Matt Clyne, former political force among Democrats in Albany, joins the Conservative Party

ALBANY — Matthew Clyne, former chairman of the Albany County Democratic Party and local election commissioner, signed up for the Conservative Party where he was joined by several political allies.

Clyne has changed its registration in recent months. A county source told the Times Union that Clyne took several dozen Democrats with him when he changed his registration.

The Albany County Conservative Party committee is chaired by Thomas Spargo, a former state Supreme Court justice and once-renowned election lawyer, who served time in federal prison for attempting to shake up lawyers and soliciting a $10,000 bribe. The combination of Spargo and Clyne gives the county’s largest minor party two of the county’s foremost experts on state election law. It also likely signals a greater role for the party in county politics as electoral districts are redrawn.

Clyne, who also led the Bethlehem City Democratic Committee, was a political powerhouse in the county for years. For generations, Clyne’s last name has been synonymous with Democratic politics in Albany. His father, County Judge John J. Clyne, was an influential party insider who drafted the Empire State Plaza’s financial plan before embarking on a career on the bench where he earned the nickname “Maximum John for his severe punishments. His brother, Paul Clyne, was a longtime Albany County prosecutor who served one term as a district attorney before losing the 2004 Democratic primary to David Soares, who remains DA.

During his tenure as Elections Commissioner, Clyne clashed several times with some Democratic candidates. The clashes led to allegations within the party that it favored some candidates over others.

Clyne did not return calls or an email seeking comment.

In September 2020, Clyne was replaced as Democratic commissioner on the County Board of Elections. Clyne’s exit came after he refused to wear a mask during a recount of the primary vote in the district attorney race a few months earlier. Clyne chose not to seek another term as commissioner after County Legislature Speaker Andrew Joyce publicly said he would try to replace him.

He survived at least one earlier attempt to force him out of the commissionership.

Spargo declined to comment on the filing of Clyne’s decision to join the party, saying he needed someone’s permission before writing about it in the newspaper.

Several Democrats who know Clyne said they don’t know what prompted the change.

But one possible factor is the county’s Democratic Party’s philosophical shift to the left, leaving more conservative Democrats, or conservatives who have registered as Democrats, out of step with their party, which remains the dominant force in the politics of the county. county.

The change is particularly visible in Clyne’s former political base in Bethlehem, where progressive Democrats have taken over the city’s political committee.

The party is more progressive, inclusive and transparent than it was before, said county legislator Joanne Cunningham, who also serves as the city’s Democratic committee chair.

Another Bethlehem political operative joked that Clyne’s enrollment ultimately reflected his actual political beliefs.

Jake Crawford, the county’s Democratic party chairman, declined to comment.

Richard Stack, the longtime former chairman of the county’s Conservative party, said he thinks Clyne is representative of many voters who disagree with the gradual shift in Democratic policy.

“I’ve known Matt Clyne for a long time,” said Stack, who still serves on the party’s executive committee. “He’s a conservative guy, he’s Catholic, right to life. He’s the lost voter the Democratic Party is dying to get back and they’re not getting him back.”

Albany County Republican Party Chairman Randy Bashwinger said he heard about Clyne’s decision, but declined to speculate on why Clyne left for the Conservatives or what impact it will have. it could have on county politics.

“I have a good working relationship with Tom Spargo,” he said.

Bashwinger is also the highway superintendent of the city of Bern. Spargo, a former city judge who was convicted of attempted federal bribery and attempted extortion in 2009, was named chairman of the city’s zoning board in January.

In recent years, local Conservative Party membership has increased slightly. As of November 2019, there were 3,020 registered Conservative voters in the county, according to state registration data. In February 2022, the party had 3,436 registered voters.

The local third has played a role in county politics over the years, with its impact being much clearer in town races.

The Conservative Party endorsed lawmakers from suburban Democratic counties. The five Democrats who also ran on the Conservative line in their last election would have won their races without those votes, in part because three of the five had no opposition. The county’s Democratic officials, County Executive Dan McCoy and Sheriff Craig Apple, also ran to the Conservative Party line the last time they sought re-election. Both men also showed up on the Working Families Party line.

A decade ago, 13 Democratic county lawmakers, or a third of the legislature, ran with conservative support.

At the city level, the Conservatives’ endorsement swung key races.

In last year’s race for the Guilderland Town board, the Conservative Party’s endorsement cost the Republicans a seat on the board. The party chose to support incumbent board member Paul Pastore, a Democrat, rather than Brian Sheridan, the Republican nominee.

Sheridan came third in the general election for two open seats, behind two Democratic candidates. Pastore got 718 votes, while Sheridan received 3,414 to Democrat Amanda Beedle’s 3,751. Beedle was also given the green light by the Tories in the race.

And in Colony, the Conservative Party backed Democrats who won a City Council seat and a City Justice spot over Republican opponents.

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