Local political campaigns usually kick off right after Labor Day. With some candidates challenging the results of party selections by going the primary route on September 12, however, the Saugerties town board campaigns have gotten off to a slow start this year.
By selecting their candidates at a July caucus, Democrats John Schoonmaker and Paul Andreassen got out of the starting gate early. Republicans decided to let September primary voters decide their two town council candidates, with Joe Roberti Jr., Don Tucker and Vincent Altieri throwing their hats in the ring.
Altieri and Tucker finished ahead of Roberti in the primary.
Roberti’s problems on Primary Day didn’t end with Republicans. He lost the Independence Party nod to Andreassen and write-in candidate Altieri. Roberti, a former seven-term county legislator and current chairman of the Saugerties Republican Committee, has in the past run tough campaigns against Democrats, including Democratic-endorsed town supervisor Greg Helsmoortel. Some Republicans thought his attacks went overboard and said so in critical letters to the editor.
In 2013, the Republican supervisor candidate was challenged for reelection by Conservative Gaetana Ciarlante. Roberti made known his displeasure over the situation. Some Republican candidates publicly criticized Roberti for his attacks on Ciarlante.
Roberti wanted to run for the town board two years ago, but pulled his name the night of the caucus when Republicans cross-endorsed Greg Helsmoortel for supervisor over Ciarlante, Roberti’s choice. Roberti wasn’t about to run with Helsmoortel’s name on the GOP line.
Chairmen of political parties are seen as too partisan by middle-of-the-road voters.
Though he’s been knocked down, don’t count Roberti out yet. Politics is in his DNA. In my view, some fence-mending would be in order before an attempted comeback.
The deal was that Don Tucker was to get the Republican line and Joe Roberti the Conservative. When Republican primary voters upset the applecart by voting in Altieri and Tucker, Conservatives were left in a quandary. The Conservative nominating committee had recommended Tucker and Roberti.
At the night of the Conservative caucus, with Roberti out, Conservatives had a decision to make. Tucker, a registered Conservative who switched his enrollment to Republican a few years ago, was a given. That left Conservatives to decide between Vincent Altieri and Paul Andreassen. They went with Andreassen.
Not to be overlooked
Andreassen, Altieri and Tucker have been gaining attention with their primary victories. But there’s a fourth candidate in the race, Democrat John Schoonmaker. If the mood of voters that turn out on Election Day is to vote for the underdog, Schoonmaker may surprise.
Schoonmaker was born and raised in Saugerties. Growing up, he developed a passion for hunting and the environment and studied biology at Siena College. He was a staunch opponent of the Pilgrim Pipeline and appeared in front of the Saugerties town board, arguing that the pipeline would pose hazards to the town without providing any direct benefits.
In my first discussion with Schoonmaker over the phone this past weekend, it quickly became apparent he’s strictly issue-oriented. I didn’t hear the typical candidate rhetoric about lowering taxes and brining in economic development that you always hear from other candidates, the kind of talk that’s general in nature and without concrete proposals.
I found Schoonmaker like a breath of fresh air.
At the starting gate, Andreassen would appear to have an edge because he’s on three lines. Endorsed by Democrats, he also has both the Independence and Conservative lines. Those minor party lines normally pull at least 400 votes on each.
Schoonmaker has a tougher road, having only the Democratic line.
On the Republican side, Tucker also has the Conservative line. Altieri, who has the Independence line, showed his electoral strength, finishing first in the Republican primary.
Tucker lost his seat on the school board two years ago after several successful runs. People who voted against him for the school board in 2015 may have memories when they go to the polls in November. So may those who voted for him.
Sometimes forgotten is that all four town-board candidates really run against each other. It’s all about finishing first or second, although the political parties portray the race as Democrats versus Republicans. It will be interesting to see in this next month whether Tucker and Altieri run as a team against Andreassen and Schoonmaker, or if they run separate races.
If separate races, we might see a higher percentage of bullet voting in this election than normal.
Candidates won’t outwardly talk about bullet voting since it’s frowned upon by party leadership.
This will be the first time in 18 years that supervisor Greg Helsmoortel’s name won’t appear on the ballot. Helsmoortel prides himself on bipartisanship. Whether that spirit of cooperation on the town board continues after his tenure will be left in the hands of the current candidates.
After denying he was a candidate for supervisor, town councilman Fred Costello was urged by enough Democrats to finally say he would run. Maybe he didn’t need that much convincing.
Councilman James Bruno announced early in the year he would seek the Republican nod for the position.
Costello’s name will also appear on the Independence line. Bruno will be on the Conservative line.
Will the perception of Saugerties voters concerning national politics affect turnout in November?
Will town Republican voters be dismayed by Washington’s lack of legislative progress and stay home? Will more Saugerties Democrats avoid the polls in five weeks because of the lack of a national Democratic agenda and viable spokespersons? Will non-enrolled voters avoid the polls because of Washington’s continued dysfunction?
For Democratic activists in Saugerties, the worry is always about turnout of their voters in local elections. In off-year elections, Saugerties Democrats historically turn out in a lower percentage than Republicans.
The scuttlebutt is that if Altieri loses his bid for town board and Costello wins the supervisor’s race, he’ll nominate Altieri as his replacement for the then open board seat during January’s organizational meeting. Those making that speculation admit it’s not based on anything Costello has said. But the rumor mill is alive. It’s based on the belief that Costello urged his fellow Democrats to nominate Altieri as one of their party’s candidates back in July.
There are two ways that scenario may never happen: if Altieri wins the seat outright, or if Bruno wins the supervisor’s race.
Jockeying for the vacant town-board position will begin as soon as the Election Night results are in.
The most interesting scenario would be if Costello wins and there’s a politically divided two-against-two town board after the election. In that case, the board majority would be at stake.