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An Easy Count

Albany city elections make history despite unexpectedly low voter turnout

by Erin Pihlaja on September 13, 2013

Historic Albany is finally ready to embrace the modern world, it seems, if the (unofficial) poll results from Tuesday’s primary (Sept. 10) are any indication. For sure, there are still races that are too close to call and will need every absentee ballot counted, but in many, like the highly publicized mayoral contest, a winner has already been declared. 

Her name is Katherine M. Sheehan, and she will be, barring the unforseen, the first female mayor of the capital of the Empire State, which is also one of the oldest chartered cities in the country. Unofficial results put the former corporate lawyer, who most recently has been the city’s treasurer, at a formidable lead over her challenger, former Councilman Corey Ellis, by 3,899 votes out of the 10,047 counted between the two as of Tuesday night. There were also 585 write-in votes tallied.

This race drew attention from outside of the Capital Region, largely because, for the first time in Albany’s history, it was all but certain that history would change and Albany’s next mayor would not be a white male, given that Sheehan’s strongest challenger was Ellis, who is black.

Yet, even the historic nature and importance of the contest wasn’t enough to bring the voters out in droves. The day may have started out literally with a crash of thunder, but as the polls closed and numbers started to filter in, it was clear to many that, especially in citywide races, voter turnout for the primary elections was tepid. In the 2009 mayoral primary, in which Ellis ran against then-four-term incumbent Jerry Jennings, 14,431 people cast their votes between the two, according to a memorandum published in October of 2009 from the Albany County Board of Elections. This year, not counting absentee votes, which will increase the total votes and decrease the percent change, marked a 30-percent decrease in voter turnout for this particular race. 

Every vote counts in this game, and there are many races in which the outcome will be undecided until each of those votes is verified and the absentee ballots are tallied. The results for the Democratic Common Council primaries for Ward 2 and Ward 5 are two such cases. 

In Ward 2, challenger Vivian Kornegay, a Sheehan ally, took a marginal lead of 19 votes over incumbent Lester Freeman. There are 18 absentee ballots still out. There were 31 write-in ballots cast at the polls.

In Ward 5, incumbent Jacqueline M. Jenkins-Cox, with 95 votes, is third in what was a four-way primary race for the seat. Mark Robinson leads with 130 votes, and Samuel Coleman racked up 116 votes. Johnsie M. Ingram managed 37 votes, less than the write-in count of 42.

There were some clear primary winners, too.

In Ward 1, Sheehan ally Dorcey Applyrs, who also had the approval of the seat’s retiring Councilman Dominick Calsolaro, overtook Andres Rivera and Scott Mannarino. She led second place contender Rivera by 133 votes.

In Ward 4, Kelly Kimbrough, a police officer who was backed by Sheehan, took 68 percent of the vote while Clifton Dixon took 26 percent. This seat is being vacated by retiring councilwoman Barbara Smith, who also backed Kimbrough. 

In the most crushing ward victory, in Ward 7, Catherine Fahey defeated Timothy Carney with 76 percent of the vote. Not even the 23 write-in votes could have helped Carney here.

In one of the highest voter turnout areas, Ward 9 went to Judy Doesschate over Terrence Ward at 56 to 38 percent. 

Incumbent Leah Golby defended her seat against challengers Owusu Anane and Howard Yaeger in Ward 10 with 128 votes over Anane, who took second with 155 votes.

Judd Krasher trounced Anton Konev in Ward 11, at 62 to 34 percent, but it should be noted that Konev was the one council member who was redistricted out of the seat he held for one term when the ward lines were redrawn this past year. 

A close but not-yet-out-of-the-picture race is in the ward with the highest voter turnout, Ward 8. Deputy Ward Leader Jack Flynn, one of the only Jennings-backed candidates to take a lead, is followed by Leonard Ricchiuti, Jr. at 49 to 46 percent. This one may come down to absentee ballots and a thorough review process. What makes it all the more interesting is that, as the Times Union’s Jordan Carleo-Evangelist reported, Flynn works at the Board of Elections. 

Other victories in the Albany primaries went to Susan Kushner over Rika Murray for Family Court Judge, and Sheehan-backed Darius Shahinfar over county legislator Gary Domalewicz to succeed Sheehan as treasurer. Both victors led with a wide margin, Kushner at 60 percent and Shahinfar at 61 percent. Interestingly enough, the race for Family Court Judge drew more voters to the polls than any other Albany race on Tuesday, with the unofficial count at 15,413, which is 4,781 more votes than were tallied for even the mayoral race. Kushner pulled in 9,358 on her own, meaning that even those pesky 815 write-ins wouldn’t have made a difference to Murray’s bid. 

Sheehan was back at work as treasurer on Wednesday morning and said that she will take a few days off soon to attend to some family matters. Then she will face November’s general election, which for her means fending off Republican Jesse Calhoun, Conservative Party member Joseph Sullivan and whoever won the Green Party line—it’s between admitted placeholder William Peltz and a write-in candidate, presumably Theresa Portelli, who ran on the opportunity-to-ballot line. 

“We worked really hard on pushing for a high voter turnout,” said Sheehan of her camp’s efforts. “We were getting a sense that turnout was low pretty early on in the day.” She added that she and her camp will analyze the numbers to see what areas they need to focus on for more support. 

“We’re really trying to get people engaged and to participate,” she said. “There’s going to be a change—a different leadership and new opportunity.”