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Election Wrap-Up

Incumbents win big, while long-shot Democrats fail to hit the mark


After packing polling places with unprecedented turnout, local Obama supporters turned up at Jillian’s in Albany Tuesday night. A who’s who of Albany politicians paraded through the official local Obama celebration headquarters—before Obama had even been declared the victor— to congratulate jubilant supporters who packed the Albany bar. Paul Tonko, candidate for the 21st District Congressional seat, greeted voters early in the evening. Members of the Albany County Legislature and the Albany Common Council celebrated the Obama victory. Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings even showed up, and tried, unsuccessfully, to quiet the raucous crowd to make a speech.

Albany Common Councilman Corey Ellis had a lot to celebrate. As a coordinator of the local Obama campaign and advisor to Albany District Attorney David Soares, Ellis’ wins came big on election night. Ellis introduced the victorious Soares as a close friend and noted that, in the early days of the campaign, “We didn’t know where we were going, but we knew it was going to be a better place.”

Soares won more than 70 percent of the vote in a commanding victory over Republican Roger Cusick. The latest count, as of press time, had Soares at 80,441 votes to Cusick’s 29,128.

Soares congratulated his office staff and volunteers, who surrounded him on stage at Jillian’s. The raucous crowd reacted forcefully to Soares’ win. Soares took the time to chide members of police union Council 82 who he said gave the false impression that he does not have the support of local law enforcement. Soares also noted that voters saw “through negative campaigning and the scare tactics” of his opponent.

In other Albany races, Dan Egan and Rose Brandon won seats on the Albany Board of Education. The proposition brought forward by Albany Common Councilman Richard Conti (Ward 6) that would give the Albany Common Council the ability to approve creating new positions and salary and title changes passed overwhelmingly.

In the 20th Congressional District, Kirsten Gillibrand handily defeated Republican opponent Sandy Treadwell. With Treadwell spending $5.5 million (mostly his own money) to Gillibrand’s $3.5 million, Gillibrand still managed to defeat Treadwell with more than 60 percent of the vote. Observers say Gillibrand’s resounding victory this year will make her an intimidating opponent for the Republican Party for years to come.

Paul Tonko was elected into New York’s 21st Congressional seat, beating opponent Jim Buhrmaster by about 60,000 votes—a 25-percent margin. The seat, which will be vacated in January by Michael McNulty (D-Green Island), has been a Democratic stronghold since the days of Sam Stratton, and Tonko was considered a sure bet after his primary victory.

“It’s an exciting time for the nation,” said Tonko at his election night party at Mallozzi’s Banquet Hall in Rotterdam. “I think there’s this breaking from the past and it could be the beginnings of a new era.”

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Tonko thanked his supporters, family, staff and fellow assembly members for helping him on a series of journeys.

“The journey that my family has taken me on always reminded me that you need to give back—life is about giving back,” Tonko told the room full of cheering supporters. “They placed at my feet opportunity and challenge, and they placed under my feet the foundation of faith, family and freedoms that enables us to participate in this democracy.”

After speaking on the significance of his history and his past, Tonko spoke of the journey that lies ahead.

“That prepared me so well,” he said, “to deal with issues in a bipartisan, bicameral way, working with the administration anew to advance the causes of the American mosaic, so that everyone is part of a discussion.”

In his speech, Tonko named some top issues he hopes to help resolve while in Congress, including the withdrawal of troops from the Middle East, working to repair the frail and fragile economy, increasing sustainable energy, and fixing America’s deficient health insurance.

“It’s going to be a coterminous agenda. I don’t think we can single one [issue] out from the other,” Tonko said. “I think you’re going to see a presidency that is going to be very aggressive about moving forward.”

Tonko represented the 105th New York State Assembly District for 25 years, and was appointed president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority in 2007.

The 21st Congressional District contains all or parts of Albany, Fulton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady and Schoharie counties.

In the state Assembly races, incumbents John McEneny (D-Albany), Tim Gordon (I-Bethlehem), Bob Reilly (D-Newtonville), and George Amedore (R-Rotterdam) enjoyed comfortable victories over their challengers, while Republican newcomer Tony Jordan beat former Wilton Town Board member, Democrat Ian McGaughey, to take over the 112th, the seat of former Assemblyman Roy McDonald.

In the state Senate races, as the Democrats rode to a history-making majority, local incumbents Neil Breslin (D-Albany) and Republican Hugh Farley (R-Niskayuna) trounced their opponents.

