Based on preliminary results, Tuesday’s Common Council election appeared to be a near-total victory for Democrats and a good night for allies of Mayor Shayne Gallo. But with races in three of the city’s nine wards well within the margin of being flipped after absentee ballots are opened, the actual makeup of next year’s council will remain in doubt until next week when the final votes are counted.
In the tightest of Tuesday’s Common Council races, Ward 9, incumbent Republican Deborah Brown led Democratic challenger Lynn Johnson by just 13 votes — 338 to 325. According to Ulster County elections officials, 57 absentee ballots had been sent out and, as of Tuesday, 39 had been returned. Absentee postmarked no later than Monday, Nov. 4 will be opened and counted on Wednesday, Nov. 13. Brown said that she was hopeful the lead would hold. She added, however, that she was not sure which way the absentee votes would break.
“I didn’t actively go out looking for those votes,” said Brown of the absentees. “But If I sensed someone might need one I gave it to them, I gave out quite a few.”
In Ward 6, incumbent Democrat Elisa Ball is holding onto a skinny 288-266 lead over Republican Joe Corcoran. In that race, 75 absentee ballots were sent out and, as of Tuesday, 52 had arrived back at Board of Elections to await next week’s final count. The slim margin came in spite of Ball holding the Democratic, Conservative and Independence party lines in a ward that leans heavily Democratic.
“I don’t want to say I was surprised because I take every opponent seriously,” said Ball. “I feel I’ve done the job in the ward. It will be up to voters when the absentee ballots are counted.”
In Ward 3, Democrat Brad Will said that he feels like he can “finally exhale” after his 329-290 victory over Andrew Champ-Doran. Champ-Doran, an enrolled Democrat who ran on the GOP’s line, said he would wait for the results of 142 absentee ballots before conceding the contest. As of Tuesday, 87 Ward 3 absentee ballots had been returned to the board of elections). If his lead holds, Will would take over for outgoing Republican Nate Horowitz, who opted not to seek a second term on the council.
“It was closer than I thought it would be,” said Will. “[Champ-Doran] was more formidable than I expected,” said Will. “It just shows that every bit of campaigning and outreach was necessary.”
Dawson, Schabot win big
Two more races featured decisive victories well outside the likely margin of absentee ballots. In the heavily Democratic Fourth Ward, Democrat Nina Dawson beat out Republican Steve Ladin 166-78. Dawson will replace outgoing alderwoman Shirley Whitlock who did not seek a third term in office. In the night’s most lopsided victory, Democrat Steve Schabot beat Lisa Bruck — a Democrat running on the Republican Conservative and Independence Party lines by a resounding 309-72 margin. A third candidate, Clark Richters, garnered just seven votes running on his self-created Kingston Lighthouse party line. Schabot will take the seat currently held by veteran alderman Bob Senor who did not seek another term in office.
Republicans did not field a candidate in four wards, allowing Democrats a free ride to the council seat. In Ward 1 Democrat Matt Dunn took a second term with 424 votes. In Ward 2, Democrat and former alderman Brian Seche was unopposed in his bid to replace outgoing council Majority Leader Tom Hoffay. Seche garnered 278 votes. In Ward 5, incumbent Democrat Bill Carey took 285 votes in his unopposed bid for a second term. In Ward 7, Democrat Maryann Mills coasted unopposed to a second term with 509 votes.
City GOP in shambles
The uncontested races, and lackluster results in others, are the latest manifestation of the continued decline of Republican power in city politics. As recently as 2006, Republicans held four seats on the council and routinely offered up full slates of candidates. If Brown’s narrow margin of victory holds, and absentee ballots do not overturn election night results in other wards, she will be a minority of one on the council.
The election results also reflect changing voting patterns. Citywide, registered Democrats now outnumber registered Republicans by a more than two-to-one margin. In recent years, enrolled Democrats have overtaken non-affiliated voters, previously the city’s dominant political faction.
Along with declining enrollment numbers, Kingston Republicans have been hampered by local leadership that has in recent years struggled to fill vacant committee seats and recruit viable candidates. Brown, however, said that she was not concerned about the lack of fellow Republicans on 2014’s council.
“This is a small city where each party has something to contribute,” said Brown. “The whole goal is not to make things a Republican or a Democratic issue.”
Election night was also a victory for Mayor Shayne Gallo who in large part saw his chosen candidates prevail. Dawson and Schabot, along with Champ-Doran, ran with Gallo’s support. And while he did not explicitly endorse Brown, he has praised her work on the council while failing to offer an endorsement of Johnson. Two more potential Gallo antagonists, Jeremy Blaber in Ward 9 and Nicky Woerner in Ward 4 were eliminated from contention in the Democratic primary in September. Since his election, Gallo has accused the city’s Democratic Party leadership of attempting to thwart his agenda and recruit candidates to undermine his plans.
“It just proves what one of my supporters told me last night,” said Gallo. “If you’re going to run for office, you should focus on the office you’re running for, not running against the mayor.”
Slideshow image: From left, Steve Schabot, Nina Dawson and Brad Will.