Ulster DA’s race comes down to absentee ballots; legislature control uncertain

At their victory party Tuesday night at Keegan Ales in Kingston, Democrats Bryan Rounds (county judge), March Gallagher (comptroller), Pat Ryan (county executive) and Steve Noble (Kingston mayor) celebrate their wins. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

A rollercoaster of an election night, followed by a suspenseful Wednesday morning, ended up with the closely watched race for Ulster County District Attorney in a virtual dead heat, even as Democrats secured decisive victories in two more countywide races and appeared poised to maintain their one-vote majority in the County Legislature.

The results — early voting plus votes cast at the polls Tuesday — came Wednesday morning after an election night marred by technical glitches with the Board of Elections website and a medical emergency that prompted election commissioners to suspend the vote count with 147 of 161 the county’s election districts reporting.


While Democrats Pat Ryan and March Gallagher know they’ll be county executive and county comptroller come Jan. 1, Dave Clegg and Mike Kavanagh — along with everyone else — will have to wait as long as maybe two weeks to find out which one of them will be the next district attorney.

When the vote count was suspended around shortly before midnight, Republican Kavanagh trailed Democrat Clegg by about 800 votes. When the count was completed Wednesday morning, Kavanagh held a three-vote — 24,969 to 24,966 — advantage.  Kavanagh campaign manager Diana Spada attributed the turnaround to the fact that the uncounted districts were all in Republican strongholds, including Shawangunk and the Town of Lloyd. The race will now be decided by absentee ballots.

Democratic DA candidate Dave Clegg. (Phyllis McCabe)

As of Wednesday noontime, some 2,086 absentee ballots had come into the Board of Elections — 946 of the ballots were submitted by registered Democrats, 586 by Republicans, 367 by non party-enrolled voters and 111 by Independence Party members, and 12 Greens, 8 Working Families ballots and 4 Libertarians.  By law the ballots may not be opened until Nov. 18 to allow for mail-in ballots which are valid if postmarked before Election Day.

Spada expressed confidence Wednesday that the absentee ballot counts would only expand Kavanagh’s lead.

“I am very positive about our absentee campaign,” said Spada. “I see us picking up more votes.”

Clegg’s campaign issued a statement declining to concede the race and predicting that when all of the votes were counted, he would be Ulster County’s next DA, not Kavanagh.

“The race is too close to call,” the statement reads, “But Mr. Clegg believes he will be the eventual winner and every single vote must be counted.”

Republican DA candidate Mike Kavanagh watches election results Tuesday night with daughter Regan, 11. (Phyllis McCabe)

Ryan, Gallagher, Rounds win

There was less drama in three more countywide races. Democratic County Executive Pat Ryan coasted to a full four-year term in a rematch election against Ulster County Conservative Party Chairman Jack Hayes, who was running on the GOP line as well.

Ryan held a 62.8 to 37 percent lead with 30,674 votes to Hayes’ 18,062, according to unofficial results on Wednesday afternoon. The two faced off at the polls six months ago in an April 30 special election to fill the remainder of former county executive Mike Hein’s term. (Hein resigned in February to take a job in the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.)

Since taking office, Ryan has worked to advance a progressive agenda built around protecting the environment, diversifying the county’s economy and seeking innovative solutions to the county’s opioid epidemic. In his victory speech, Ryan said that the results of Tuesday’s election demonstrated the wide appeal of that agenda among Ulster County residents.

“In everything we do, we try to govern inclusively,” Ryan told the crowd at county Democrat’s results party at Keegan Ales in Kingston. “If you do that, you win inclusively.”

Down the ballot, March Gallagher, who most recently worked as the executive director and CEO of the nonprofit Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, won her contest for Ulster County Comptroller with Lisa Cutten, a former employee of the county comptroller’s and executive’s offices with long experience in municipal finance. The post comes with a four-year term in office. As of Wednesday afternoon, Gallagher, who ran on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines held a 56 percent-44 percent margin over Cutten with 27,006 votes to Cutten’s 21,074. Cutten is a registered Democrat who ran on the Republican, Conservative and Independence Party lines after she was denied the Democratic Party nomination at a convention in February.

The fourth countywide race ended with a foregone conclusion. Kingston-based defense attorney and Democrat Bryan Rounds was unopposed in his bid for County Court judge. In January, Rounds will take over for incumbent Judge Don Williams, a former district attorney who is completing his first 10-year term on the bench and opted not to seek a second.


(Photo by Julie O’Connor)

Who will control the legislature?

Democrats currently hold a 12-11 majority in the county legislature — one that, if election night results hold, will remain unchanged. Republican incumbent Brian Woltman was bounced from his  District 7 seat in Kingston by Democrat Peter Criswell. But in Shandaken, Democratic incumbent Kathy Nolan is losing narrowly to Republican challenger John Parete, with absentee ballots still to be counted. Republican Al Bruno also secured a seat in Saugerties that had been held by Democratic caucus member Joe Maloney, while Democrat Brian Cahill held a narrow lead over Republican Andi Turco-Levin for a Town of Ulster seat once held by the late James Maloney, a Republican.

The balance in the legislature could change based on the affidavit and absentee ballot count. Cahill leads Levin by just 26 votes with over 100 absentees in the district. Parete leads Nolan by 43, with approximately 150 absentees on hand as of Nov. 6.