Gov. Kathy Hochul could have a say in who succeeds Jon Budelmann as Cayuga County district attorney.
Budelmann, who was first elected district attorney in 2007, will resign after being elected Cayuga County Surrogate Court judge this year. Under the state’s Public Officers Law, Hochul has the authority to appoint a new district attorney.
It’s a gubernatorial power that hasn’t always been used. Hochul’s predecessor, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, had multiple local elective offices that were vacant for a time during his tenure. But he declined to appoint successors for those offices. Instead, they were filled at the next general election.
Hochul hasn’t indicated whether she will fill the vacancy. A spokesperson for the governor told The Citizen that she is “reviewing her options and will have more to share in the future.”
However, there have been conversations about the possibility of Hochul, a Democrat, appointing a new district attorney. Cayuga County Democratic Chairwoman Dia Carabajal said that local elected officials are in “constant contact” with the governor’s office on a range of issues. She confirmed that there have been discussions about the upcoming vacancy.
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“I know it is her prerogative to appoint at this point in time,” Carabajal said. “We certainly have qualified candidates throughout the county that could be appointed.” She declined to identify any of the potential candidates for the seat.
If Hochul appoints someone from her party, they would be the first Democratic district attorney in the county since Ross Tisci, who was the top prosecutor in the early 1980s. Republicans, including Budelmann, have held the post for nearly 40 years.
Cayuga County Republican Chairman John Camardo did not respond to a request for comment on Hochul’s potential appointment.
Regardless of whether Hochul will take action, there is a succession plan for when Budelmann departs. The order of succession lists Brittany Grome Antonacci, deputy chief assistant district attorney, as first in line to replace Budelmann. After his resignation, she will become acting district attorney.
The future of the district attorney’s office was a topic at the Cayuga County Legislature’s Judicial and Public Safety Committee meeting in November. Cayuga County Legislator Tim Lattimore asked Budelmann about the succession plan and whether the vacancy created by his resignation would be filled by a gubernatorial appointment.
“No, there’s an order of succession that’s been filed with the clerk of the county, as well as the clerk of the legislature, that specifies the order of succession in the event that I’m unable to fulfill my duties as district attorney,” Budelmann explained. “Upon my resignation, that would take effect and the acting district attorney would be named and appointed in that fashion.”
Budelmann later acknowledged that the governor could appoint someone to fill the seat. But, he added, “that’s a very rare occurrence.”
Hochul is familiar with the process of governors filling vacant local elective offices because she was once on the receiving end of an appointment. In 2007, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer named Erie County Clerk David Swarts commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles. To replace Swarts, Spitzer appointed Hochul — who was then deputy clerk — as county clerk.
Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.
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