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So many people to thank: mayoral candidate Councilman Corey Ellis delivers his concession speech Tuesday at the Crowne Plaza in Albany.

Photo: Chet Hardin

Jennings Wins—but His Coattails Are Short

Albany progressives secure an important win, but lose their shot at ousting Mayor Jennings

At 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 general election.

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 blind.”

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 numbers.

“It 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.

—Chet Hardin, Stephen Leon and Cecelia Martinez

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