As the nation watched in shock while Donald Trump narrowly captured the presidency, John Faso prevailed in his bid to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson and hold New York’s 19th Congressional District for the GOP. In a closely watched and massively funded campaign in a rare tossup district in the House of Representatives, Faso, with all but two of the district’s 687 precincts counted, bested challenger Zephyr Teachout with 153,317 (51.6 percent) votes to Teachout’s 126,671 (42.7 percent). Teachout had, by far, her best showing in Ulster County where she tallied 41,160 (52.21 percent) to Faso’s 33,653 (42,69 percent). But it was not enough overcome Faso leads in Sullivan, Schoharie, Rensselaer, Otsego, Montgomery, Greene, upper Dutchess, Delaware, Columbia and Broome counties in the sprawling district.
Faso came into the race as a veteran Albany politician from Kinderhook who represented the region (though not Ulster County) for seven terms in the state Assembly, where he rose to minority leader before leaving office in 2002 to pursue unsuccessful bids for state comptroller and governor. Since leaving the Assembly, Faso worked as an attorney and lobbyist with the firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. Teachout, a law professor and author who moved to the district from Brooklyn last year, gained a statewide following among progressives with her surprisingly strong showing in a 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
In his victory statement, Faso congratulated Teachout on a well-run race. “By the turnout today, the American people have said that they want us to work together to solve problems,” Faso said. “They demand that we put aside our partisan impulses and work for the common good of all. That is what I plan to do and I will need to your help and your prayers to make sure we do the right things.”
It was a campaign of contrasts, with Faso touting his long experience in government and promising pragmatic, bipartisan leadership while Teachout, who has made a career out of opposition to corporate money in politics, echoed the rhetoric of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders with her calls for a “revolution on the Hudson.” Faso banked on his connections to voters and a donor network built over a decade representing a conservative east-of-the-Hudson assembly district. Teachout relied on grassroots campaign built on volunteers, many of them veterans of Sanders’ failed presidential primary bid, and small-time fundraising with donations averaging just $19.
Teachout’s operation outraised Faso’s, and high-profile events, like a New Paltz rally where Sanders showed up to offer his endorsement, created a sense, at least among progressives, that her campaign had momentum. A Siena College/Time Warner News poll conducted in September showed the two running neck and neck.
At a series of debates held across the sprawling district, Teachout and Faso staked out positions on everything from the Trans-Pacific Partnership to New York State’s property tax cap. Teachout called for stricter regulations on banks and higher taxes on corporations to pay for better healthcare and education. Faso largely toed the GOP line of economic growth through lower taxes and “better,” if not stricter, regulation of the financial sector. Both candidates took jabs at their opponent. For Faso, that meant highlighting Teachout’s status as a newcomer to the district and portraying her as a far-left ideologue out of step with the district’s centrist values. Teachout meanwhile claimed that as a lobbyist and Albany politician, Faso represented unaccountable elites and business interests.
The sharpest attacks came not from the candidates, but outside political action committees which poured millions into the race, nearly all of it in form of negative advertising. By late October, PACs supporting Faso had spent $3.7 million in the district while those backing Teachout spent $1.2 million. Teachout challenged Faso to enter a pact to keep outside money out of the race by agreeing to donate money to charity for every dollar spent by PACs on negative ads, but Faso dismissed the effort as a ploy to give her an advantage.
In her concession speech on Tuesday night, Teachout spoke of parallel campaigns, one conducted at debate podiums and before newspaper editorial boards and another, far uglier, one funded by Super PACs. Early in the campaign, Teachout challenged two large contributors to pro-Faso PACs, hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and venture capitalist Paul Singer, to a debate. On Tuesday she called them out again accusing them of funding negative ads to blunt her efforts to curb the influence of corporate money in politics.
“This was a race inside a post Citizens United world,” said Teachout, referring to the Supreme Court decision that cleared the way for unlimited donations to super PACs. “And in that race it was not me against John Faso, it was all of us against a handful of billionaires.”
Faso had his own explanation for Teachout’s defeat — an inability to connect with average voters in a district where she had only recently moved. In the closing weeks of the campaign, Faso’s team produced an analysis that showed a large majority of the small donations fueling her run came from outside the 19th Congressional District. At a debate in Woodstock, in an effort to demonstrate her unfamiliarity with the district, Faso used an opportunity to ask his opponent a single question to ask Teachout what her favorite state or national historic site in the district was. (The gambit failed; Teachout answered with rave review of the Old Stone Church in Dover Plains).
“I think I had a positive agenda and a local base within the district that my opponent did not,” said Faso on Wednesday.
Judge race very tight, courthouse move approved
Sara McGinty, Democrat of Rosendale, led Peter Matera, Republican of Esopus, 32,757 to 32,621 with all 163 precincts reporting — 136 votes. Sharon Graff, who appeared on the Working Family and Green parties’ lines, tallied 7,641. The winner won’t be known for sure until absentee ballots are counted. According to county officials, any ballot postmarked by Nov. 7 and received by Nov. 15 will be counted.
With all 163 precincts in, the proposition to move Family Court from Uptown Kingston to a county-owned location just over the city line in the Town of Ulster easily passed, 46,078 (71.6 percent) to 18,304 (28.4 percent).
In the state legislature races, Democratic incumbents Kevin Cahill (103rd Assembly District) and Frank Skartados (104th Assembly District) won their respective races easily. With all 126 precincts in, Cahill’s 39,689 (64.2 percent) votes were more than enough to dispatch Jack Hayes, who tallied 11,601 (18.8 percent). Skartados led challenger William Banuchi Sr. 26,023 (60.9 percent) to 6,293 (14.7 percent) with all 90 precincts reporting.
Pete Lopez ran unopposed in the 102nd Assembly District, including the town of Saugerties.
In the local state Senate contests, Republican incumbents had no problem picking up additional terms. With 324 of 326 precincts reporting, George Amedore led his challenger, Sara Niccoli, 78,247 (55.6 percent) to 45,360 (34.9 percent) in the 46th Senate District. In the 39th, Bill Larkin, with all 238 districts reporting, led challenger Chris Eachus 48,113 (53.2 percent) to 41,102 (38.6 percent). In the 42nd, John Bonacic, with all 256 precincts reporting, led Pramilla Malick 63,284 (55.6 percent) to 39,769 (34.8 percent). In the 51st District, which includes Shandaken and Olive, longtime Republican Senator James Seward rolled over challenger Jermaine Bagnall-Graham, 78,396 (68 percent) to 28,669 (24.8 percent.)
While she lost the general election, Hillary Clinton had Ulster County in her column. Clinton tallied 40,010 votes (51.3 percent) to Donald Trump’s 32,692 (42.2 percent) in Ulster. President Barack Obama carried the county with 61 percent of the vote in 2012. Green Party candidate Jill Stein tallied 1,986 votes, Libertarian Gary Johnson 2,176.
Town of New Paltz voters approved ballot referendums to extend the terms of both the town supervisor (2,620-2,458) and highway superintendent (2,962-2,113) from two years to four. The new term lengths will not take place until elections for both offices are held next year.
Town of Gardiner voters approved 1,555 to 887 a ballot referendum to extend the term of the highway superintendent from two years to four. Incumbent highway superintendent Brian Stiscia is up for re-election in November 2017; his current term would not be affected by the change. If local voters approve the new local law, the first four-year term for a highway superintendent would begin in January 2018.
Saugerties voters also approved an extended term for highway superintendent from two to four years, by 3,766-3,268.
All results are unofficial, cautions the board of elections.