Unopposed races, low turnout the norm for village elections

(Will Dendis)

(Will Dendis)

What if they had an election and nobody came?

As of Jan. 27, no one had filed a petition to challenge incumbent Mayor William Murphy in the March 18 election. If no one does, and the turnout is low, that would be business as usual for village elections. There have been only two contested mayoral races since 2000 and there hasn’t been a race for trustee since 2011. Average turnout in the last three elections has been minuscule, about 3.4 percent.

The most recent mayoral race took place in 2009 when Richard Frisbie and Eleanor Redder challenged incumbent Robert Yerick.

Advertisement

At the time, Frisbie told voters he wanted to be “the last mayor of Saugerties.” He said he believed the village and the town should merge and become one entity — a platform that turned what was expected to be another easy win for Yerick into a much closer race. Final vote totals: Yerick 250, Frisbie 218, Redder 115.

The other contested race this millennium came in 2003 when Yerick was challenged by Kurt Stade. Only 71 voters out of more than 2,000 cast ballots in that race. Yerick won 57 to 14.

The largest voter turnout in recent memory came in 2010 when the police merger was on the ballot. That year 1,035 village residents went to the polls, approving it 614 to 322.

Why so few candidates?

“I have no idea why,” said Murphy. “I am sure if it paid more, more people may be interested, but it is not a job you take for the money, obviously.”

The mayor’s job pays $10,000 per year, while trustees earn $6,000 per year.

Trustee Donald Hackett, who ran three times for the job before voters gave him the nod, said he believes that “ego” might keep some people from running. “Some people just don’t want to lose.”

He said he heard a couple residents were thinking of running this year, one for mayor and another for trustee, but decided against it. The first was too busy, the second had family problems.

Richard Frisbie said the proposed merger of the Historic Review and Planning boards last fall, subsequently dropped due to public opposition, should prompt residents to run for office this year. He said he believed Murphy won’t run again after this term and “if someone doesn’t run now they are missing a good opportunity to reshape village government.”

Hitting on his campaign issue of 2009, Frisbie said perhaps it’s time the village merge its Department of Public Works with the town highway department, citing the successful merger of the police department in 2011. He said the dissolution of the village as government entity is inevitable. “It has to happen, the only question is when. And, of course, who is going to do it.”

Village gadfly and former trustee candidate David Radovanovic attributed “patronage, apathy and ignorance” for the lack of candidates. He said the village’s small size leads to a small group making all decisions, marginalizing those who aren’t part of the clique.  “As with many factory towns, everything revolved around whoever was ‘da man.’ That meant playing by all the systemic rules set by the ones in control. That was easy since it’s a small, tight community. They go to the same churches and eat at the same restaurants.”

This, Radovanovic said, might discourage “outsiders” from running for office.

According to village clerk Mary Frank, there were 2,228 registered voters in the village as of Jan. 22.

Residents have until 5 p.m. Feb. 10 to file a petition to run for office with the village clerk.

Petitions can be picked up at village hall, 43 Partition St. Seventy-five signatures are needed. In addition to the mayor, three trustee seats are up for election. All incumbents are expected to run again.

The election will be held March 18 at village hall.