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New face of the 20th: Kirsten Gillibrand claims victory.

. . . But You Can’t Hide

Kirsten Gillibrand defeats incumbent U.S. Rep. John Sweeney


Early on Tuesday morning at a polling place in a small fire station in Greenport, 20th District Congressional candidate Kirsten Gillibrand’s 3-year-old son Theodore called it: “Mommy’s gonna win!” he shouted as she carried him out of the polling place in her arms.

Gillibrand got the official news onstage in front of a throng of supporters at the Gideon Putnam Hotel in Saratoga Springs later that night, around 11 PM, when her communications director, Allison Price, received a call from a reporter telling her that they were calling the race for Gillibrand. She was No. 15, Price was told, of the 15 seats the Democrats needed to take over the House of Representatives. Price leaned over to Gillibrand, who paused, smiled and announced to the crowd that the Associated Press had declared her the victor in the battle for the 20th district.

Her first order of business was to tell the cheering crowd of her supporters that her office would be open to them.

“You will see me any time you want to see me!” she declared.

Earlier that evening, Gillibrand walked up and down Broadway in Saratoga Springs, cheerfully greeting voters.

Her opponent, John Sweeney, was a lot less conspicuous on Election Day. The night before, Sweeney appeared at Milton Town Hall to announce $1 million in funding for the town. After the announcement, Sweeney avoided the crowd that was waiting to speak to him by exiting the back door of the building and leaving in a different car than the one he came in.

Fallout from the release of documents showing that state police had responded to a 911 domestic violence call made by Gaia Sweeney in December last year haunted the Sweeney campaign in its final days. Sweeney had promised to reveal the “real” report relating to the 911 call, but by Friday, it was apparent that no such document was forthcoming.

Over the weekend, momentum for the Gillibrand campaign became obvious with the Post-Star withdrawing its endorsement of Sweeney and the release of a new Siena poll showing the race in statistical dead heat. Siena polls had previously shown Gillibrand behind by double digits. Insiders say that by Sunday, Sweeney was exploring the possibility of having a debate.

“It’s un-F’ing believable!” declared member Joe Seeman, who explained how activist groups and unions had come together to work for the Gillibrand campaign. “They all got off their asses and made a difference!” he said.

Gillibrand staffer Ross Offinger, who has been with the campaign since its early days, said he knew that the race was winnable when the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations endorsed Gillibrand in August, over Sweeney, who has had long ties with the labor movement. Offinger admitted that it’s hard to speculate what would have happened if the revelations of Gaia Sweeney’s 911 call had not been made public, but he said that the numbers had been trending toward the Gillibrand campaign for some time. In fact, while Siena polls consistently had Gillibrand trailing Sweeney, internal polls showed a much a closer race.

State Assemblyman John McEneny (D-Albany), who arrived to congratulate Gillibrand, insisted this week that the race in the 20th was about more than “scandal and patronage.”

“Right now, there is no more important race than getting back the House of Representatives. We are talking about war and life and death.” McEneny said although he felt a change was coming he was pleasantly surprised to see such a wave of House victories across the nation “this early.”

Saratoga Mayor Valerie Keehn said that Gillibrand’s election was “momentous” for Saratoga Springs.

Gillibrand thanked her supporters and staff, and said that most importantly, she wanted to thank the women of the 20th district. She spoke of her grandmother, Dorothea “Polly” Noonan, and how she inspired her to get involved in politics. She then insisted the race was about restoring “the checks and balances in Washington.”

Gillibrand walked off the stage Tuesday night, signing stickers and pictures, shaking every hand that was thrust her way, while a swarm of newsmen scraped and clawed to get her in their camera’s sights. As the frenzy calmed, Sweeney’s concession speech drew the attention of the euphoric crowd. Some cozied up to a small TV set to hear his speech; others just stared at the image of Sweeney’s concession on the wall-sized screen. In his speech Sweeney wondered if his district would see a decrease in funding under Gillibrand and declared that Gillibrand would now “live in the glass house.” The revelers turned away, smiled at each other, and then started singing, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, hey, goodbye!”

Rumors that there was no concession call from Sweeney to Gillibrand could not be confirmed.

—David King

What a Week

That’s Me in the Spotlight

Turkey resident Mahir Cagri is seeking an apology and royalties from Sacha Baron Cohen, the man responsible for the popular Borat character. Cagri, who has become a cyber celebrity since he began posting on a personal Web site in 1999, says he provided the inspiration for Cohen’s character. Included on the site are photos of himself playing ping-pong and sunbathing in a skimpy bathing suit, scenes also portrayed in Cohen’s current hit movie.

