Isabel to change parties; council to shift

By JAIME STUDD

Recorder News Staff

First Ward Alderman Joseph Isabel announced on Sunday that he intends to change his political affiliation from Republican to Democrat. The move will give Democrats the majority control over the Amsterdam Common Council for the first time in seven years.

Isabel said the decision to become a democrat is one that he has been considering for some time.

"I have made the difficult decision to switch my political party registration from Republican to Democrat," Isabel wrote in a statement issued Sunday afternoon. "While my views on how to move the city forward have not changed, I feel that the party has. Over the past seven years, I have felt the Republican party slipping further away from the core values that are important to me."

"I have learned that cooperation is better than confrontation," he added. "I will continue to work with elected officials."

Sunday, Isabel said the decision was ultimately the result of what he feels has been a strained relationship in recent years with the local Republican party.

Isabel said he believes tensions actually began in 2006, when he voted against a proposed landfill in the city and that the issue came to a head this spring when he ultimately decided to support re-appointing Amsterdam Corporate Council Gerard DeCusatis to his position. Isabel had initially voted against the re-appointment.

"I was the deciding vote on the landfill and I've never really been in agreement with many people in the city republican party after that point and I just feel more comfortable making the switch," Isabel said. "Basically, there had been a lot of complaining in the party when I made the decision to retain [DeCusatis]. I felt that that was something necessary to keep the continuity there.

"That was one of the disagreements I've had with my fellow republicans that probably pushed me over the edge," he added. "I think that was about the final straw. I've taken a lot of negative from the republicans over that issue."

Isabel said he was eager to begin a working relationship with the local Democratic party.

"I look forward to working with Mr. (Amsterdam Democratic Committee Chairman Jeff) Stark and the Democrats. I feel they have a more progressive organization and I am looking forward to working with them," Isabel said. "I'm kind of impressed with what Mr. Stark's doing with the city Democrats."

Isabel said he did not expect his decision dramatically change the face of politics in the city because his votes will remain, as they have been, a reflection of his dedication to what he believes to be best for Amsterdam residents.

"It's not making a switch of the ideals because if you look back at my voting record, I've always been a moderate. I've always voted that way. I still will," Isabel said. "I vote what I feel is best for my constituents that I serve and I still will vote that way."

Stark said he could sympathize with Isabel's position, having changed his enrollment from Republican to Democrat years ago.

"I came to have the values of the Democratic party and more closely associated with it, so I switched. I think that's what's happened to Joe," Stark said. "I think, over the years, he's just identified more with the Democratic party and their values as the Republican Party has gone more to the right. There's many of us out there who were moderate Republicans who have now been pushed."

"Joe's his own man," Stark added.

Stark said Isabel approached him several weeks ago about switching his party affiliation.

"He wanted to know if we would welcome him and I assured him we would," said Stark. "He's a fine gentleman and well-known and just an all-around good guy."

Stark also denounced the idea that the move would have major political implications on city politics.

"This is not a move to control city politics. This is, what I believe, is a man who has, over the years, come to identify more with the philosophy and the values of the Democratic party. So, he wants to be involved in the political aspect and work with the Democrats," Stark said.

Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane said she was not surprised by Isabel's decision and that she also expected Isabel to continue voting his conscience and not along party lines.

"I'm happy that he's decided to become a Democrat. I've always been very proud of being a democrat myself, but I would hope, really always, we're just voting about what's best for the city, no matter who proposes a certain action, we should all be doing what's best," Thane said.

Montgomery County Republican Committee Chair Joe Emanuele said Isabel approached him over the weekend with his plans and that he first asked him to take some time to reconsider, but that he supports Isabel in the move.

"Joe has served his community very well over the years. He's a pillar in Amsterdam and everyone knows and likes Joe Isabel," said Emanuele. "His choice to leave is his choice and the Republican party wishes him well and we'll miss him."

"I think Joe will continue to serve his ward whether he's a Republican or a Democrat," Emanuele added.

Third Ward Alderwoman Gina DeRossi who, along with Fifth Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero, now remain the only two Republicans on the Common Council also expressed her support for Isabel on Sunday.

"Obviously, we like having the majority, however, knowing Joe Isabel as I do and his past voting record, I think that he has always kind of voted how he felt was best and not necessarily down party lines. So, I think that he would probably still be supportive," DeRossi said. "At least I hope so. He certainly didn't vote for everything Republicans wanted when he was a Republican."

"I guess we have to wait to see how it plays out, but I would expect that he would continue to vote the way that he feels is best," she added.

DeRossi said she believed Isabel's decision to change his affiliation to be a loss for city Republicans.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed that he didn't get support from our party and felt he needed to make this move," DeRossi said. "I'm disappointed in the party in having lost him because I think he is an asset and was an asset to our party as well."