Could GOP infighting hand Democrats the mayor’s office?

After nearly two weeks of see-sawing vote counts and gut-churning uncertainty, the race for Kingston’s City Hall finally came into focus this week with three candidates emerging from a bruising primary process that saw party favorites falling to under-funded grass-roots campaigners.

For Democrats, that means Shayne Gallo, a city attorney and brother of the late mayor T.R. Gallo will carry the party’s banner (along with those of the Working Families and Independence parties) in November. On the right, the Republican candidate, Alderman Ron Polacco (R-Ward 6) will likely split the vote with fellow Republican Richard Cahill Jr. who came in a distant third in the GOP primary but still holds the Conservative Party line. A fourth candidate, former Trolley Museum administrator and artist Steve Ladin, is running a long-shot campaign on a ballot line of his own creation — the Red Dog party.

The final results of the primaries represented, for Republicans and Democrats alike, a repudiation of party leaders by the rank and file. Back in June, Kingston’s Democratic Committee, led by Chairman Frank Cardinale, endorsed former media executive and Ward 9 Alderman Hayes Clement over Gallo by a nearly two-to-one margin. Running on a pro-business platform, Clement promised to leverage his private-sector experience to attract new investment and new residents to the city. The message resonated with business leaders and the city’s political class; Clement ran with support from most of his fellow Democratic council members. The message also played well with donors who contributed nearly $15,000 to his war chest and made him, by a wide margin, the best-funded candidate in the race.


Gallo, by contrast, raised just $5,560 in the run up to the primary and relied on a dedicated corps of volunteers for door-to-door campaign pitches. Among Gallo’s staunchest supporters was the Working Families Party, which sent out-of-town volunteers to Kingston to campaign on his behalf. The effort by the left-leaning third party, Gallo said, allowed him to compete despite the lack of support from the city’s Democratic establishment.

Slidshow image: Shayne Gallo, center, enjoys a light moment Monday with attorney Andrew Zweben, left, and campaign chairman Dan Gartenstein, right, during the final absentee ballot count Monday. (Photo by Dan Barton)

“If I didn’t have that canvassing effort of WFP working on my behalf, it is very likely that I would not have won,” said Gallo.

Crime first, then jobs

Gallo’s campaign relied on a simple message: economic development won’t come until the city addresses pressing quality-of-life problems like blight and crime. Gallo, who helped draft nuisance abatement legislation in his role as city assistant corporation counsel, hammered on themes like building code enforcement and holding social service agencies responsible for their clients’ behavior in a bid to appeal to working-class residents of Midtown, where quality-of-life crime and neighborhood eyesores are irksome and perennial issues. Gallo sought to characterize his opponent as favorite of party leaders out of touch with the regular Democrats of Kingston.

Ron Polacco. (Photo by Dan Barton)

But the paper-thin margin in the primary — Gallo ended primary night down by six votes and eked out a 708-701 victory 13 days later on the strength of absentee ballots — shows a Democratic party that is deeply divided. Healing that split and bringing the city’s 4,676 Democrats together for the general election will be a key concern as Gallo moves ahead. Outside the Board of Elections office on Wall Street, Gallo extended an olive branch to his erstwhile opponents moments after Clement conceded.