Bob Aiello had lost an election. For about a week.
That’s how long it took for the absentee ballots in the Independence Party primary to be tallied. Opponent Chris Allen finished up the night of Sept. 10 with a lead, and usually absentee ballots break evenly. The next day Aiello conceded his first defeat in his 17-year political career, but vowed things would be different in November.
He didn’t have to wait that long.
Now gearing up for his tenth general election campaign, Aiello is being attacked more vigorously than in years past. Allen has called him “out of touch” for not communicating with the Village Board (the district includes the village) and questioned his attendance record in the Legislature.
Aiello says he’s not worried. Though he can be excitable and loquacious, he affects an air of the calm and knowing political pro when sizing up his opponent. He calls Allen’s statement that he could win the election without the Independence Party line “borderline insanity” because it says to the members of the party, “I don’t need you… If I were a member of the Independence Party that would rub me the wrong way. He just lost an endorsement for life if he attempts to make politics a career.”
Aiello, 65, often refers to the 45-year-old Allen’s relative youth, calling him “dude” in a letter to the newspaper and reminding voters his opponent was “a student at Riccardi Elementary” when Aiello was already in business as a hairdresser.
“He doesn’t have the experience I do,” said Aiello. “Running a campaign is an intricate piece of artwork. He’s not playing his cards right.”
A political campaign in Saugerties is an intricate piece of artwork? Really? Most local pols wouldn’t describe it that way. But ask anyone who knows him: Bob Aiello has always been an individual.
“In the eight years I’ve been working with Bob, out of all the legislators, Bobby has been one of the most unique and controversial,” says Dean Fabiano, who’s running unopposed in District III (Glasco, parts of Mt. Marion, Town of Ulster). Fabiano said he and Aiello are on the same page about 90 percent of the time, and describes him as “an independent thinker. He’s not afraid to stand on his own two feet. Not afraid to go against his party if he feels it’s the right thing to do.”
A self-described “ideas guy,” Aiello has been touting the idea of a research university in northern Ulster County since the late ’90s (he doesn’t understand why county and economic development officials didn’t run with the idea). He’s an advocate for a nationwide single-payer healthcare system, just about the most non-Republican view to hold at the moment. And while others have opted not to touch the “smart meter” controversy with a 40-foot pole, Aiello, a cancer-survivor, has jumped right in, saying the health effects of the technology have not been studied fully, and openly questioning the town’s purchase of 1800-plus new water meters. (That most opposition to the meters has been aimed at Supervisor Kelly Myers, a Republican fighting to keep her job, gives you some idea of why Aiello is often at odds with his party.)
He’s spent an enormous amount of time on Lyme disease, forming a committee and holding a hearing attended by many who say they suffer from a chronic long-term version of the disease not currently recognized by mainstream medicine. (Similarly, mainstream medicine also denies there are ill health effects caused by radiofrequency radiation from the new water meters, which is similar to radiation given off by cordless phones, cell phones, wireless Internet and microwave ovens.)
Fellow Saugerties Legislator Mary Wawro said Aiello’s Lyme disease forum was a success.
“Even though nothing changed, it gave them hope that somebody cared,” she said. “I think a lot of people relate to Bob because he’s very compassionate and he listens. And it gave people with Lyme a voice where they didn’t have a voice.”
When asked to name Aiello’s greatest strength, GOP Chair Joe Roberti Jr. said, “Aiello’s strength is his electability. He’s essential for Republicans to maintain the Legislature Majority.”