An unusual election season in Saugerties became even more remarkable when the Sept. 10 primary results came in.
I went to Sue’s Restaurant as polls were closing, where some candidates, supporters and politicians were expected to watch the Board of Elections returns on the web. The parking lot was full of cars. As I entered, I realized the crowd and cheering was for the Thursday night NFL game between New England and Pittsburgh — not for the political exercise taking place.
A small contingent of locals were near the far right of the bar eagerly awaiting the first results. Those gathered included supporters along with County Legislator Mary Wawro, Town Councilman Jim Bruno and former Highway Superintendent candidate Ray Mayone. Democratic Committee Chairman Lanny Walter was there, while his party’s District 2 Legislature candidate Chris Allen appeared later.
County Legislator Dean Fabiano ordered food for those gathered, with Town Councilman and Sue’s owner Fred Costello providing cheese with crackers and pizza throughout the evening. Stress makes people hungry.
Dean Fabiano, who was forced into a District 3 Republican primary by town of Ulster resident and political newcomer Jason Kovacs, nervously waited for results. Fabiano received the cross-endorsement from Democrats a few weeks earlier, and winning the Republican primary would assure him re-election.
There was intrigue about Democrat-endorsed candidate Chris Allen’s bold write-in campaign against opponent Angie Minew for her Republican, Conservative and Independence lines.
(All Primary election votes mentioned in this column are unofficial at press time. Results indicated are based on updated numbers since Primary night from the Board of Elections that may include absentee and affidavit ballots.)
Angie Minew gained the Republican endorsement for the legislative seat from District 2 during the summer at the Republican Party’s County Convention.
A current School Board member, Minew worked hard during the campaign and spent money trying to ensure a primary day victory. Lawn signs aren’t cheap. She pulled out all the stops, including having a truck parked along 9W in Barclay Heights on primary day with a huge sign harboring her name.
Unofficial results showed Allen winning the Republican primary with 70 write-in votes, Santo Lopez with 52 votes, and Minew trailing with 46.
It seemed Minew was able to get more people to sign letters-to-the-editor than she got votes.
Come the November election, having the Independence line can be worth a couple of hundred votes in District 2. Minew had been given the line, but lost it in the primary when Allen got 30 write-in votes to Minew’s six.
Minew received the endorsement from county Conservatives over the summer. In the Primary she secured the line by garnering 17 votes to Allen’s nine and Lopez’s one.
Allen won the line when he was able to get two registered Green Party members to go out and write-in his name on Primary Day.
Solving constituent problems
Two years ago, in what was considered a major upset, newcomer Allen beat long-term legislator Bob Aiello.
In challenging Allen this fall, Minew may have thought Allen’s victory two years ago was more of an anti-Aiello vote than a pro-Allen vote.
Oh, how Minew was proven wrong primary night. By his wins, Allen’s shown his victory against Aiello in 2013 wasn’t a fluke.
During his two years in office, Allen has focused on constituent services. Don’t underestimate how important that is. When a constituent is happy, they spread the word to family and friends.
A perfect example of a politician reaping the benefits by providing constituent services is Maurice Hinchey.
Hinchey won in his second attempt to oust Assemblyman H. Clark Bell in 1974. Hinchey won that election when Republicans, disgusted with Republican President Nixon and Watergate, stayed home in droves.
Republicans offered a serious challenge to Hinchey two years later. But Hinchey, in spite of a liberal voting record in a strong Republican district, easily won re-election.
One looming reason: During Hinchey’s first two years in office, his administrative staff offered outstanding constituent services, and Hinchey was rewarded for that at the polls.
Allen worked hard to get elected two years ago and hasn’t stopped. Being a communications major in college only helps.
Allen portrays himself as being non-partisan. That’s won him support from people of different political persuasions. Allen’s challenge going forward may be convincing Democrats he’s still one of them.
Using low turnout to win
What seemed like an ego-driven and flamboyant attempt by Allen to capture the Republican line in a write-in campaign proved genius primary night.
County Legislature districts no longer comprise whole towns since the county charter was approved. They are now subsets of what was once a large district. With primaries usually only turning out a small number of registered party voters, the game comes down to a candidate getting his or her people out to the polls. It takes convincing and work to get voters out on primary day.
That worked to Allen’s advantage. As it turned out, he only needed to convince 54 registered Republicans out of about 1,300 to write his name on the ballot. He may have had some help to get 70 out.
