It now appears that Mayor Shayne Gallo will be staking his political career on the Sept. 10 Democratic primary. And well he should. If history is a guide, he who wins that primary wins it all two months later. But history has a way of evolving, and this is no ordinary election year.
The primary was Gallo’s road to City Hall after he lost his party’s unofficial nomination at convention in 2011. He won the primary over Alderman Hayes Clement by a bare seven votes, and then prevailed handily in the general election over Republican Ron Polacco by 1,443 votes — despite the fact that only about 44 percent of the city’s 12,500 registrants voted.
Of some note is that just over 1,400 Democrats, less than 30 percent of party enrollees, turned out for the Gallo-Clement primary. Even among party members, most people don’t pay much attention to what goes on at City Hall. Those that have influence carry clout far out of proportion to their numbers. If there is a lesson there, it is to get involved.
According to the county Board of Elections, Democrats outnumber Republicans in Kingston 4,908 to 2,013, much better than two to one. In most other places that lopsided margin would elect any Democrat over any Republican. But in Kingston, “NOPs” (Not of Party) total 4,512 registrants, or 36 percent of the electorate. Women outnumber men by just over 1,300 registrants, about 55 percent, slightly higher than the national average.
The 2011 Democratic primary was a contest between “old Kingston” and “new Kingston.” Gallo, in that contest, was something of an unknown quality as his father’s son and brother to the late mayor T.R. Gallo. It’s hard to know for sure what’s behind the animosity he engendered among a significant element of his own party. Personality issues, perhaps? Gallo, as an obscure City Hall lawyer, carried little baggage. Or so it seemed.
After three and a half years in office, Gallo has apparently done little to bridge the gaps in his party between newbie and traditionalist. The fact he didn’t win his party’s nomination at convention this time around, something he blames on old-boyism and cronyism, was curious given his own long family record in Democratic politics.
He says he has a record, and that record will carry him to victory. For sure, that record will be carefully scrutinized.
Steve Noble, his primary opponent and Dem convention nominee, hails from a traditional Democratic family. Still, he’s the quintessential newbie. Thirty-three this year, a generation younger than Gallo, Noble serves as the city’s environmental coordinator and a grants-writer. Though his campaign will evolve, right now it appears that his main attribute is that he ain’t Gallo. He’ll need more being tall to pull, say, seven more votes than the incumbent mayor in the September primary.
That “new Kingston” is well-connected via social media is self-evident. (Just ask Niagara Bottling.) Noble announces things or comments mostly on Facebook. But cyberspace can be something of an echo chamber, making it hard to actually measure how much support an idea or a candidate has in the real world.
Gallo will play hardball in this primary, as evidenced by his frequent and at times personal attacks on his opponent’s competence. He and his surrogates seem to be trying to build a case. I would not be surprised if Gallo were to fire Noble “for cause” two weeks before the primary.
What’s the GOP alternative?
I haven’t said much about the Republican 11th-hour “dream team” whose only hope is a bitterly divided Democratic Party. Republicans had that schism on their side four years ago, and still got bombed in November.
At the time, Ron Polacco was a two-term Republican alderman who took pride in never having voted for a city budget. A tireless door-to-door campaigner, he had the decades-old vision of bringing Kingston back to its glory days. Regrettably, he seemed clueless about how to get there.
At the aldermanic level, Republican failure to field candidates in six of the city’s nine wards will adversely impact their hopes for the top of the ticket, especially considering Scott DiMicco’s recent pulling out of the alderman-at-large race. There’s no synergy there, and that’s what it takes to field a winning team.
Democrats, on the other hand, are all over the place, like potholes. Some are fighting each other at primary, an extension of the civil war at the top of the ticket. That weakness, though, is nothing compared to the Swiss-cheese ticket the Republicans are offering.
The Seventh Ward provides one of the more interesting Dem-vs.-Dem match-ups. Former alderman Bill Reynolds is attempting a comeback against his hand-picked successor, two-term alderwoman Maryann Mills. Though Reynolds (no relation to me) goes back to the dear old T.R. days, he is no Gallo guy. Mills, by contrast, has been a faithful vote for the mayor.
With due respect to his challenger, retiring county Legislator Jeanette Provenzano, I doubt if incumbent Alderman-at-Large Jim Noble will have much trouble defending his seat. Except for Gallo, Noble makes it a practice to avoid making enemies, and he didn’t pick that fight. Scrappy Provenzano, always eager for a good battle, should be entertaining for the next few months.
One of the consequences of the Gallo-Noble war is a dearth of committee members eager to carry nominating petitions for either of them. One result is a scramble to get the necessary signatures, 5 percent of city Democrats who voted for governor in a particular district last year, by the July 9 deadline.
Kingston’s political civil war is having repercussions up the food chain. Whereas County Exec Mike Hein thought he had a free pass to a third term two weeks ago and really didn’t have to sweat the petition process, he now faces a challenge from Republican Terry Bernardo. Hein, widely seen as a Gallo ally, may find his petitions getting a cool reception among the “new Kingston” crowd.