Q&A with Oneida County Clerk Candidates

Residents will have the option to nominate a new Oneida County Clerk when they vote on Election Day, November 8, or by early voting, available October 29 through November 6.

Mary Finegan, a Republican, and Merima Smajic-Oren, a Democrat, are running for Oneida County Clerk after Sandra J. DePerno officially announced her retirement at the end of 2021. DePerno, whose term expires Dec. 31, was elected in 2006.

Here’s what the candidates had to say about their decisions to run for the job, the biggest issues facing Oneida County, and what they think makes them best suited for the job.

Candidates are listed in alphabetical order and answered the same three questions. Their responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Mary Finegan, Republican

I am the youngest of seven children, born and raised in Oneida County and have always resided there. My father was a WWII veteran and my 95 year old mother remains the backbone of our family. For the past 17 years, I have served as the elected City Clerk of Whitestown, the county’s second most populous city.

During my tenure, I modernized case management, streamlined the FOIL process and provided exemplary customer service to our citizens.

I would be honored to be the next Oneida County Clerk and will use my years of office experience to modernize the DMV and reduce wait times, improve case management and provide excellent service to those who use the services of the county clerk. I will make all decisions based on one basic commitment: to provide the highest quality service at the most cost effective to ratepayers. I will also create a culture of employee engagement that supports talent development and advancement.

Why did you decide to run for Oneida County Clerk?

I chose to run for County Clerk of Oneida because I saw a need for revitalization and modernization of the County Clerk’s Office and the DMV, and I know I have the experience to management to achieve this. The DMV struggled to operate, with office closings, long lines, overworked employees and disgruntled users.

As city clerk, I successfully solved similar logistical problems. I have made customer service my number one priority. My staff will work as a team to revitalize and modernize not only the DMV but other departments under the supervision of the County Clerk. I’ve done it for Whitestown and will do it for Oneida County, using the knowledge of management, budgeting, and customer service gained over years of experience.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing the county and what can you do about it as a clerk?

As in most other communities, the economy and public safety are obviously the biggest issues facing the county. I would use my elected status to advocate for policies that increase economic opportunity, lower taxes and make our streets safer. The biggest issue facing the county clerk’s office is the proper staffing and operation of its DMV offices. I recently “reached out across the aisle” to help the current county clerk find a way to reopen the Rome DMV full-time. If elected, I will continue to work collaboratively with county officials to make our DMV office a place we will be proud of.

Why do you think you should win the election?

My years as a clerk make me the only candidate with experience running a clerk’s office. I prepared budgets, supervised staff and provided direct services to the public. Frankly, there is an awful lot of work to do to restore public trust in the Oneida County Clerk’s Office. The county clerk’s office is the public face of county government and for years has failed to meet expectations.

Merima Smajic-Oren

Merima Smajic-Oren, Democrat

I came to America from Bosnia when I was 4 years old. I’ve lived in the Cornhill section of Utica all my life, only leaving to attend Albany Law School. I am also a graduate of Utica Public Schools, Mohawk Valley Community College and Utica College.

I became a citizen of the United States, the right way. I worked hard, obeyed all laws and wasted no opportunity this nation gave me.

Becoming a lawyer is the proudest day of my life. I’m also a real estate broker who never abandoned my neighborhood, but rather clung to it and invested in it. I was born in a town less than two hours from Srebrenica, the place where 8,000 helpless men and boys were put to death. I know what happens when good people sit around and do nothing. I’m not made like that, that’s why I became a lawyer. So I could stand up and fight when the government is not for its people.

Why did you decide to run for Oneida County Clerk?

It’s a job I know I can do. As a lawyer and real estate professional, I have worked with the County Clerk’s Office my entire career.

As an attorney practicing in the State Supreme Court, I fully understand the responsibilities of the clerk to New York’s most important trial court.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing the county and what can you do about it as a clerk?

The most pressing issue facing the county clerk’s office is the Department of Motor Vehicles in general and the Rome DMV in particular. I was able to reopen the Rome DMV by pushing for it before the county legislature three times, while my opponent did not.

I don’t believe the county executive has any intention of keeping the Rome DMV open after this election is over.

As clerk, I am an elected independent from the county. I will use my abilities and my position to the fullest extent possible to keep it open.

Why do you think you should win the election?

My opponent says she is the only candidate with clerk experience, which is not true. The truth is, she’s the only candidate to have a clerk’s title when I’m a lawyer. In short, I draft the documents that the clerk classifies. My opponent can’t do it because she’s not a lawyer.

There is no connection between his functions as municipal clerk and the responsibilities of county clerk. She handles dog permits and parking permits, neither of which falls under the county clerk.

I’ve handled deeds, mortgages, and Supreme Court lawsuits, all of which go through the county clerk. My profession requires me to work day in and day out with the county clerk’s office. My opponent has no such experience.

My opponent is [Oneida County Executive] Tony Picente’s puppet and she will remain Picente’s puppet if elected. The state constitution requires that it be an independently elected office and answerable only to the people.

About Eleanor Blackburn

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