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November 9, 2013

Minor party lines alter local races

By Joe Mahoney Staff writer
The Daily Star

---- — Oneonta business owner Craig Gelbsman, a Republican, offered two words Friday to explain why he is leading in the race for a county Board of Representatives seat in a highly Democratic district: Hard work.

“I know I worked very hard,” Gelbsman said after stunning the local Democratic establishment by emerging as the top vote-getter for District 12, the seat now held by Rep. Catherine Rothenberger, D-Oneonta. She has decided to step down from the board at year’s end, and the Democrats fielded Amy Hornburg-Heilveil to run for the seat.

What the Democrats said they didn’t foresee is that Gelbsman, already holding the Republican line, was able to use two other minor party lines that proved crucial in edging Hornburg-Heilveil by five votes, 137-132.

Gelbsman, who owns First Choice Cleaners and has 28 employees in the region, said he wasn’t certain whether that thin lead would survive the opening of paper ballots Wednesday at the Otsego County Board of Elections. But he said he is optimistic that things will work out in his favor, nothing that paper ballots generally break along the same percentages as machine ballots.

Otsego County Democratic Chairman Richard Abbate acknowledged in hindsight that his party miscalculated by not coming up with a minor party line for its candidate. That will be among the lessons learned from the 2013 elections, he said, as the party regroups after failing to capture the majority of the Board of Representatives this year.

As the day for counting paper ballots GOP approaches, the Democrats are even further behind in District 8. There, incumbent Rep. John Kosmer, D-Fly Creek, trails Republican challenger Rick Hulse Jr. by 33 votes, 556 to 589.

Again, minor party lines, this time wielded by Hulse, proved to be the difference. Without them, Abbate noted, Hulse had 432 Republican votes. Kosmer, meanwhile, received 487 Democratic votes.

Kosmer’s chances were also diminished by the fact that a couple of town of Otsego Democratic elected officials enthusiastically backed an independent candidate for Otsego town highway superintendent, Bryan Pernat.

Pernat ended up pulling more than 300 votes, but still finished third in the three-way contest. As Abbate sees it, the support for Pernat helped doom the chances of Democratic candidate Mark diLorenzo and seal the victory for Republican John Schallert, while making waves that rocked Kosmer’s chances.

“John Kosmer was the one who felt the pain from what happened,” Abbate said.

While Republicans generally did well on the county board races — with the exception of losing the coveted District 5 seat to the Democrat Ed Lentz of New Lisbon — the GOP fell flat in its efforts to replace county Treasurer Dan Crowell with Edward Keator Jr., the treasurer for the village of Cooperstown. After weathering a series of negative direct mail pieces, Crowell coasted to victory on Election Day over Keator, who ran on an independent line.

In Schoharie County, the tide turned against several officeholders closely aligned with the local Conservative Party, now swept up in a scandal centering on patronage and the alleged abusive actions of suspended county Personnel Director Cassandra Ethington.

Among those being shown the door by voters was Cobleskill Town Supervisor Tom Murray, a Democrat with close ties to the Conservatives. He took 29 percent of the vote, while his GOP opponent, Leo McAllister, had 71 percent.

Also soundly beaten was Jefferson Town Supervisor Dan Singletary, a Republican active in Conservative circles and a backer of Ethington. He will be replaced by Sean Jordan, a former county employee who is also a Republican.

Schoharie County Treasurer William Cherry, a Republican, said there are many good Conservatives in the county but they now have the misfortune of having had their party “taken over by a faction of disgruntled Republicans using extreme tactics.”

The town supervisor races in Schoharie County — in Blenheim, Fulton and Wright — were too close to call after machine ballots were counted. Paper ballots will be counted Nov. 19.

Among those whose fate hangs in the balance is Phil Skowfoe, the chairman of the county board, the Fulton town supervisor and a Democrat. He leads Republican Francis Tatten, 214-212.