A win is a win is a win, as they say in politics. But some wins are better than others.
As polling places shut down shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday night, most pundits thought that Republican Terry Bernardo achieving 40 percent of the vote for Ulster County executive would constitute a moral victory against incumbent Democrat Mike Hein. Unofficial returns show she topped out at 42.2 percent, and Hein got 55 percent.
Thirteen points is a nice spread, but in this case it’s disappointing for a candidate in the prime of his career with ambitions to go higher, like Congress. Hein getting above 60 percent was a widely anticipated threshold, and 67 percent in heavy voting would have had the Washington power brokers drooling.
Bernardo did not run the smartest campaign. Essentially a one-issue candidate (“Save the railroad!”), she failed to convey to voters what she would do if elected. Not being Mike Hein, it turned out, wasn’t enough.
Hein, for his part, has to come to grips with the reality that the broad-based popularity he thought he had, via carefully cultivated and targeted constituencies, just wasn’t there on election night. With just over 19,000 votes, he carried only about half the county’s Democratic majority, something the analytics in D.C. will carefully consider. By comparison, Republican District Attorney Holley Carnright, who wasn’t running against anybody, polled over 25,000 votes.
Hein has to realize that it wasn’t just the railroad that stalled his career. After seven years in office, he may be wearing out his welcome. Perhaps a kinder, gentler, less autocratic executive will emerge. If not, better to try to move on.
As for Bernardo, nice try, losing to a seemingly popular, highly visible and well-funded opponent. She offered a choice.
Chained to a desk, I couldn’t make it to the Democratic celebration at Ole Savannah in Rondout, but participants relayed that the executive seemed reluctant to face the faithful as late returns confirmed a sub-par performance. Cries of “Mike, Mike, Mike” finally lured him out around 11 p.m. for a victory lap.
Meanwhile, Dutchess exec Marcus Molinaro romped to a two-to-one victory. Might Mighty Marc, just 39, now be considered Congressional timber?
Losers are always orphans, but Bernardo had to take some solace on election night from seeing her former rival Lynn Archer bounced by Ron Lapp in her old Rochester legislative district. Archer beat Bernardo by 22 votes two years ago and appeared a comer. Now she’s a goner. Too bad. She brought much to the table.
Off the unofficial results, it would appear the 2016-17 Ulster legislature will be exactly divided at 11-11-1. And that one would be seven-term Democratic legislator Rich Parete of Marbletown elected on the Republican line. Democrats currently hold a 13-10 majority in the legislature.
Parete’s journey to this tipping point was a bumpy one. Trounced in the Democratic primary by Marbletown councilman Doug Adams, Parete bounced back — and then some — to bury Adams by 25 points in this week’s general.
“Hein carried Old Hurley [Hein’s hometown] by 30 votes. I won by over 200,” Parete crowed Tuesday. “I told the Republicans they should have nominated me for county exec. I would have buried him.”
That’s water under the Levon Helm Bridge, a Hein PR blunder that cost him in Hurley. I asked Parete which way he was headed in the election of a chairman of the next legislature next month. Keep in mind that Parete joined a coalition of Republicans and Democrats to twice elect his father, John Parete, chairman, so voting with the Republicans isn’t exactly foreign to him.
Poppa John, as he’s popularly known, hasn’t decided on another term. If he does, it could be with a whole new coalition, one not particularly favorable to the executive. Either through retirement or defeat, a bunch of Heinophiles will not be in office come Jan. 1.
Elsewhere in legislative races, Democrat Roscoe Pecora made a game run against seemingly invincible Carl Belfiglio in Esopus. A four-point loss may encourage Pecora, a former Republican legislator, to soldier on.
Impressive newcomer Jon Heppner in Woodstock took the popularity title from Poppa John of Olive with 1,671 total votes for him. Heppner is obviously a young man with a future. Both were unopposed.
At the other end of the popularity curve, minority leader Ken Ronk of Wallkill maintained his tail-end position, garnering only 463 votes without opposition.
In Saugerties, beleaguered Chris Allen, with both major party lines, racked up a 59 percent victory over school board member Angie Minew, despite an ugly, scurrilous campaign against him. (Minew denied involvement in it.) The danger is the already bombastic victor will be driven to new peaks of hubris. Look for Allen to be making noise about running for state Senate next year.
I liked Randy Leverette in New Paltz after his near-miss against Susan Zimet last year, but running on the Republican ticket there amounts to a death sentence. Newcomer Jim Delaune took almost 60 percent of the vote in this New Paltz county legislative district.
Tracey Bartels of Gardiner heard the footsteps in her race against Republican John Hanson, winning by just four points.
All in all, it wasn’t a night to remember for incumbents. The voters were restless.
I found Steve Noble’s 548-vote win over Ron Polacco for Kingston mayor less than impressive. Democrats outnumber Republicans in party enrollment by better than two to one. A brutal primary against incumbent mayor Shayne Gallo and Gallo’s lingering resentment and post-election vengeance didn’t help Noble’s cause. The mayor-elect will have some serious fence-mending on his immediate agenda.