hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues October 2017



Voters in N.Y., Mass. to decide local races




Mayoral races in North Adams, Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls, a hard-fought contest for Rensselaer County executive, and a proposal to revamp the system of city government in Saratoga Springs are among the major contests voters in Massachusetts and New York will decide in the Nov. 7 general election.

Here is a rundown of some of the major races around the region:

* In Berkshire County, the race for mayor of North Adams is the first in 34 years without an incumbent on the ballot, as four-term incumbent Richard Alcombright chose not to run again. Voters will choose between first-time candidate Thomas Bernard and City Councilor Robert Moulton Jr. in the nonpartisan race.

Bernard and Moulton, both North Adams natives, were the two top vote-getters in a five-candidate field that competed in the Sept. 19 preliminary election. In that race, Bernard drew 1,045 votes while Moulton received 431; the other candidates each received fewer than 100 votes.

Bernard, a special projects director at Smith College in Northampton, has focused his campaign on economic development and has pledged to create a city position dedicated to recruiting more employers to North Adams. Before taking his current job, Bernard worked locally at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
Moulton, who mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Alcombright in 2013, runs a longtime family business, Moulton’s Spectacle Shoppe, on Main Street. He has touted his experience as a city councilor, called for a tougher law enforcement response to opioids, and suggested that North Adams’ economic development efforts should focus less on the city’s major institutions like Mass MoCA and more on boosting entrepreneurship.

* Across northern Berkshire County, there will be a special election Nov. 7 to fill the First Berkshire District state representative seat left vacant when Rep. Gailanne Cariddi died in June.
Christine Canning, an educational consultant from Lanesborough, has the Republican line on the November ballot and will face the winner of a four-way Democratic primary scheduled for Oct. 10. The contenders in the Democratic contest are John Barrett III, the former North Adams mayor; Lisa Blackmer, a North Adams city councilor; Kevin Towle, a former aide to Cariddi; and Stephanie Bosley, an economic development professional who is the daughter of longtime former state Rep. Daniel Bosley, who represented the district before Cariddi.

* And in Pittsfield, the Nov. 7 ballot features City Council races in six of the city’s seven wards as well as a field of six candidates competing citywide for four at-large council seats.

* In Rensselaer County, the pending retirement of Republican County Executive Kathleen Jimino after four terms in office has set off a fierce campaign for her $121,000-a-year job.
Republicans have long dominated the county government, and the county GOP organization backed Jimino’s deputy, Christopher Meyer, to succeed her. But Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin of Troy challenged Meyer in the Sept. 12 Republican primary and prevailed after a bitter campaign.

Just days before the primary vote, the Times Union of Albany reported it had obtained a recording in which McLaughlin spoke abusively to a female legislative aide. The aide appeared to claim on the tape that McLaughlin had assaulted her, but the newspaper reported that the aide denied in an interview that she was assaulted.

McLaughlin now faces Democratic candidate Andrea Smyth, who is executive director of the nonprofit New York State Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health, and Green Party candidate Wayne Foy. No Democrat has ever been elected as Rensselaer County executive, but Smyth’s supporters are hoping Republican divisions after the hard-fought primary will create an opportunity for her. Democrats hold a modest enrollment edge among the county’s voters.

* In Saratoga Springs, the race for mayor is taking second billing to the bigger question of whether to revamp the city’s form of government. Voters will decide whether to approve a rewritten city charter drafted by a 15-member commission appointed last year by Mayor Joanne Yepsen, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election.

The Charter Review Commission, led by Bob Turner, a political science professor at Skidmore College, has proposed replacing the city’s century-old commission form of government with a more typical system of a mayor, city council and a professional city manager.

Under the current system, the City Council is made up of five co-equal members: a mayor and four commissioners (of accounts, finance, public safety and public works) who each have administrative control over a portion of the city government. The council members, who have two-year terms, hire deputy commissioners who oversee the day-to-day operations within their departments.

Under the proposed charter revision, administrative functions of all city departments would be consolidated under a professional city manager who would report to the mayor and six city councilors. The job of council members would become strictly legislative, and the mayor and councilors would be elected to staggered four-year terms.

Proponents say consolidating the city’s administrative functions under a single manager would increase efficiency, save money and eliminate conflicts of interest that now result from City Council members having to advocate for their own departments while also having an equal vote in decisions that affect the city as a whole.

