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Toby Shelley’s Conservative Context

Toby Shelley will be running to hold office next fall against Joanie Mahoney.

Syracuse New Times editor-in-chief Larry Dietrich has one general rule about covering political contests. Larry’s Law goes like this: “Nobody pays attention to politics until Labor Day.”

He’s got a good point. We just emerged from a brutal winter. Downtown, people are sitting outdoors at sidewalk tables sipping a pint, jamming festivals and road races and, best of all, feasting on fresh local strawberries sent from Baldwinsville to drive those hard, tasteless California berries from the shelves.

We could be tempted not to care. If you listen to national media following the alleged presidential pursuits of Lincoln Chafee and George Pataki (yes, George Pataki) and more than a dozen others, the notion of a Larry’s Law prohibiting perpetual campaign reporting starts to sound better every day. Outdoors in the sunshine, it gets hard to remember just why we are supposed to care about who will hold office next fall.

Honoring the wisdom of Larry’s Law by making an exception, I wrote last week about the unusual alliances shaping up in this fall’s county executive race. Incumbent Republican Joanie Mahoney finds herself with plenty of support from traditional Democratic allies in the city, especially among African- American organizations, while the Dems struggle to find someone to oppose her. (She won her second term running unopposed in 2011.)

Then from the shores of Otisco Lake comes Toby Shelley, retired Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department sergeant, military veteran, part-time cop and farmer. Shelley, who lost his bid to be sheriff in 2014, says that he is running to give the people a choice. During his time in the military, which included a stint in Iraq, Shelley says he was fighting “for democracy, not autocracy” and it irks him when a politician gets a free pass on Election Day.

Shelley says he wasn’t looking to run. He was recruited for the post by his friends in the Conservative Party. He has the endorsement of the Democratic Committee and, if no primary foe emerges, he will be on both lines in the fall. Shelley believes the race is winnable. “The Conservatives recruited me. I think there should be enough votes on the Conservative line to win.”

Asked about that odd alliance, he asserts that Central New Yorkers are “mostly moderate people in the center. Conservatives and Democrats may be different, but if you agree with the Constitution and paying your bills, then we agree.”

Mahoney last week attacked the Democrats for supporting a candidate who would run on the Conservative line, noting that the Conservative platform, among other things, endorses profiling and stop-and-frisk as police tactics. Shelley says he hasn’t seen that in the Conservative platform. He should check the website, where support of profiling is right there next to support for hydrofracking and opposition to gun control.

When it comes to policing, Shelley said at first that you can’t profile people based on race. “You can’t stop someone just based on their appearance. There has to be a criminal activity afoot, and they have to meet the description of the suspect.” The former candidate for sheriff then volunteered that, based on his experience in law enforcement, context was important.

Speaking from his farm overlooking Otisco Lake, Shelley said that, “For example, out 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.”

Hmmm … Ask how they’re doing? That’s what he said. How is that different from stopping someone based on his appearance? If a cop sees a black person in an area where mostly white people live (even when there is no criminal activity afoot), that should raise concern?

It seems perfectly reasonable to the Democratic candidate for county executive, a man who last year ran for sheriff. Seems to me that stopping someone on the basis of skin color is the textbook definition of racial profiling.

In Toby Shelley’s world, being out in the county while black is grounds for being stopped by a cop. Small wonder that the city’s African-American political leadership is lining up behind Mahoney.

Speaking of summer, this season Sanity Fair will appear in the Syracuse New Times every other week, alternating with Jeff Kramer. And no more campaign politics ‘till Labor Day. That’s a promise.

Ed Griffin-Nolan

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