Hugh Reynolds: Primaries, pigeon entrails and smoke signals

Mayor Shayne Gallo speaks at a vigil last weekend for four Kingstonians who died in a car crash in Saugerties. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Mayor Shayne Gallo speaks at a vigil last weekend for four Kingstonians who died in a car crash in Saugerties. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Owing to our deadlines and a once-in-my-lifetime Thursday primary, we won’t be publishing on-time election results in our print editions next week. Fortunately, there’s our website and the intern sending smoke signals from the roof of Ulster Publishing world headquarters on Wall Street.

It will be two puffs if Mayor Shayne Gallo wins, one if Steve Noble prevails, followed by Gallo descending to the pavement crying “Treason, treason!” (Those familiar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet will recognize that memorable line.) Noble, if he loses, will hug his wife and start looking for a new job.


First, a story from the memory bank. Despite a blood oath to objective neutrality, I love messing with the minds of paranoiac politicians. Case in point: When the Freeman announced it was switching from an afternoon newspaper to morning publication about 30 years ago, a number of politicians, acting in their own self-interests as always, anxiously asked how we could possibly process all that information in the few hours between when the polls closed and the presses ran. With the afternoon editions we had literally all night and up to noon the next day.

“It’s simple,” I told one, tongue in cheek, after the umpteenth such inquiry. “They [the board of elections] always give us the returns a week in advance.”

Just kidding. Nobody gets returns in advance, though a small cadre of voters may believe political insiders do. Sometimes in close races we don’t know who won for a month. For predictions, there are such things as tea leaves, entrails and educated guesses.

First, some primary numbers. There are about 4,900 registered Democrats in Kingston. About 30 percent voted in the 2011 mayoral primary where Gallo defeated party designee Hayes Clement by seven votes. A similar turnout next week would produce about 1,400 voters, aka, “the pool.”  As such, the magic number for Thursday’s primary would be around 700.

I know. Readers can do the math. But think about it. There are just over 12,500 registered voters in Kingston, 40 percent of them Democrats eligible to vote in the primary. As Democrats outnumber Republicans by a margin of 70-30, the primary winner will in all likelihood be the next mayor of Kingston, with less than 6 percent of the overall electorate. And they call that democracy? Any Democrat who doesn’t vote next Thursday has no one else to blame …

Plastering the town with huge signs appears to be Gallo’s strategy, while acting mayoral and glad-handing after hours. I’m assuming flyers are in the mail by now. Noble’s brain trust, with an eye on the bottom line of 700-plus has reportedly identified at least 900 Democratic enrollees who voted in the 2011 primary who are at least nominally sympathetic to their man or vehemently anti-Gallo. Noble, in his door-to-door canvas of most of the city, is said to have attempted to call on every one of those precious voters. Some supporters, perhaps with too much medicinal marijuana in their nose hairs, believe he will far exceed the magic number.

Gallo, to the contrary, is “far too busy running a $40 million operation,” as he likes to say, to engage in grassroots campaigning. He gets around from fundraiser to fundraiser, usually with mother Nancy in tow. In a considered strategy, Gallo’s running mate for alderman-at-large, Energizer bunny Jeanette Provenzano, has been pounding the pavement on their behalf.

Noble’s running mate, long-time alderman-at-large (Uncle) Jim Noble, hasn’t had a serious challenge in years and could be rusty. Does he remember how to knock on a door any more? I smell an upset here, but I’ve had sinus problems for years.

Political parties being something like dysfunctional families — are there any other? — usually bring out the worst of their members in primaries. Think of Dad’s third marriage. This one has been particularly vicious, with baggage carried from four years ago and some aggressive nasty new players. To be positive, there are more than a few zealots with stars in their eyes who broach no disagreement.

In terms of policies and goals between the candidates, as demonstrated by last week’s Temple Emanuel debate, it’s a pick-em. Where they differ is in personality and demeanor, something clearly on display at the debate. Gallo scowled much more than he smiled as if a challenge to his mayoralty was a personal affront. Noble, sitting just two feet from his boss, seemed to be taking in the experience, with Gallo setting the tone, more a participant than challenger.

Gallo talked about inviting people into the big tent, but it’s more like the bus his late brother mayor used as an example of diverse inclusiveness. With T.R. Gallo, you were either on the bus or under it. The difference with the late mayor was he sometimes let some people, however bruised but contrite, back onboard. Shayne R. Gallo — both named for their father Robert — is less forgiving.

Noble holds promise, as do many bright 33-year-olds, but as LBJ once said of JFK‘s whiz kids, “I just wish some of these guys had at least been elected county sheriff.” Is Noble ready for prime time? It will be a steep learning curve, even with Uncle Jim, the self-proclaimed aldermanic “mentor,” a heartbeat away. But isn’t that usually the price of change?

With the general election less than eight weeks from this primary, Democratic intramural toxicity can only benefit Republican candidate Ron Polacco. That Polacco also has the much-coveted Independence and Conservative party lines is a plus, but in the general election, votes from those lines may only account for rounding error. Losing Democrats will therefore have off-line choices even if hard-shell types like primary voters would be loath to vote for anyone carrying the Republican banner. Unless Polacco puts on a very different campaign than he did in 2011 and with lots more financial support, the next mayor will be decided this coming Thursday.

As for the forecasting outcomes, and here I depart for the roof of UPHQ to set up smoke signals and ponder pigeon entrails, I would ask zealots on both sides to consider that predictions, however sage, do not indicate preference. Personally, I wish Ray Garraghan were still mayor.

Gallo, quite obviously, has lost support in a Democratic committee that has twice rejected his candidacy. He had four years to build bridges but chose to court a broader constituency. Smart move, but committee members are the stormtroopers of any political organization and these troops, by and large, are not marching with the mayor.

Noble is in large measure the anti-Gallo candidate. Think of Mario CuomoGeorge Pataki in 1994, i.e. ABC — Anybody But Cuomo.

The columnist Reynolds.

The columnist Reynolds.

Gallo could win by a narrow margin, but not by a landslide, usually defined as at least 60 percent. Should he win by 14 votes, the mayor could legitimately declare he doubled his plurality from the 2011 primary. Noble, therefore, is vulnerable in a very close vote, but could be the beneficiary of four years of bickering, bile and pent-up frustration among interested, active Democrats (those 900 voters), plus some serious dissention at City Hall itself. Other than that, I got nothin’. But I promise a quasi-brilliant analysis the week after returns are finalized.


Around town

As an indication of the volatility in Kingston politics this year, primaries are being held for a majority of the seats on the Common Council and a legislative District 7, in addition to the two offices at the top of the ticket. Most wards pit anti-Gallos against mayoral supporters. The next mayor will have his hands full dealing with what could be a bunch of new faces.

Actually, change has been more the recent rule in the council, managed, as in herding cats, by veteran council leader Jim Noble. He faces a vigorous challenge from a retiring county legislator, the ageless and forever feisty Jeanette Provenzano.