Opponents say the projected financial savings of a charter change, which the Charter Review Commission’s members have estimated at about $400,000 a year, are overstated.
Much of the projected savings would come from eliminating the positions of five deputy commissioners -- political appointees whose pay and benefits now total $568,000 a year – and replacing them with a single city manager. But opponents, led by some of the current city commissioners, say a new city manager would need to hire additional staff to handle the workload now covered by the deputy commissioners.

If voters approve the charter revision, the changes to the city’s form of government would take effect in 2020.

In the meantime, with Yepsen stepping down, voters must choose a new mayor for at least the next two years, and the proposed charter revision has become the big issue in the contest.
The Democratic candidate, Meg Kelly, is the current deputy mayor and has been endorsed by Yepsen. Kelly has described the city’s current government as a balkanized system of “five independent silos” run by the city’s five commissioners.

The Republican candidate, Mark Baker, served as director of the Saratoga Springs City Center, the local exhibition hall, for 33 years before retiring in December. He opposes the charter change and has railed against its proposal for “a 175.9 percent increase” in the mayor’s salary.
The proposed charter revision would raise the mayor’s salary from $14,500 to $40,000 a year. Proponents have argued the change would attract a wider range of talent by opening the position to candidates who aren’t “retired or rich.”

The politics of the proposed charter revision do not break down neatly along party lines. Two of the most outspoken opponents have been Accounts Commissioner John Franck and Finance Commissioner Michelle Madigan, both Democrats who are unopposed for re-election.
Besides the mayor’s race, the only contested races in Saratoga Springs are for public safety commissioner, where Democrat Peter Martin and Republican Donald Braim are competing to succeed Christian Mathiesen, and for the city’s two seats on the county Board of Supervisors, where Democrats Tara Gaston and Patricia Friesen are challenging Republicans John Safford and Matthew Veitch.

• Elsewhere in eastern Saratoga County, there are contested races for town supervisor in Malta and Wilton and for mayor of Mechanicville.

In Malta, Republican incumbent Vincent DeLucia faces a challenge from Democrat William Breheny; in Wilton, Democrat Nancy Dwyer is attempting to unseat Republican incumbent Arthur Johnson; and in Mechanicville, Democratic challenger Anthony Sylvester faces Republican incumbent Dennis Baker.

• In Warren County, the marquee races are for Glens Falls mayor and Queensbury supervisor.
In Glens Falls, incumbent Mayor John “Jack” Diamond, a Democrat who has served since winning a special election in 2008, is barred by term limits from running again. There is a three-way race to succeed him.

Democratic candidate Dan Hall, the city’s councilor-at-large for the past nine years, has been an ally of Diamond and says he wants to “keep the momentum going.” He cites the city’s sale of its Civic Center arena to a coalition of local business owners as one of the city government’s major successes of recent years.

Republican candidate Timothy Guy, a retired Warren County sheriff’s deputy, has criticized the sale of the Civic Center as well as the city’s handling of properties seized for nonpayment of taxes. Although Guy is running on the GOP line, the city Republican Committee has withheld its endorsement from him.

Green Party candidate Rich Cirino is a former downtown merchant who helped to found the Glens Falls Collaborative, a group that organizes and promotes downtown events.

In Queensbury, two-term incumbent Supervisor John F. Strough III, a Democrat, faces a strong challenge from Republican candidate Rachel Seeber, who currently serves as one of the town’s at-large representatives on the county Board of Supervisors. The town is predominately Republican, and Seeber scored a coup last month by running as a write-in candidate in the Conservative Party primary and defeating Strough for that party’s November ballot line, even though the party’s leaders had endorsed Strough.

• In Washington County, there are contested races for town supervisor in four of the 17 towns.
In Cambridge, two-term incumbent Catherine Cassie Fedler is running on the Democratic line and faces a challenge from Beaver Watkins, who preceded her as supervisor and is running on the Conservative Party line.

In Dresden, two-term incumbent George D. Gang is running on the Democratic line and faces a challenge from Republican Paul D. Ferguson.

In Easton, incumbent Republican Daniel B. Shaw faces a challenge from Democratic candidate Phil Nicholas.

And in Whitehall, two candidates are vying to succeed incumbent Supervisor George Armstrong, who is retiring. Democrat Peter J. Telisky, a former town supervisor and village mayor, faces Republican John W. Rozell, a town councilman.