Had a high number of Republicans turned out to vote in the Primary, it’s doubtful Allen could have won, because 70 was probably his peak as a write-in candidate.
Voters enter the front door
Take a re-look at Saugerties Conservative Party Chairman George Heidcamp’s letter published days before the Primary.
Heidcamp said Allen’s primary write-in campaign was an attempt to come “in the back door.”
Interesting perspective from a political party head — that Allen giving people a chance to vote their opinion at the polls as opposed to a small group of political hacks making the decision on the nomination, represents a “back door.”
I was also struck by Heidcamp trying to blame Allen for the cost to taxpayers of the primary. Achieving democracy is never cheap. As School Board president, Heidcamp convinced board members a few years back to expand school district voting hours to 6 a.m. – 9 p.m. from the original noon – 9 p.m. That added six hours and pay for election workers. He wasn’t worried about costs then. But when a primary might cost him the election of his preferred candidate, suddenly democracy costs too much.
According to September 2015 Ulster County Board of Elections records, Minew is not presently enrolled in any political party.
So, in spite of all her recent hype about the significance of political party values, she’s not a registered Republican.
Furthermore, according to those same records, since she registered to vote back in 2006, she’s never voted in a local election. Not in 2007. Not in 2009. Not in 2011. Not in 2013. One assumes she’ll get out to at least vote for herself in 2015.
It seems disingenuous for a candidate to ask voters to come out and vote for them when the candidate has never voted in a local election themselves.
Political ramifications of incident involving Allen
According to news reports late Tuesday, State Police have been investigating an allegation from a former Saugerties resident that during an altercation the week before in a Tannersville parking lot, Allen assaulted the subject by pulling an identification badge on her chain, causing a neck abrasion. Reportedly, the female teacher indicated she was in an area that had a swimming hole that Allen apparently wanted to approach, but was off-limits as the teacher’s group of students were there to perform a clean-up.
Allen reportedly said in an interview with a reporter that the woman was loud and bombastic and self-inflicted the wound, and claimed she is a Republican that wants to hurt him politically and also win a civil lawsuit.
It’s too early to tell what the political ramifications for Allen over this incident may be.
Much may depend on how believable Allen’s version of events are in voter’s minds.
Republican Party Chairman Joe Roberti Jr. and Conservative Party Chairman George Heidcamp are both Minew supporters. If and how they’ll try to use the incident to Minew’s advantage remains to be seen.
Allen hasn’t been charged with anything and may not be. Then there’s that most sacred principle in the American criminal justice system that says “innocent until proven guilty.”
Saugerties/Ulster County Legislator Dean Fabiano had his own legal problem when his 2014 DWAI arrest that reportedly was plea-bargained to a lesser charge became known a few months ago. No outcry occurred over that.
What was reported may be the last heard of the issue. Then again, it’s political season and October has a habit of lingering issues used for political advantage. What will the rumor mill say? Will letters appear saying the incident isn’t relevant, while their real purpose may be to keep the issue alive? Will social media be used? Does Democratic Party Chairman Lanny Walter, a lawyer by trade, feel the need to come to Allen’s defense?
If further details or information about the incident involving Allen come out before the November election, that hurts Allen’s case. Minew’s loss in the Republican Primary may yet save Allen, since her name will only appear on only two minor party lines. Tough winning an election with just those.
But it’s five weeks before Election Day, and that can be an eternity in politics.
Then there’s Fabiano
By winning the Republican Primary, and already having been cross-endorsed by Democrats and Conservatives, Fabiano is assured re-election in District 3. This will be his sixth term in the County Legislature.
Fabiano explained that he had primary night jitters because he’s been in the Legislature 10 years and that he’s observed “sometimes they vote you out just because they want a change.” That didn’t happen. Fabiano won his Republican Primary 124 to 63.
Fabiano said that most people don’t care about a candidate’s party affiliation. He said voters are more interested in the candidate and what they’re going to do for residents than their party banner.
Fabiano reasoned, “Most candidates today locally or in the county don’t put down [in their advertising] their party affiliation, because nobody cares… that’s why Allen was able to do what he did.”
Fabiano told me Primary night that this County Legislative election would be his last. I asked days later if that still stood, or if winning the primary had given him second thoughts.
His answer wasn’t definite, but he said he might be interested in running for a town position sometime in the future.
Get ready for “Councilman Fabiano”?