Decision Day is here.
On Tuesday, voters will choose the new mayor of Glens Falls. They will decide who will be supervisor of Queensbury and six towns in Washington County, pick new town and city boards, and weigh in on three state ballot initiatives.
Inevitably, somewhere in the region, an election will come down to a handful of votes. In off-year elections like this one, without the governor or president on the ballot, far fewer people come out to vote.
It was in 2013, another off-year election, that Queensbury Ward 4 candidate Jennifer Switzer lost by four votes to Bill VanNess. Now he has moved on to become the Republican election commissioner for Warren County, and she’s running again — this time against previous Ward 4 councilman Tim Brewer, who was appointed back to the seat when VanNess became an election commissioner.
In Moreau, where voters are also choosing a new supervisor, the controversial current supervisor won by just 33 votes in 2015. Supervisor Gardner Congdon is not running for re-election, however, so Town Board member Todd Kusnierz is facing off against newcomer Mike Linehan.
In Glens Falls, the term limits rule that is forcing a new mayoral election has created a musical chairs situation.
The Glens Falls Common Council incumbents, both Democrats and Republicans, have joined forces as a bipartisan unity ticket. They are Democratic First Ward Councilman Jim Campinell, Democratic Second Ward Councilman Bill Collins, Republican Fourth Ward Councilman Scott Endieveri and Republican Fifth Ward Councilman Jim Clark.
Collins and Clark are running unopposed.
Campinell is being challenged by political newcomer Phillip Underwood, who has the Republican and Independence Party lines. Endieveri is facing two challengers — Green Party nominee Ben Lapham and Democrat Steve Baratta.
Also part of the unity ticket is Republican Jane Reid. The current Third Ward councilor is running against Green Party candidate Robin Barkenhagen for councilor-at-large to replace Dan Hall, who is the Democratic candidate for mayor.
Hall is facing off against Green Party candidate Rich Cirino and Republican candidate Tim Guy in a civil election campaign that has focused on abandoned properties, infrastructure, taxes and spending and downtown redevelopment.
With Reid running for the councilor-at-large position, her Third Ward seat has been thrown open. Running for that seat are Republican Rachel Murray and Democrat Diana Palmer.
Mayor Jack Diamond, who is barred by term limits from running for re-election, is looking to continue his political career at the Warren County Board of Supervisors. He is a Democrat, running to represent Ward 1 on the county board. He’s running against Nancy Underwood, the wife of Phillip Underwood, who is running for the Common Council from the First Ward.
The other contested race is in Ward 4 and features Democrat Bill Loeb versus Republican Karen Judd. Loeb seeks to return to the board after being defeated by James Brock in 2013. Judd, the current deputy city attorney, is making her first bid for elected office.
In Queensbury, the races have been marked by politicking from the Republican leadership that has been criticized as unethical. In an attempt to beat Republican Tony Metivier, the Ward 1 councilman who had broken with his party on one vote last year, the Queensbury Republican Committee threw its support behind newcomer Hal Bain.
Bain quickly signaled to the committee that he wanted to drop out — but it was after the date by which they could replace him on the ballot. So town Republican Committee Chairman Doug Irish pitched a scheme, via email, in which committee members would try to get Bain elected, then allow him to resign after he won. The Republicans would then be able to replace him with someone they preferred, rather than Metivier.
Democrats uncovered this plan when they filed a Freedom of Information request for Irish’s town email account, in which he and a leading member of the town’s official law firm had discussed it. After it was revealed, Irish (who had moved to North Carolina) resigned from the Town Board, the attorney resigned his leadership position as vice chairman of the Queensbury Republican Committee, and Bain announced he was dropping out of the Ward 1 race.
Two Republicans running for office were aware of some aspects of the scheme. Ward 2 Councilman Brian Clements was copied on all of the emails and acknowledged that he had read them, although he had not responded. Republican candidate for supervisor Rachel Seeber said she knew Bain was thinking about whether to run for office, but said she did not know about Irish’s plan for the situation. Irish has also worked closely with her on her campaign, and some criticized her for not criticizing him.
A third Republican, Ward 4 Councilman Tim Brewer, has tried to keep some distance from the others, saying he votes his own way and does not stick with the party at all times.
While Democrats are hoping the situation gives them votes, they have been hurt by the fact that Democratic Supervisor John Strough did not give the Town Board a scathing audit from the state. He told the board that the town had passed the audit, which was not true, although board members asked about it after he had made changes to resolve the state’s concerns.