Oops! . . . She Did It Again

News that pop-star Britney Spears filed for a divorce from husband and aspiring rapper Kevin Federline came as light relief from the glut of serious political coverage this week. The Spears-Federline split comes about two years after the nuptials, a significant improvementy from Spears’ first wedding in Las Vegas, which lasted less than three days. Don’t feel too bad for her—thanks to a prenuptial agreement, she’ll keep her fortune.

Mao Zedong Condoms

A government agency in China has ordered a condom seller to shut down his shop after the administration received several complaints about the products Zhang Zhiwen was selling. Agency officials said the sanctioning was because the wares were sold without Chinese instructions and in inappropriate packages: The condoms were wrapped in small metal containers with comical images of historical figures, including former leader Mao Zedong. According to the shop owner, the Mao condoms were hot sellers.

Got Sex?

How much sex is too much sex? That’s one of the questions being asked in a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign launched by the United Church of Canada. (More specifically, the ad reads, “How much fun can sex be before it’s a sin?” and appears with a picture of a can of whipped cream.) The advertisement is one of three ads designed to provoke debate about hot-button religious issues, as well as encourage new membership.

Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead

In a move that could have drastically affected the elections and restored faith in the Republican Party, George Bush announced on Wednesday that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would resign. The only problem was the announcement came a day after the elections.

Thrown on Swords

GOP faithful rally together in Albany to cheer their losing candidates

J. Christopher Callaghan, Republican candidate for New York state comptroller, took the stage Tuesday evening at the Crowne Plaza in Albany to give his concession speech to a rowdy and exhausted group of supporters. Shouts came from the crowd: “You made us proud Chris! You made us all proud!”

It was after 11 PM. Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer could be seen coincidently delivering his acceptance speech on the large screen set up behind Callaghan. His bowtie hanging loose, Callaghan opened his concession speech with a parting shot: “I called Speaker Silver and congratulated him on winning. . . . No, I called Hevesi, but I still couldn’t resist a punch line.”

He wondered aloud why the voters had chosen to vote for a man like Alan Hevesi, who is under investigation for allegedly using state staffers to chauffer his wife for years.

“But they don’t owe me an explanation,” Callaghan said. To which, someone in the crowd shouted out, “They owe me one!” Another person shouting, “They owe us money!”

Standing in this crowd of supporters, it is easy to see that in his short run for office, a run that was marked by his relative obscurity, underfunding and lack of party support (Republican Party chairman Steve Minarik was notably absent), Callaghan has gained a “man of the people” reputation.

In an emotional moment during his concession speech, he thanked his family, including his “un-chauffered wife,” and all the young supporters that he says adopted him.

Callaghan was not only the only candidate supporters had filed in to see at the Crowne Plaza. Gubernatorial candidate John Faso took the stage first in the evening to make a concession speech that surprised no one.

“We were not successful in vote tallies,” the former state assemblyman said. “But we were successful in raising the issues and sounding the alarms.” Faso declared that his Republican challenge to Spitzer moved the conversation toward the issues that most concern New Yorkers, such as the upstate economy and reducing taxes.

After Faso came John Spencer, the Republican and Conservative Party candidate for Senate. Spencer, who was joined onstage by Michael Long, the Conservative Party chairman, wanted it to be known that his campaign was run on principles.

Even though, he said, he had lost in his bid against incumbent Sen. Hillary Clinton, and GOP losses were spread throughout the entire nation—it was clear by then that the Republicans had lost the House of Representatives—there was still hope for the U.S. Senate.

“We are going to hold on to the Senate,” he said. “I’ll say my prayers.”

After the speech, when asked why he would run against a candidate as popular as the incumbent—a question that each of the candidates could have been asked—Spencer summed it up: “We’re in a democracy. We’re not in the coronation business.”

—Chet Hardin

The Electoral College

Skidmore evades repeat of election-day controversy.

When the one-booth polling place at Skidmore College opened Tuesday, student Adam Eckstein was apprehensive. During previous election cycles, Republicans were accused of intimidating students and challenging their votes, thereby deflating turnout numbers. Eckstein, an active Democrat, was anticipating a repeat performance, especially since Skidmore voters had the potential to, perhaps significantly, affect the outcome of the contentious 20th District race.

By mid-afternoon, he and several other members of Skidmore’s Democratic club, some of whom also interned for the Kirsten Gillibrand campaign, were cautiously relaxed as they planned how to proceed with their get-out-the-vote efforts from inside a small conference room on the third floor of Ladd Hall.

“It’s boring right now, but that means everything’s going well,” Eckstein said as he scoured the Internet, monitoring the day’s events on several news sites and blogs. “Everything’s going right.”

