IRVING — J.C. Seneca decided back in June that he would run for president of the Seneca Nation of Indians on the One Nation Party ticket.
He’s run twice before in 1992 and in 2000. He’s served as Seneca Nation treasurer and has three times served as a tribal councilor.
Seneca is in a three-way race for the Seneca Nation presidency Nov. 1 with Seneca Party candidate Todd Gates, the current Seneca Nation treasurer, and independent candidate Sally Snow.
Seneca is the owner of Native Pride Plaza in Irving.
Seneca and his supporters were shocked to learn on Tuesday that one of their candidates had dropped out just prior to Monday’s midnight deadline and the One Nation party would lose its straight line vote — one mark to signify a straight party line vote for all candidates in that party.
“It eliminates the ability for us to have the straight line vote,” Seneca said in an interview in his Irving headquarters on Thursday.
The ruling Seneca Party has the straight line vote option.
Seneca said the Seneca Party’s straight line vote has been a form of intimidation in the past. If Seneca Party poll watchers heard more than one lever being pulled in the old voting booth, they would know the voter didn’t pull the straight line vote for the Seneca Party, he said.
Now, with the new electronic voting, people fill in the circle opposite their choice for office, and poll watchers can’t hear the click of the level in the voting machine. However, he said, if someone takes longer than the time it takes to fill in a single circle, they may be accused of splitting their, or voting for another party’s candidates, Seneca said.
Not voting a straight line vote could cost someone their job, their relative’s job, even their house, Seneca said.
He said Seneca party chairman Donald John had pressured One Nation candidate Jack Sherlock to drop out of a police marshall race, leaving the One Nation Party without the straight line option.
“They knew what they were doing,” Seneca said. “It was a conspiracy.” It is a repeat of the 2014 election when the new One Nation Party lost the straight line vote option. That cost Darlene Miller from becoming the first woman president of the Seneca Nation, Seneca said.
He petitioned the Board of Electors to consider an affidavit from Sherlock outlining the circumstances of his withdrawal as a candidate Monday night. Seneca and about 20 of his supporters marched outside the William Seneca Building on the Cattaraugus Territory as the Board of Electors met to consider the petition Friday. No decision was immediately announced.
“Ours is a well-balanced ticket,” Seneca said. “People should control the government. I’m confident and hopeful the Board of Electors need to do the right thing.”
“They will do anything to retain control,” Seneca charged. “It is the suppression of our people. If you speak up, you get threatened and blackballed.”
Seneca said the Seneca Party’s 18-year control of the tribal government has led to corruption. “There is a disregard of people’s rights, threats of violence and ruining people’s lives. We’re supposed to be helping each other. People are scared.”
Seneca has issued plans with six key elements that would be the foundation of his administration if elected.
- Financial stability and accountability.
- Preserving the Seneca culture and language
- Address the drug and alcohol crisis that plagues the territories and surrounding areas with increased treatment, prevention and stepped-up law enforcement
- Improve the delivery of health services by increased hours
- Government reforms. “How can we make things better and fair to everyone?”
- Remove government interference and corruption.
Seneca said he and his One Nation party supporters “are doing everything we can to get the word out.” He says he’s held listening sessions on both territories, lunches and meetings in some of the urban areas where there are large numbers of enrolled Senecas including Buffalo, Rochester, Jamestown and Erie, Pa. Other are going door to door and the One Nation Party is also using Facebook Live to get his message across.
Under Seneca party rule, the poor have been forgotten, he contends.
“We’ve got a $190 million budget,” Seneca said. “There shouldn’t be people left behind.
“It is those who live off the territories who are the forgotten ones. They want health care. They want to connect with their homeland. We need to look at providing better services for all Senecas.”
A combination of high debt and declining gaming revenues is another threat down the road, Seneca said.
“We’re surrounded by competition that will restrict our revenues,” he said. “Strong leadership would look out for the best interest of our people.”
Seneca wants to look past tax-free gas and cigarettes and gaming to other revenues. He wants projects like Fed Ex in Hamburg and Solar City in Buffalo.
“We have to create jobs for our people,” he said. “We have to provide opportunities.”
The nation can offer incentives for businesses interested in locating on the New York State Thruway near the Silver Creek interchange and near the junction of Interstate 86 and Route 219 in Salamanca.
“This election is so important for our people,” Seneca said.
The thing that pushed him to seek the president’s office was the heroin overdoses that have become commonplace on the territories and surrounding communities all over Western New York.
“Nothing was being done,” Seneca said. “We need to tackle this drug epidemic head-on.”