Strough is running for his third term as supervisor. The Democrats are also running challengers for two of the wards: Catherine Atherden for Ward 2 and Jennifer Switzer for Ward 4.
There are also competitive supervisor races in Warren County towns. Lake George Town Board member Dan Hurley is challenging incumbent Republican Dennis Dickinson, who is seeking his fourth consecutive two-year term.
In Thurman, all five Town Board seats, including the supervisor, are up for election because of mid-term resignations. Two of the seats are for partial terms.
Incumbent Supervisor Cynthia Hyde, who lost last year’s election but was appointed to the position in February after Evelyn Wood’s resignation in January, is running on the Democratic line for a full two-year term. Her Republican challenger is Susan Shepler, who was appointed to the board in February 2016 but lost a bid that November for election.
In Johnsburg, two candidates are vying to replace Supervisor Ronald Vanselow — Republican Peter Olesheski, who is currently on the board, and Democrat Andrea Hogan.
Washington County has six competitive town supervisor races. Two seats are currently controlled by Democrats, in Cambridge and Dresden.
In Cambridge, Democratic Supervisor Cassie Fedler is running for re-election against former Supervisor Beaver Watkins, who is on the Conservative line. In Dresden, Democratic Supervisor George Gang is running for re-election against Republican Paul Ferguson.
Another two seats are controlled by Republicans, in Easton and White Creek. In Easton, Republican Supervisor Dan Shaw is running for re-election against Democrat Phil Nicholas; while in White Creek, Republican Supervisor Robert Shay is running for re-election against newcomer James Griffith, who has created his own Unity Party.
The last two Washington County seats are open due to retirements, with no incumbent running. In Salem, Republican Bruce Ferguson is facing off against Democrat Evera Sue Clary. In Whitehall, Republican John Rozell is running against Democrat Peter Telisky.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday. To find your polling place, call your Board of Elections or go online to https://voterlookup.elections.state.ny.us/.
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — A former National Rifle Association instructor who grabbed his rifle and ran barefoot across the street to open fire on the gunman who slaughtered 26 people at a small-town Texas church was hailed as a hero Monday, along with the pickup truck driver who helped chase the killer down.
Stephen Willeford, 55, said he was at his Sutherland Springs home Sunday when his daughter alerted him that she'd heard gunfire at the First Baptist Church nearby. Willeford said he immediately retrieved his rifle from his weapon safe.
"I kept hearing the shots, one after another, very rapid shots — just 'Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!' — and I knew every one of those shots represented someone, that it was aimed at someone, that they weren't just random shots," Willeford said Monday during an interview with television stations KHBS/KHOG in Fort Smith and Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Willeford said he loaded his magazine and ran barefoot across the street to the church where he saw gunman Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, and exchanged gunfire.
"He saw me and I saw him," Willeford said. "I was standing behind a pickup truck for cover. I know I hit him. He got into his vehicle, and he fired another couple rounds through his side window. When the window dropped, I fired another round at him again."
As Kelley sped away, Willeford said he ran to a pickup truck stopped an intersection and told the driver, "That guy just shot up the Baptist church. We need to stop him."
The driver, Johnnie Langendorff, said he had been driving to Sutherland Springs on Sunday to pick up his girlfriend when a man who'd been exchanging gunfire with Kelley suddenly landed inside his truck.
"He jumped in my truck and said, 'He just shot up the church, we need to go get him.' And I said, 'Let's go,'" Langendorff, a 27-year-old Seguin resident, told The Associated Press on Monday, adding that the ensuing pursuit eventually clocked speeds upwards of 90 mph.
Willeford said he and Langendorrf kept a 911 operator advised as the high-speed pursuit continued. He said Kelley ultimately hit a road sign and flipped his vehicle into a roadside ditch.
Willeford said he then exited Langendorrf's pickup, perched his rifle on the rooftop and trained it on Kelley's vehicle. He then yelled: "Get out of the truck! Get out of the truck!" But Kelley did not move.
Langendorff said police arrived about five minutes later. Based on evidence at the scene, investigators believe Kelley died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
"There was no thinking about it," Langendorff said. "There was just doing. That was the key to all this. Act now. Ask questions later."
Asked if he felt like a hero, Langendorff said: "I don't really know how I feel. I just hope that the families and people affected by this can sleep easier knowing that this man is not breathing anymore and not able to hurt anyone else. I feel I just did what was right."
Though he did not identify Willeford by name, Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Director Freeman Martin said at a news conference Monday that the armed resident who confronted Kelley was toting an "AR assault rifle and engaged" the shooter.
