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Erie County Clerk candidates square off in East Aurora debate

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The Erie County Clerk's office is ministerial, meaning most of what it does is processing paperwork and issuing documents, like DMV licenses of various sorts and gun permits. In a debate Tuesday night, incumbent Mickey Kearns and Democratic challenger Angela Marinucci agreed on a lot of things.

It wasn't all roses. Kearns took a shot at Marinucci for accepting a $20,000 campaign donation from Democratic headquarters.

They appeared together at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the Aurora Senior Center in East Aurora, featuring a series of local races and a packed house.

A key question revolved around how well the office works. Alleged problem getting a boat licensed was cited. Kearns said there are problems in the office involving personnel, but says there are changes underway.

"When people don't come into the Auto Bureau and they're not ready. That's why we came up with the Ready Center," Kearns said. "They come in. They don't have the proper documentation. We're not going to ignore them and we're going to get them ready. After we get them ready, we're going to sit down. I dealt with a 93-year-old woman today. We made her a reservation. Tomorrow, she will go in at 11 o'clock and she'll be out in 15 minutes."

Kearns said he is working with staff on training.

Marinucci said there are serious problems that need to be resolved.

"I've heard issues of bathrooms. I've heard issues of unequal treatment in getting driver's licenses. I've heard of issues of it taking 13 months for that post office - and I just heard that, recently, from one of my union contacts, who said they've been waiting for almost 14 months now," Marinucci said. "And what I think we need to be doing is making sure that we have a streamlined process, like we would in a big office, to make sure everyone is on the same page and you get the same response."

Marinucci said there needs to be more voters.

"We do have a dearth of voter turnout in our country and we should be making it easier - and not harder - for those people to get to the polls and to vote," she said. "We should be expanding in ways such as early voting, absentee voting and immediate registration, which is available in other states in our nation. As to the question, there has been no proven widespread voter fraud."

The question was, What could be done to get more people to vote?

Kearns said he knows what needs to be done in Albany.

"As a former New York State Assembly member, I've already voted for all of these ideas," he said. "I believe in early voting. I believe in opening up the process in democracy. We could do the best we can. We do have lower voter turnout for Angela and I. This is a non-partisan office. We don't vote on any policy."

Kearns said basic changes in the election process require Albany's approval, perhaps pushed hard by the citizens back in the districts.

Marinucci is a lawyer in private practice, while Kearns was elected clerk to fill the term vacated by Chris Jacobs, when he was elected to the New York State Senate. A question from the audience asked what the candidates would do to keep people from moving away from the area as they grew up.

Kearns said he never left.

"I remember my father telling me one time when I was running, I wanted to quit. He says, 'Mickey, if you quit at this, you're going to quit at anything.' I tell that to my daughter," Kearns said. "She's a sophomore at Canisius College. 'Dad, I can't find a job. Yes, you can.' I always tell the kids you need to take any jobs you can get, any job. I was a garbage man when I graduated from Canisius College."

Marinucci said she left for college and law school and work, then came back.

"I am someone who left for 10 years to get my education and work in other areas, and I chose to come back here," Marinucci said. "There are other areas of the country that may offer more money or certain things in professions, but being back here was important to me. It's where I was raised. It's where my family lives and where I wanted my babies to be raised."

Marinucci has three daughters.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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