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Edwards’ withdrawal shakes up fall campaign plans in Chautauqua

The political winds blow both ways in Chautauqua County, so the announcement by County Executive Greg Edwards last week that he would not be seeking re-election this year has stirred up significant interest.

Edwards’ decision, which he announced late Friday, came as a surprise to both his Republican and Democratic colleagues. County Democrats had planned this week to announce their candidate to oppose Edwards in the fall. With the race now wide open, that announcement will be delayed, according to county Democratic Committee Chairman Norman P. Green.

“We had settled on a candidate, but that candidate was preparing to run against an incumbent,” Green said Monday. In an earlier news release, he noted that other committee members “asked ... that we extend the search process for two weeks to avoid any criticism and listen to anyone else who might want to come forward.”

Green said Monday he already has heard from more than one person with interest in the race, now that the incumbent has taken himself out of it. He anticipates announcing his party’s candidate the week of May 13.

Edwards’ reach has extended beyond the westernmost county in New York State. In 2010, the outcome of the Republican primary led Edwards, once on the Rick Lazio ticket, to become the running mate of Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino and a candidate for lieutenant governor. And just four weeks ago, state GOP Chairman Ed Cox included Edwards’ name on a short list of five people he considered likely potential candidates to run against Andrew M. Cuomo for governor in 2014.

Edwards’ comment on Cox’s suggestion was a polite nondenial denial.

“I have really enjoyed leading [Chautauqua County],” he said, “and working with people and agencies on the state, regional and federal level. I am not planning on pursuing an elected position, but, you know, never say ‘never.’ ”

Edwards was considered a strong incumbent, despite an ongoing public disagreement in his second term over the future of the county-run Chautauqua County Home. Edwards supports selling the money-losing nursing home to a private operator; however, a suitable buyer has been hard to find and there has been a public campaign in some quarters to keep the home under the county’s management.

On Monday, Edwards, 52, who lives in Jamestown and grew up on a dairy farm, said he had never planned on a full-time career in politics. Until his successful run for county executive in 2005, he had worked as an attorney for 18 years.

“My passion was always to help others and improve their lot,” Edwards said. “As a lawyer, I was doing it one client at a time. Then I realized I wanted to try it on a broader landscape.”

He said he feels that he has accomplished many of the goals he set out to achieve.

“Our most easily demonstrated success is that, despite the fact that, as with every county in New York State, Chautauqua County expenses have gone up, and demand for services has gone up, all-in taxes from 2006 to 2013 have been reduced by $3.5 million,” Edwards said.

Edwards said that despite stepping back from his current job, he does hope to continue in public service, he added, pointing out, “I’ve got a 20-year career ahead of me.”