Nearly a dozen volunteers for Mike Russo worked the phones at the Flavour Cafe in Troy, calling to remind voters that it was Election Day, and trying to get them out to support their candidate. And at first reporting it appeared their hard work for Russo, Democratic candidate for the state Senate in the 43rd District, seemed to be paying off: He started out with a strong lead over his opponent, former Assemblyman Roy McDonald, as the results began trickling in.

“Our prayers are with you,” Russo read the message from his Blackberry. “I don’t know whether that is good or not.”

But the numbers soon changed, and McDonald seized the lead that he would ride into victory as the final polls reported. At around 10:30 PM, Russo strode to the center of his supporters, gathered in the Flavour Cafe, and conceded victory to McDonald.

The final numbers saw Russo trailing McDonald 60 to 39 percent, with spoiler Chris Consuello taking 1 percent of the vote on the Working Families Party line.

It appears that Russo, who ran an underdog campaign that was outfunded by his Republican opponent’s by nearly eight to one, was unable to overcome the overwhelming enrollment disadvantage that the Democrat faced. Had he won the district, he would have seized the seat of former majority leader, Joe Bruno, which had belonged safely to the Republicans for more than a generation.

“I just spoke with Roy McDonald. We are to a point where it is mathematically impossible for us to win,” Russo said before conceding. But, he continued, this campaign had proven that “it is not impossible to run a positive race. . . . We raised the bar in political campaigns.”

He and his team, he said, knew they were facing a daunting challenge and could be proud of their efforts. “We are leaving this race with our heads high . . . with our integrity intact . . . for the next race.”

His supporters and staff applauded the idea of doing it all over again.

In other races, Rensselaer County Judge Patrick McGrath appears to have defeated Republican Anthony Carpinello in the race for the state Supreme Court.

In Troy, the referendum to adopt Mayor Harry Tutunjian’s revised charter failed to pass muster with the voters “We were out doing lit drops to defeat proposal No. 4. We are very excited. I think it is an opportunity to start again and do this the right way,” said Councilman Ken Zalewski.

Zalewski has suggested to his colleagues that they reach out to Tutunjian in the hopes of establishing a bipartisan commission. “I am calling it a citizen-centric commission.”

In two separate referendums, Trojans also voted to create a library district, but, as of press time, appeared to have voted down the proposal to fund the district. In practical terms, both referendums needed to pass in order to move forward with the district, Zalewski said, and without funding, it could be tricky.

—Chet Hardin, David King, and Allie Garcia

What a Week

Arrest Him!

In light of Albany Common Councilman Glen Casey’s knack for getting himself into embarrassing situations—reading magazines through council meetings while local news cameras roll, proposing overarching legislation that is not under the council’s purview and other such blunders—you’d think the guy might cut himself a break. However, this week Casey found a new-and-improved way to embarrass himself. Casey, who proposed a law earlier this year that would have people arrested who don’t pay their parking tickets after two years, got his Cadillac booted . . . in a loading zone. Casey initially claimed that he promptly went in and paid the boot fee for tickets he felt he did not deserve. He noted that clients use his car and may have received tickets without telling him. However, City Treasurer Betty Barnett told the Times Union he still owes $175 in tickets. She also told the Times Union she found it hard to believe Casey did not receive notices at his address about the money he owed.

Alienate the Youth Vote

Hordes of University of Albany students, who thought they were registered to vote in Albany, were turned away outright at the polls after being told they were not registered. Poll watchers said that the students were not offered affidavit ballots as they should have been under state law. Students turned away at the polls wound up going to the Albany Board of Elections, where Supreme Court judges reviewed their cases and granted court orders for reportedly more than 100 students to be able to vote. Voting problems have plagued the University at Albany campus in the past, as students in different quads are required to vote in different municipalities.

Troy Underwater

Monday night, a break in a water main underneath River Street in downtown Troy erupted, tearing apart the street and flooding the neighborhood. City employees worked to repair the damaged pipe, as the section of River Street was closed off to traffic. Earlier this year, a gas line on River Street also failed, causing a massive explosion that luckily occurred during the night, and not at a time when the concussion could certainly have injured or even killed people on the often-busy street. Perhaps when former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno launched his farewell porkathon, he should have earmarked some of that $6 million for repairing Troy’s crippled infrastructure, instead of destroying City Hall.

