many people to thank: mayoral candidate Councilman Corey
Ellis delivers his concession speech Tuesday at the
Crowne Plaza in Albany.
Wins—but His Coattails Are Short
progressives secure an important win, but lose their shot
at ousting Mayor Jennings
Martel’s off of New Scotland, supporters of Mayor Jerry Jennings
packed into the tented outdoor patio and enjoyed the open
bar and wide variety of fried foods. Oldies music played quietly
over the speaker system as supporters chatted and congratulated
each other. At 9 PM, as the polls closed, the atmosphere was
more excited than anxious.
News vans lined up, creating a border around the tent; periodically
throughout the night, cameramen adjusted the lighting around
the podium where Jennings eventually would deliver his victory
speech. As the night progressed and results rolled in, campaign
workers ran outside the tent to report back to their candidates,
working the media outlets for a scoop on who had taken what
ward. Long before Jennings made his grand entrance at 9:30
PM, two things were already clear: Jennings had won, and Betty
Barnette, the embattled incumbent city treasurer, had lost.
Jennings was greeted by supporters like political royalty.
His victory speech was short, clocking in at under 10 minutes.
He thanked his supporters, campaign staff, family and late
brother, Joe, tearing up during the last portion of his speech.
He also thanked Corey Ellis for his campaign and for “bringing
up the issues.” He vowed to not lose steam going into the
At the Crowne Plaza, the realization came halfway through
the reporting of polling results that Ellis likely would lose
his insurgent campaign against the 16-year incumbent. Jennings
took a strong lead with 1,100 votes and continued to gain
until the end, finally defeating Ellis 7,615 to 5,971.
Ellis made a lengthy concession speech, thanking his numerous,
tired volunteers from the Working Families Party and Citizen
Action. The progressive movement in Albany had been unable
to secure its most coveted win of the evening, yet Ellis was
optimistic, saying that the work that his supporters had undertaken
had shaken the machine, and raised the voices of the thousands
who go unheard and unheeded.
Throughout the day, the Twitter feed #albanyprimary was buzzing
with updates from news outlets, campaigns, poll watchers and
voters, most of which focused on problems or irregularities
at the polls. The majority of reported problems involved broken
machines or late-opening polls.
The only machine at the Robinson Square location in the 6th
Ward was down for the first hour and a half, causing voters
to leave without voting; another machine was down for more
than an hour at the ACES Incubator location in the 3rd Ward.
The machine at 400 Central Ave. serving the 9th election district
of the 5th Ward was down, forcing the residents of Central
Towers to rely on paper ballots. Luke Gucker, a candidate
running for Common Council in the 11th Ward, reported midday
that machines at Albany High School were down and paper ballots
were “floating around loose.” Election inspectors resolved
the situation by collecting the paper ballots into a folder;
the machines were back up within a half-hour.
One voter, William White, arrived at the polling location
he has used for years at 27 Delaware St. in the South End’s
Ward 2, to find that the machine was not operating 15 minutes
after it was supposed to be open.
According to White, the worker sent by the Albany County Board
of Elections to open the machine had absolutely no idea what
he was doing. They called the board and asked for assistance,
but were told to try to get the machine working themselves.
For the next two hours, White actually assisted the BOE employee
in trying to set the machine up. “Somebody should have come
in to help us,” White said. “It was the blind leading the
While White struggled to decipher the contradicting directions
on the machine, dozens of people came to vote and left without
doing so. One girl, he said, tried to vote three times, and
finally gave up.
Justin Mikulka, Ellis’ campaign manager, wondered if the multiple
reports of broken machines and voters being turned away from
the polls might have contributed to the low voter-turnout
seemed like there was a lower turnout in the lower wards,
where there are higher African-American populations,” Mikulka
said. Ellis’ campaign had targeted much of their effort on
rallying this population, and had expected a high turnout
considering the competitive ward races in each of these wards.
In the mayor’s race, with 13,500 votes cast, the turnout was
nearly 1,500 less than it was in 2005 when Jennings faced
Archie Goodbee in the primary. This low turnout was surprising
to Ellis supporters. The Ellis candidacy was widely recognized
as a stronger effort than the Goodbee campaign, raising significantly
more money, employing more volunteers, and securing the support
of both the Working Families Party and Citizen Action.
