In 2016, Jermaine Bagnall-Graham said state Sen. Jim Seward was part of the status quo in state government. Two years later, the former Democratic challenger is supporting the longtime Republican lawmaker.
Bagnall-Graham announced in a letter submitted to The Citizen that he has endorsed Seward, R-Milford, in the 51st Senate District race. He also revealed that he is no longer a registered Democrat. He is now an unaffiliated voter.
Seward, who was first elected to the state Senate in 1986, has been endorsed by Republican primary challengers after past elections. But never has a former Democratic opponent supported the Mohawk Valley legislator.
"This is a bit unique," Seward said in a phone interview Friday.
Bagnall-Graham, who lost to Seward by 42 points in the 2016 election, explained his decision in an interview with The Citizen. He has exchanged emails with Seward since the election and they had an in-person conversation a few weeks ago. After that meeting, he decided to support his former foe.
Seward, Bagnall-Graham said, has visited Sherburne, his hometown, "quite a bit."
One example of Seward's work he mentioned was a bill to allow for the sale of beer and hard cider ice cream. Gilligan's, a restaurant in Sherburne. The business also makes ice cream, and wanted to offer beer- and hard cider-infused ice cream.
To make that possible, the state Legislature needed to change the law. Seward sponsored a bill to allow the sale of beer and hard cider ice cream. It was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
"That's not something I would eat," Bagnall-Graham admitted, "but that made Gilligan's happy and customers happy. Gilligan's is one of the local businesses in our area. That was huge for them."
In his letter to The Citizen, Bagnall-Graham highlighted Seward's work to advocate for education funding and his support for the Chobani-backed Greenhouse Agricultural program in Sherburne.
Bagnall-Graham doesn't agree with Seward on many issues. The Democrat-turned-independent supports the Reproductive Health Act, a bill that would codify Roe v. Wade into state law and update New York's abortion laws. Most Senate Republicans, including Seward, oppose that measure.
Seward voted for legislation that would decouple state tests from teacher evaluations, but it also included a provision to raise the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in New York. Teachers' unions opposed the bill, and Bagnall-Graham disagrees with the senator's position.
"I don't agree with some of his very conservative votes or party line votes," he explained. "But overall, I think he's doing a good job as far as taking care of our district."
Seward does have a Democratic opponent this year. Joyce St. George, a Delaware County resident with a background in law enforcement and crisis management, is the Democratic nominee.
Bagnall-Graham is aware of St. George's campaign and her platform. But he believes Seward's focus on Chenango County sets him apart.
"He's been doing a lot of things in Sherburne that are making people happy," Bagnall-Graham said. "To me, that falls in line with the local issues and not the bigger picture of what she's campaigning on."
Seward said he's grateful for Bagnall-Graham's support.
"I serve all of the people of the district in a bipartisan way," he said. "This is just another indication of that."
Bagnall-Graham was a candidate for state Assembly this year. He announced in July 2017 that he would challenge Assemblyman Gary Finch, a Republican, in the 126th district.
He bowed out of the race in March. Cayuga County Legislator Keith Batman, a Democrat, is challenging Finch.
Despite no longer being a Democrat, Bagnall-Graham said he supports Batman in the state Assembly race.