Spoiling the Party

A flier for state Senate candidate Chris Consuello caused an uproar in the 43rd Senate District, and raised questions of legality

Troy voters are no strangers to one-time pizza boy and Department of Public Works employee Chris Consuello. Consuello has run for city council, mayor, even state Assembly. This year, the 23-year-old politico took his shot at the state Senate seat in the 43rd District, the district of former Majority Leader Joe Bruno. And this year, as every year, Consuello made his run on the Working Families Party line, gave no interviews, made no public appearances, and refused to even speak with members of the local leadership of the WFP.

Consuello is, as they say, a “shadow candidate,” and the man behind his shadowy electoral endeavors is widely assumed to be DPW commissioner, county legislator, and former constituent liaison to Bruno, Bob Mirch.

The strategy is simple, and sometimes effective: A main party operative props up a phony candidate on a third-party line to force a primary, which the puppet might possibly win, thereby distracting the other major party’s candidate. In this case, Consuello, who is viewed as a spoiler for the Republicans, ran a primary against former Democratic candidate Brian Premo in the 43rd, and won. Thus, Consuello was able to make it on the ballot on the WFP line, and was able to divert 1 percent of the vote away from the other candidates, presumably from Mike Russo, the Democratic—and WFP-endorsed—candidate.

Last week, a flier began to arrive in the mailboxes of voters in the district urging them to vote for Consuello. The flier, which featured a picture of Democrat Barack Obama, also featured a photo of a smiling Consuello, and called on voters to “Vote Row E—Working Families.”

“It’s time to make our voice heard. . . . It’s time for a real change in leadership,” the flier read.” The WFP logo was affixed to the back of the flier, but nowhere on the literature did it state which, if any, registered committee was responsible for the flier.

Pat Pafundi, Rensselaer County chair of WFP, said that her organization exhausted precious hours calling the 1,400 WFP registrants in the 43rd to remind them not to be fooled by Consuello and his flier—that he was not endorsed by the WFP and does not represent the party’s core values.

“To Photoshop the photo of a DPW worker, pizza delivery guy next to the next president is despicable,” Pafundi said. She said that the WFP has been trying for the past three years to block Consuello’s efforts, but that there is little they can do when their opponents are so willing to play dirty.

She forwarded a copy of the flier to the legal staff of Barack Obama’s campaign, but laughed when she admitted that they were probably a little busy at the moment.

Another benefit of the hardball political tactic of a puppet candidate became apparent on Tuesday evening, as concerned supporters of Russo began to circulate the speculation that a second attempt had been made by the Consuello people to distract and divert votes away from Russo. A robocall, a prerecorded message autodialed to registered voters, from WFP executive director Dan Cantor to registrants in the 43rd, urged voters to pull the lever for Barack Obama on the WFP line.

However, there was some confusion about the call, and many people reported that Cantor had actually urged people to vote down the entire WFP line. The obvious problem in the 43rd: Chris Consuello.

“I honestly don’t remember,” said Cantor, whether the robocall that he issued called for supporters to vote down the line or whether it specifically called for voting for Obama on the WFP line. He did, however, take full credit for any robocall in the district, and dismissed the idea that Consuello’s people had made the call.

“The people who did the flier are clearly capable of anything,” Cantor said, “but they didn’t do this.”

Cantor also admitted that is was an unfortunate oversight on his part that calls would be made to voters in the 43rd that didn’t clearly state that they supported all of the candidates on the WFP line accept for Consuello. In the middle of organizing many campaign efforts throughout the state, sometimes, unfortunately, he said, things get overlooked.

“It was probably only two dozen voters,” he said, “but we should have suppressed those numbers.”

Although nearly everyone in the WFP and Russo camps who spoke with Metroland assumes that Mirch was behind the fliers and Consuello’s irritating candidacy, the longtime political pit bull denies any involvement.

“That’s terrible. I am as innocent as can be,” Mirch said. “I still support Chris Consuello, and I didn’t know anything about the mailer until I saw it. I am always happy to get blamed. The nice thing about getting blamed for anything is like getting to rent space in people’s heads for free. If they are so obsessed with me, God bless ’em.”

“But the one thing about me,” Mirch said, “if I do something, I am awful proud of it.”

As for the legality of the flier, according to Bob Brehm, deputy director of public information with the New York State Board of Elections, the flier did not, in fact, violate election law, as there is no statute that states political literature endorsing candidates for state office needs to be marked as paid for by a committee. In fact, the only way that the BOE can track the legality of a piece of election literature, he said, was through committee disclosures.

If the person or persons responsible for these fliers never disclose the expense to the state, then the state will never know who was responsible.

And as for that shadowy figure Consuello, Cantor called his behavior “grotesque” and hoped that it didn’t affect the outcome of the election. It didn’t.

—Chet Hardin

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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