Tom Leo Staff writer

The Post-Standard

The architect of the recent police merger in Clay could see it no other way. Jim Rowley, the Clay supervisor who spearheaded the consolidation effort with the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office, is an accountant by trade.

He has an analytical mind. He sees black and white. He sees numbers.

"The numbers told me it made too much sense not to do it," Rowley said. "As an accountant, I don't see the value in paying $2.4 million for a police force when there are other layers involved you should be utilizing."

By his count, the merger will save Clay taxpayers about $1 million in the first year and up to $17 million over the next decade.

Rowley, 46, has become a celebrity, of sorts. He's being hailed statewide -- even by Gov. David Paterson -- for not only masterminding the merger plan but also getting it accomplished in only about three months.

"I purposely designed it that way," Rowley said. "I pushed my Town Board. I pushed the county. I kept pushing, pushing, pushing. And I think, strategically, it was the best thing to do because it forces people to react."

After an overwhelming vote in favor of consolidation, the Clay Police Department was abolished and the Sheriff's Office started dedicated patrols July 7.

So far, the merger has been seamless, Rowley said. And now leaders from other municipalities statewide have started to telephone Rowley to pick his brain and ask him for advice, he said.

There's even talk of Rowley someday running for higher office at the county or state level, although Rowley -- a Democrat turned Republican -- says he has little interest. His current plans are to run again for Clay supervisor in November.

"Jim is young, he's articulate, personable ... he's all those things," said former state Assemblyman Michael Bragman, who helped get Rowley involved in local politics. "I think with what he's just gone through, there are opportunities that will arise for him. He may not seek them out. It may be those opportunities seek him out."

County Executive Joanie Mahoney, who embraced the consolidation plan and helped execute it, said if the merger had been unsuccessful, it could have meant political suicide for Rowley. The Clay police union fought against the merger. Rowley received some scathing letters from some town residents. Other town supervisors told Rowley he was crazy for trying, Rowley said.

"I knew there would be some flak, and I developed a thick skin," Rowley said. "My attitude was I just didn't care about the consequences politically."

"If we had more people who are leaders in the community who are willing to do what is in the best interest of the community over what was in their own personal best interest, this community would be so far ahead," Mahoney said.

Rowley says he's not a hero. He's just a simple, hardworking, family-oriented guy who thinks of town politics as a hobby.

He graduated from Liverpool High School in 1979 and Clarkson University in 1983, where he was a member of the student senate.

He married his high school sweetheart, the former Tracy Toppin, shortly after college. They live in the town where he was born and raised.

"I wasn't a bowler or a golfer," Rowley said. "I wanted something to do, so I got involved in local politics."

One of the first things Rowley did after graduation was approach Bragman.

"I literally just knocked on his door and said, 'I'm just out of college and I want to get involved in politics,'" Rowley said. "He came out, introduced himself, brought me into his office, shut the door and we had a conversation. Bing, bam, boom -- the next thing you know, I'm working on his campaigns and I'm involved."

"There is no question Jim is a very bright individual, but being bright is not always the answer unless you've got some creativity and you've got some courage," Bragman said. "I think that was evident in Jim right from the very beginning."

Those attributes aside, Rowley lost his first two runs for elected office as a Clay councilman. That was as a Democrat in a heavily Republican town.

Rowley was a Republican in college, but switched his political affiliation and became a member of Clay's Democratic committee. In 1987, he ran on the Democratic ticket for Clay councilor and lost. When he applied to fill a Town Board vacancy in 1994, Rowley lost again.

After that second loss, Rowley said he became disenchanted with the local Democratic committee and briefly dropped out of politics. But he still had the political bug.

When he ran as a Republican in 1995, he finally won a seat on the Town Board.

"Clearly, he wanted a political future and he knew he could get that more so as a Republican," said Don McLaughlin, a Clay councilor from 1976-95 and the former chairman of the Democratic Party in Clay. McLaughlin was the last Democrat to serve on the Town Board.

"Philosophically, I'm more a Republican than a Democrat," Rowley said.

Rowley served as a councilor until 2006, when he was appointed supervisor after former Supervisor Mark Rupprecht announced his resignation. Rowley had been Rupprecht's deputy supervisor since 2003.

"Judging from what's happened, I would say, perhaps, Jim Rowley was my best accomplishment as Clay town supervisor," Rupprecht said.

Rowley's wife, though, wasn't convinced becoming supervisor was the best move.

"Jim's not so concerned with who likes him or who doesn't like him; he's going to do his best for the town," Tracy said. "I tend to worry more about what people think."

"My wife says I'm nuts; I know that," Rowley said. "But I enjoy politics."

Town supervisor is a part-time job in Clay. Yet, suddenly, Rowley may have a full-time political future, possibly beyond Clay.

"Never say never," he said. "But I didn't get into this for recognition and I didn't go through this police merger to make a name for myself.

"For example, I'm a Republican, and I look at the Assembly seat and think, 'Why would I want to be a Republican in a Democratic-controlled Assembly and go back and forth to Albany and bang my head against the wall?' What could I really accomplish?

"I wouldn't completely rule that out, but I'm not really interested," he said.

Rowley says there's a simple formula to be successful, whether it's on the job, in politics or at home.

"Just roll up your sleeves and get to work. That's how I try to live my life," he said. "Whatever success I've had, I've worked for it. I think it's paying off."