He estimated that about 600 students are registered to vote on the overwhelmingly Democratic Skidmore campus. As of 4 PM, poll watchers reported that approximately one-quarter of those students had cast a ballot.

Inside the conference room, poster-size lists of the dorm hall and room number of each registered voter was taped to the wall. When confirmed that a particular student had voted, their residency was stricken from the list. Volunteers used up minutes on their cell phones by placing multiple calls to remind friends to vote.

“We’re sort of notorious in Saratoga for swinging elections more Democratic than the town otherwise would be,” said Marisa Falcon.

That’s partially why Skidmore’s polling place has been challenged by Saratoga Springs politicians and residents. The Skidmore College polling location was established in 2001. Supporters of the decision argue it allows students to participate in the community in which they reside while providing a polling place that’s convenient.

Opponents, however, often are uneasy about the amount of power the location puts in the hands of students, who potentially can change the government of a city that they only call home for part of the year.

When members of the Skidmore Democratic club and interns for the Gillibrand campaign encouraged students to register to vote prior to the Oct. 13 deadline, Falcon said they encountered mixed sentiment. “Some people thought we didn’t have the right to vote here,” she said. Others simply preferred to vote absentee in their home district.

The future of the Skidmore College polling place came under fire again, though subtly, this cycle. If the city charter reform measure had been approved (it was defeated), it could have jeopardized the future of on-campus voting by shifting authority over polling locations to the mayor’s office, according to a letter from John Franck, the city official in charge of elections, which was published in Skidmore’s student newspaper.

Inside the Skidmore third-floor Democratic headquarters, students were content with passing off the charter vote as a “town issue” that they were unconcerned about. The students said they were surprised when two opponents of the measure showed up to canvass students between classes.

While charter-reform opponents’ canvassing was restricted to outdoors, Skidmore Democrats took a much more personal approach. Volunteers went from building to building, knocking on doors to encourage registered voters who hadn’t yet cast their ballot to do so by 9 PM.

“I didn’t knock on someone’s door today because I thought they were a Republican,” said Eli Turkle, expressing his understanding of how close the vote spread for the two congressional candidates could come.

More often than not, however, the typical Skidmore student will vote Democrat.

At one point during the afternoon, a student stood outside the Intercultural Lounge, in which the polling booth was set up, scanning a newspaper. “I’m trying to figure out the issues,” she said when another student approached her.

“Just vote Democrat,” he responded.

—Nicole Klaas

Roundup of Results

Democratic incumbent Hillary Clinton easily retained her U.S. Senate seat for a second term. Her closest challenger, Republican John Spencer, trailed by roughly 35 points. Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate, pulled more than 50,000 votes.

In the largest upset of the evening, newcomer Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand unseated incumbent Republican John Sweeney in the 20th Congressional District with 53 percent of the vote. Gillibrand joins the more than two dozen Democrats whose victories led the party to gain control of the House of Representatives.

Democratic incumbent Michael McNulty trounced his opponent Republican Warren Redlich in the 21st U.S. Congressional District, 78 to 22 percent. Earlier this month, McNulty announced that if Democrats took control of the house, he was in line to chair a subcommittee of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

What can we say? Eliot Spitzer easily seized a gubernatorial victory from Republican opponent John Faso. Spitzer’s 69-point lead is the largest margin of victory in New York state’s modern history.

Democrat Andrew Cuomo handily beat his opponent, the Republican former district attorney and judge Jeanine Pirro, by 20 points. Rachel Treichler, the Green Party candidate, pulled 1 percent of the vote.

Incumbent Comptroller Alan Hevesi survived scandal and won a second term as the state’s fiscal watchdog. J. Christopher Callaghan, Hevesi’s relatively unknown Republican opponent, caught up quickly after blowing the whistle on Hevesi’s “chaffeur-gate,” and garnered roughly 40 percent of the vote.

New York State Assembly: In the 108th district, Independence party candidate Tim Gordon, who also ran on the Democratic line, won with 51 percent of the vote, beating Republican Martin Reid. In the 109th district, incumbent Democrat Bob Reilly won with 62 percent over Republican Paulette Barlette; in the 110th district, incumbent Republican James Tedisco won with 64 percent of the vote; in the 112th, Roy McDonald beat David Carter with 65 percent of the vote; and in the 127th District, incumbent Republican Peter D. Lopez took the open seat from opponent Democrat Scott Trees, with 55 percent of the vote.

In Albany City Court, incumbent Rachel Kretser defeated Conservative John Scott by a large margin.

In the race for two seats on the Albany Board of Education, newcomers Mark Barth and Wayne Morris led the way, ousting board president Edward Brown Jr.

All four Albany charter propositions passed.

The Saratoga charter reform proposition was soundly defeated.

—Chet Hardin

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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