Handwritten ballots. Speeches. Sweaty summer nights at the senior center. That’s how we got the Democratic and Republican candidates for town office. But the Independence Party does things differently, with party chair and potential king-maker Len Bernardo making the choices. Last week, he announced his picks, and almost immediately, Saugerties candidates vowed to challenge them in September.
Getting the nod: former six-term Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel for that office, Bruce Leighton and Jimmy Bruno for Town Board; and Ray Mayone for highway superintendent.
Challenging (so far): Kelly Myers for supervisor, Marjorie Block and William Schirmer for Town Board.
They’ll need signatures from 36 of the 702 registered Independence Party voters (five percent).
If the 2011 contest between Helsmoortel and Myers was any indication, this endorsement could prove decisive. Consider: assuming the same vote totals, if Helsmoortel had the Independence nomination last time, he would have won 2507 to 2505. (Also assuming, as in 2011, that Helsmoortel has the Democratic and Working Families lines, and Myers has the Republican and Conservative lines.)
Helsmoortel, who started his career as a Republican, recently joined the Independence Party after many years without a party. Bernardo said in cases where one candidate belongs to the party and another doesn’t, the nod goes to the party member.
Myers said she thinks Independence Party voters should have a say on that.
“While I respect the right of the Independence Party to endorse enrolled Independence Party candidates, I also believe that it is in the best interest of the people who live in Saugerties that all candidates be properly vetted,” Myers said.
Myers suggested Helsmoortel might have less than pure motivations for joining the party. “When someone switches around that much and is that inconsistent, it’s hard for voters to understand his motives,” she said.
Helsmoortel’s decision to join that party predated this season’s other major party membership change, that of incumbent Highway Superintendent Doug Myer, who decided to become a Democrat after Republicans denied him their nomination. He, too, was rewarded with the support of his new party. If not for the switch, Myer may very well have been sitting home contemplating his future this fall after having lost the nomination to Ray Mayone. The move could help him hold on to his job, while in the case of Helsmoortel, many are wondering if the maneuver is just what he needed to do to recapture his old gig.
And while the Independence Party will be backing Helsmoortel and Leighton, Republicans will also be reaping the benefits of having courted Bernardo’s approval.
Republican James Bruno has received the Independence Party nomination and so has Mayone for superintendent of highways.
Bernardo said of his support for Mayone over Myer, whom he endorsed last election, “he (Myer) doesn’t seem to be very independent.”
The next major political event will be the Conservative Party caucus. It hasn’t been scheduled yet. That party usually endorses Republican candidates, but this year conservative activist Gaetana Ciarlante plans to make things interesting. After coming within a few dozen votes of nabbing the Republican nod from Myers, and making a spirited but futile appeal to the Dems a few weeks later, she’s hoping the third time will be a charm. If that happens, she could be the spoiler. If Helsmoortel holds onto the Independence nomination, it will be hard for Myers to make the math work.
Saugerties town politics can be difficult to discern at first glance. Let’s look at the contested races.
Though Democrats have the most registered voters of the parties, and Democrat-backed candidates have a majority on the Town Board, candidates tend not to be members of the party. On the board, Bruce Leighton, Fred Costello and Leeanne Thornton were all elected and reelected thanks to Democratic support, but all are members of the Independence Party, which has no Saugerties chapter. At present, the only Democratic candidates are Lanny Walter for town justice, Marjorie Block for Town Board, who joined the party earlier this year, and Doug Myer for highway superintendent, who joined last month after being spurned by his previous party, the Republicans, for that nomination. The other Republican nominees are all members of the Republican Party: Kelly Myers, Jimmy Bruno and William Schirmer for Town Board, Ray Mayone for highway superintendent and Dan Lamb for town justice.
Independence Party chair Len Bernardo is a town of Rochester businessman. His wife, Terry Bernardo, served recently as majority leader in the county Legislature (Republican). He ran for county executive in 2008.