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In Queensbury, Democrats survey a changed landscape

QUEENSBURY — Town Democrats on Wednesday cited hard work and Republican arrogance for their stunning victories at the polls, as they won the supervisor’s race and captured two Town Board seats.

John Strough was re-elected to his third term as supervisor over Republican challenger Rachel Seeber. Political newcomer Catherine Atherden captured the Ward 2 seat, ousting two-term incumbent Brian Clements. Jennifer Switzer won in Ward 4 over incumbent Tim Brewer.

Democrats say the GOP was done in by self-inflicted wounds.

“It was the accumulated arrogance and hubris of certain members of the Queensbury and Warren County Republican leadership,” said Queensbury Democratic Committee Co-Chair Mike Parwana. “They thought they were going to be able to do the same sorts of things that they had apparently done for a really long time, but the public has never known about.”

Parwana said he did not want to diminish his party’s slate of candidates, who were very well-qualified. The Democrats had good candidates in other elections, however, and still lost.

Parwana said Doug Irish, who had been a Town Board member and the town’s Republican Committee chairman, was particularly arrogant for continuing to serve on the Town Board and collect his paycheck after moving to North Carolina in the spring.

“That money was to show up at least twice a month for board meetings and he wouldn’t do that,” Parwana said. “And he didn’t have the dignity and decency to resign and let somebody else do the job. I think that gets the voters angry, and it gets me angry, and we want to put an end to that.”

Irish also taunted Democrats to find out information, according to Parwana. They took his suggestion and filed Freedom of Information Law requests for Irish’s email correspondence, which revealed the plan to have Hal Bain stay on the ballot even though he wanted to drop out, so GOP party officials could appoint his successor.

“I imagine that still today (Irish) doesn’t think that he did anything wrong,” Parwana said.

Irish did not return a message seeking comment on Wednesday.

Republicans were licking their wounds and not discussing the party’s collapse at the polls, apart from a “no comment” from Clements. Seeber and Brewer did not return messages on Wednesday, and Seeber did not return two calls made on the night of the election.

Also unavailable for comment were Irish, Warren County GOP Chairman Michael Grasso and Seeber campaign manager Mark Westcott.

Supervisor Strough credited his victory to an honest and honorable campaign and his deep roots in the community. With the election over, Strough spoke freely about the campaign the Republicans ran.

“Mark Westcott wouldn’t know the truth if he tripped over it,” he said.

People saw through the lies about his record, Strough added.

“People know me and know that’s not me,” he said of his characterization by local Republican leaders. “When he refers to me as a liar, that’s not true. But I didn’t go there. There’s not one thing you can point out in any bit of literature where I criticized Rachel or demeaned her. I just took the high road.”

Being supervisor requires juggling a lot of balls, and Strough pointed to his 17 years of municipal experience, including his start on the Planning Board, 10 years on the Town Board and almost four years as supervisor. It is not a political job, but an administrative one, he said.

“I don’t think she’s qualified,” he said of his opponent.

In a lengthy post on the Vote Seeber Facebook page, Seeber thanked her supporters for embracing her platform of lowering taxes, cutting wasteful spending and scrapping the Warren County runway extension project. She said she is proud of the campaign she ran.

“We took hit after hit. We didn’t hit back. I told the truth. I’ve always said I believe our community can handle and deserves the truth,” she wrote.

She also thanked campaign manager Mark Westcott and said that everyone should run for office once in their lifetime.

“It’s so eye-opening. I may have learned what makes people tick, I may have seen my true friends and enemies much clearer, I may have been knocked down for all the town to read about daily, but you know what? I am stronger because of this,” she said.

Westcott sent out an email assessing the election results. Seeber’s message of fiscal conservatism and open government resonated in the primary, where she grabbed the Conservative ballot line, he said. But “her message got derailed in the general election, where the Republican email story became the central issue.”

Westcott acknowledged that The Post-Star has “teeth,” which was evidenced in its coverage of the issue.

“The eight Republican emails, which most people have never even read, became the story of the 2017 Queensbury Town Race,” he said.

Clements and Brewer were collateral damage of the email affair, as Westcott pointed out that they lost by nearly the same margin as Seeber did. He pointed out that Doug Beaty received the highest number of votes of the five people running for four supervisor-at-large seats.