Martin later praised Willeford and Langendorff: "The number one goal of law enforcement is to neutralize the shooter. In this situation, we had two good Samaritans who did that for law enforcement."
Julius Kepper, Willeford's next-door neighbor for the past seven years, described Willeford as a gun and motorcycle enthusiast who regularly takes target practice at property out in the country, and has as many as five Harley Davidson motorcycles.
"Avid gun collector, a good guy," Kepper said.
Kepper and other neighbors said Willeford's family has been in the Sutherland Springs area for at least three generations, including a father and grandfather who were in dairy farming. Stephen Willeford is married with two grown children and works as a plumber who installs lines on major projects such as hospitals, Kepper said.
He called Willeford a "free spirit" sort who loves motorcycles despite losing both parents to a motorcycle crash when he was a young adult. "It was almost the same spot where they ran (the shooter) off the road," Kepper said.
Kepper said he's not surprised Willeford would exchange gunfire with the church gunman. Others in the neighborhood would have done the same if they knew what was happening, he said.
"Just like everybody else around here. He was just the first one there," Kepper said.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz on Monday praised Willeford's actions, after talking to law enforcement officials and visiting the church in Sutherland Springs. He lauded the "ordinary citizen" who engaged the gunman.
"One individual demonstrated bravery and courage. We need to be celebrating that bravery and courage," Cruz said.
Still, Willeford proved a reluctant hero.
"I didn't want this and I want the focus to be on my friends," Willeford told The Dallas Morning News for a story published Monday that also confirmed he was the first person to confront Kelley. "I have friends in that church. I was terrified while this was going on."
No one answered the door at the Willeford residence Monday. Food that had been delivered to the house was stacked up on the front porch.
The president of Saratoga & North Creek Railway is using music to defend his company’s decision to store train tank cars on the company’s line in the Adirondacks.
Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC, penned a two-minute song and posted it online on YouTube, the railroad magnate strumming a guitar as he sang an original song to the tune of “Home on the Range.” He sent a link for it to reporters on Monday morning.
Ellis also continued to defend the storage plan, which could bring up to 2,000 unused train cars to the Saratoga & North Creek Railway-owned line in Essex County, and lobby for funding, saying the cars are not “junk” and have been cleaned by their owners.
The company has brought 50 or so tank cars to the line over the past few weeks and put them in storage in the town of Minerva, a move that has drawn the ire of environmental groups and state agencies, which have questioned the legality of storage there. Gov. Andrew Cuomo also panned the decision during a visit to Glens Falls last month.
Ellis on Monday renewed a call for talks for funding options to avoid the storage of more tank cars on the line.
“But there is an opportunity for the state, county and federal government to also eliminate storage by investing in the line, and by funding the investment we have already made, and we are open to that discussion,” Ellis wrote. “Time is of the essence, as not nearly all of the 2,000 cars have arrived.”
Ellis said that his company was praised for buying and “saving” the rail line north of North Creek in 2012 and needs to store cars on the line to have the revenue for operation, unless it gets assistance via subsidy.
Ellis has said the company has spent millions of dollars on maintenance of the line, which hosts tourist train and freight service between Saratoga Springs and North Creek but is struggling financially.
“So Saratoga and North Creek bore the massive multimillion-dollar cost,” Ellis wrote. “And now we are simply storing railroad cars on railroad track to recover some of that cost. And this is not a surprise.”
He added that the granite tailings at the former mines in Tahawus can be put to good use and won’t be removed from the site via truck because of the cost. The rail line was created to service the mines decades ago.
“That rock should be used for construction instead of digging new holes in the ground somewhere else,” Ellis wrote. “And we have been working diligently to see that the rock gets used, and gets moved by rail, the most environmentally friendly mode, in terms of pollution and land use. Over the next 20 years that rock can be used for many important projects, including roads and bridges, buildings and upgraded rail lines.”
He also released a copy of a letter he wrote to Cuomo in 2015, when the company first planned to bring oil tank cars to the line but then backed off amid controversy. The plan then was a bit different, as those cars were not going to be cleaned before storage.
Ellis’ ditty can be found on YouTube and includes lines about how wildlife will continue to frequent the area despite the cars on the line. He wrote it after Adirondack folk singer Dan Berggren penned a song about the controversy days earlier titled “Junkyard Express.”
“There is no need to fight, the cars are not in sight, you see wilderness every which way,” Ellis sang.