting to settle, they are starting to flock to my candidacy more than they would to Roxanne Donnery’s, because Roxanne Donnery does not have any track record with businesses.”
Republican Supervisor Frank Fornario of Blooming Grove, who has endorsed Donnery, disagreed with that assessment.
“Roxanne has run her own small business, and a lot of her support comes from small donors and smaller businesses,” he said.
Understating party tiesBoth Fornario and Sweeton said Neuhaus’s success is due to his work as a political operative with the New York Republican Assembly.
From 2008 to 2011, Neuhaus drew a salary of more than $60,000 a year for his work as the Mid-Hudson Regional Representative of the Assembly Republicans, on top of his local paycheck as Chester Town Supervisor, according to state payroll records.
“As part of what he did in that job, by definition, it made him interact with the same exact people that were going to evaluate us in the committee process,” said Sweeton, a fellow Republican. “So he had an advantage. There is no question.”
But Donnery is no neophyte when it comes to running big-money campaigns and appealing to party powers, said Neuhaus.
“Three years ago she ran for State Assembly against Nancy Calhoun and had hundreds of thousands of dollars infused into her campaign from New York City Democrats under the leadership of Sheldon Silver,” Neuhaus said. “So she has taken tons of money from outside sources, and I can assure you — whether she says it or not — those dollars came with strings attached for support for votes on one thing or another."
Her campaign account for Assembly accounted for roughly $200,000 in donations, including a $52,694 gift from the Assembly Democratic Committee.
Having both accused the other of courting transactional relationships under the guise of cultivating donors, Neuhaus and Donnery both said they support a county measure that would impose tougher campaign finance rules and prohibit pay-to-play deals.
“The problem comes from 42 years of single-party control,” said Donnery.
Neuhaus said he believed in the competitive bidding process, but said the state needs to work to keep sweetheart deals from influencing government.
“New York is probably the last in the country when it comes to campaign finance laws,” Neuhaus said, “I have said it publicly in the past that there definitely needs to be more scrutiny on how things are done to ensure it’s not pay-to-play."