Just after 9 PM at the Midtown Tap & Tea Room on New Scotland
Avenue, 15 or 20 people had gathered to support Kathy Sheehan
and, they hoped, celebrate her victory over incumbent Betty
Barnette in the race for city treasurer. It was a little too
early for excitement or official returns, but one insider
arrived touting what he said were final counts from two uptown
districts that showed a promising trend: Sheehan had won those
districts by a whopping margin.
In recent months, Barnette had become the target of much of
the outrage over the ghost-tickets swindle that has cost Albany
untold amounts of revenue, as the office of treasurer oversees
the collection of parking fines. Sheehan was widely supported
within progressive circles throughout the city, drawing supporters
from both the Ellis camp and the supporters of onetime mayoral
candidate Shawn Morris.
Within 45 minutes or so, the size of the crowd, and its mood,
had changed dramatically: The room was now packed with Sheehan
supporters who were well aware that she was cruising to a
decisive victory over Barnette, and whose voices were rising
excitedly by the minute. The crowd looked like a cross between
a Pine Hills Neighborhood Association meeting and a Saturday
morning at Albany Youth Soccer; politicos present ranged from
state Assemblyman Jack McEneny and his daughter Rachel (a
staffer for U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand), and political newcomer
Leah Golby, who appeared on the verge of upsetting, by a very
slim margin, incumbent Jimmy Scalzo in the race for the 10th
Ward Common Council seat.
The call was in: Sheehan had trounced Barnette, receiving
more votes than any other citywide candidate (the final count
was 8,090 to 4,797, or 63 to 37 percent). Sheehan addressed
her well-wishers briefly amid bursts of applause. “We needed
to bring accountability and competence” to the office, she
began before being drowned out by cheers. Then she continued,
hinting at one of the likely reasons Albany voters ditched
Barnette after 18 years: “And I want you to hold me accountable.”
As she thanked her supporters and campaign volunteers, Sheehan
added, “I also want to thank Shawn Morris”—and again was cut
off by a loud eruption of applause, perhaps echoing a different
election story that was unfolding Tuesday night.
In the council president’s race, 12-year incumbent councilwoman
Carolyn McLaughlin easily discharged her opponent, newcomer
Lenny Ricchiuti, with 7,823 votes (61 percent).
By the end of the evening, there were some definite victors
in the individual ward races and also some cliffhangers.
The closest citywide results came in the race to fill the
city’s first chief auditor position. Darius Shahinfar, a former
aide to Gillibrand when she was the congresswoman for the
20th district, was trailing newcomer Leif Engstrom by 225
votes out of nearly 12,000 at the final reporting last night.
With roughly 1,000 absentee ballots yet to be counted, that
race is still very much up in the air.
Many in the progressive movement saw this election as a chance
to make significant gains on the council. However, it was
unclear whether they had gained the ground they had hoped.
In the 1st and 4th wards, incumbents—and stalwart progressives—Dominick
Calsolaro and Barbara Smith won easy victories over their
challengers. In the 1st, Calsolaro beat out newcomer Scott
Mannarino with 60 percent of the vote; and in the 4th, Smith
beat Lawrence Moultrie with 61 percent.
During his concession speech, Ellis lauded Calsolaro and Smith,
calling Calsolaro the ideal representative, and said that
the three of them knew that they could rely on each other
for support on the council.
In the 5th Ward, Jennings ally and incumbent Willard Timmons
lost his seat to former school-board member Jacqueline Jenkins-Cox.
Incumbent Councilwoman Kathy Fahey, a solid progressive voter
on the council, will continue to represent the 7th Ward, having
secured a victory over Susan Tobin. In the 10th Ward, newcomer
and WFP-backed candidate Golby had a tenuous 17-vote lead
over 20-year incumbent Scalzo.
In the 11th, Anton Konev appeared to be the winner, having
secured 205 votes—a strong lead over Luke Gucker, who had
won 139 votes, and his other two opponents, who each were
pulling around 100. Konev has run for the Common Council and
county legislature in the past, and was a lead organizer with
the local campaign for Barack Obama.
Gucker, who can still run on the WFP line in the general election,
has announced that he will challenge Konev in November.
In the 3rd Ward, the progressives lost ground. Ronald Bailey,
a Jennings supporter, will assume the seat being vacated by
Ellis. Bailey beat the WFP-backed candidate, Lisa Feaster,
as well as political neophyte Lasone Garland Bryan.
Perennial candidate Lester Freeman appeared to have edged
out his opponent, Victor Cain, with a slim 20-vote lead in
the 2nd Ward.
Hardin, Stephen Leon and Cecelia Martinez
loose ends this week-