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Primary colors: The Bowers conspiracy theory

Jeremy Moule

Some Democrats say one potential primary race in the city might be a stealth attempt by the Republican Party to keep control of the County Legislature. But the challenger's campaign says they're simply taking a stand against Democratic Party politics as usual.

County Legislator Carrie Andrews, a Democrat, came into office four years ago after beating the party's chosen candidate in a primary. The time around, Andrews got the party's endorsement, and earlier this month, filed her petitions to run for re-election. She thought she was all set.

"No one else sought the designation from the 21st Legislative District committee, which is usually the early part of the process for running a campaign," Andrews says. "So since that was a unanimous vote and I won that designation, I guess that I didn't think a primary was likely."

But Andrews got a challenger later that week when Janice Bowers also filed petitions to run as the Democratic candidate in the 21st District. Both campaigns have filed objections to each others' petitions with the Board of Elections and a decision is pending.

Bowers doesn't have a lengthy political pedigree. She's been active in the 21st District committee in the past, but she's far more active with her church where she's worked with the social ministry, as a literacy volunteer, and as a former president of the board of the food cupboard.

To fully understand the genesis of Bowers' insurgent campaign, it helps to know that her husband is city Democratic activist and St. John Fisher poli sci professor Jim Bowers, who has something of an anti-establishment reputation in the party.

He backed Andrews the first time she ran for her seat in 2005. He helped recruit her to run against the endorsed candidate because he thought she'd be "independent and not be politics as usual," he says. But her record, he says, shows a legislator who always votes with her party and doesn't work with Republicans for legislation that would benefit her district. (Andrews, however, was a cosponsor of legislation that created a bipartisan budget panel, which she served on.)

"I regret that I ever helped to recruit her and I regret that I ever supported her," Bowers says. "It's one of the political mistakes I made in 2005."

But Janice Bowers is coming under scrutiny from Dems. A chief complaint is that she never approached party or local committee leaders about running for the office.

"I have not had any conversations with her. She hasn't reached out to me, which seems a little bit ironic," says Harry Bronson, the leader of the Lej's Democratic caucus and an Andrews supporter. "You would think if somebody wanted to be a county legislator that they would reach out to the leader of the party."

There's one aspect of Janice Bowers' candidacy and campaign that Democrats have been quick to draw attention to: the majority of her petitions were passed by Republican operatives. And some Democratic insiders suspect that those Republicans may be helping with the campaign as a way to help protect GOP control of the Lej. Republicans are in the majority by a single seat, and Democrats plan to campaign aggressively in hopes of gaining control.

"If you had someone who was sympathetic to your cause and who you could get elected, even as a Democrat, but could give you functional control of the Legislature, why wouldn't you do it?" says county Democrat Committee chair Joe Morelle. "There's literally no way to beat her [Andrews] as a Republican."

For the record, more than 60 percent of enrolled voters in the 21st Legislative District are registered Democrats.

Janice Bowers denies any ulterior motive; her reasons for running are pure, she says.

"It is my faith and desire to once again be more directly involved with and assist my neighbors and community that are driving my decision to run for the County Legislature," she says. "The decision to run and actively campaign is mine and mine alone."

As for his wife's Democratic bona fides: Janice Bowers has been a member of the party for 21 years - longer, Jim Bowers says, than Mayor Bob Duffy or District Attorney Mike Green.

If you look at the "suspected Republicans" that carried his wife's petitions, Jim Bowers says, "they were all young people."

"I have a fairly extensive network of current and former students which I then proceed to say 'If you want to help, bring friends.' I do not carry a litmus test for people who want to support me or support candidates that I am supporting. And Jan, who is the candidate, feels the same way."

The operatives also carried petitions for City Council candidate Tom Brennan, a Democrat.

Andrews has earned the respect and support of party leaders. She extensively questions the administration on legislation and issues and makes her opinions known in the Lej, especially on human services matters. She's earned a reputation within the party as a leader who works hard for her district, and for other Democrats as well, Morelle says.

If the primary doesn't go her way, Andrews still carries the endorsements of the Independence and Working Families Parties. With no challengers on those lines, she's guaranteed a spot on the November ballot.

Morelle says the party will back the Democratic candidate, whoever she is.

"I'm just confident it will be Carrie Andrews," he says.

But other members of the party feel differently. Bronson, who also carries the endorsement of the Working Families Party, says that if Andrews loses on the Democratic line, he'll support her on the Working Families ticket.

"I believe she offers a tremendous amount to the County Legislature," he says. "It would be a great loss if she were not with us."