Republicans tried to hurt Strough by bringing up a critical state audit that looked at problems with the administration of grant funding, but that did not seem to resonate with voters. Strough was criticized for not sharing the audit with other board members.

Strough said he is excited about having a Democratic majority on the Town Board, a rare event in a town with a sizable Republican majority.

Switzer said she believes the voters responded to her message of crafting a long-range financial plan for the town and her professional background as director of finance for the Warren County EDC.

Her race with Brewer was civil, without the mudslinging and the party politics that dominated elsewhere, she said.

“Tim came on the board partway through the year and he’s his own person, so I think it played a much smaller part than it did in the others,” she said.

Switzer said party labels play a much smaller role in local elections than on the national level.

“Everybody wants their quality of life to stay the same or improve; and they want to keep taxes in check,” she said. “Democrat or Republican doesn’t have as much to do with it at the local level. It’s being able to work collaboratively with people and being able to compromise. That’s what I think will happen with this group.”

Atherden, also part of the Democratic ticket for Town Board, said GOP’s political headwinds helped boost her candidacy.

“I think it was kind of a perfect storm, really, because generally speaking, someone new to politics like myself and has not been in the area for very long would not have had too much of a chance,” she said.

Also, the Democratic candidates worked harder than their GOP counterparts. She did not see Clements do much campaigning.

“We knocked on many doors, we called many people. We sent stuff out,” he said.

Metivier said he believes Republican machinations played a huge role in the defeat of the two incumbents.

Many people came up to him in the last week, expressing disgust with what they had seen, heard and read about politics in Queensbury, he said.

“It’s not supposed to happen in small-town Queensbury and yet it did, and it was a real eye-opener to a lot of people. I think it sent a message. They’re not going to tolerate it,” he said.

He’s looking forward to working with the new board members, Metivier said, and it’s refreshing to have women on the board. Switzer brings budgetary experience, and Atherden ideas to help the environment, he said.

“I think it’s going to be a dynamic that we haven’t seen in a long time,” he said.

Democrats were successful in other races throughout the county. Political newcomer Andrea Hogan beat Town Board member Peter Olesheski to be the next supervisor of Johnsburg.

Democrat Evera Sue Clary defeated Republican Bruce Ferguson to win the Salem supervisor’s seat. Cassie Felder was re-elected in Cambridge over Republican William “Beaver” Watkins. One incumbent Democrat, Dresden Supervisor George Gang, lost his race to Paul Ferguson.

When asked if there was a spillover effect to other Democrat candidates, Queensbury Democratic Chairman Parwana said he believes last year’s presidential race energized a lot of people who had been content to sit on the sidelines.

“Then the 2016 election happened and people stepped up and said, ‘We can’t let this kind of thing go on,’” he said.

Absentees to decide some Warren County races

Some Warren County candidates will not know whether they won or lost until next Tuesday, when absentee ballots are counted.

Election officials will count ballots for Queensbury, Glens Falls, Horicon, Johnsburg and Thurman, according to Beth McLaughlin, Democratic commissioner for the Warren County Board of Elections.

Glens Falls has two tight races in Ward 1. Democratic Councilor Jim Campinell is leading challenger Phillip Underwood, who holds the Republican and Independence lines, 164-160.

In the race for the Ward 1 county supervisor seat, Jack Diamond holds a five-vote lead, with 169 votes to Nancy Underwood’s 164.

There were 34 absentee ballots returned in Ward 1, according to McLaughlin. Military ballots can still be received until Nov. 20.

Democrat Diana Palmer has a wider lead in the race for the Ward 3 Common Council seat. She received 462 votes compared with 439 for Rachel Murray, who is the Republican candidate. A total of 45 absentee ballots have been returned, McLaughlin said.

Palmer said in an email she would not be making any public comment until all the votes are counted. Murray did not return a message seeking comment.

Another race to watch is in Thurman, where incumbent Supervisor Cynthia Hyde leads 230-211 over challenger Susan Shepler. There are 33 absentee ballots. Shepler would have to capture more than 80 percent of them to win.

Johnsburg has a tight race for two Town Board seats. Republican Laurie Prescott Arnheiter leads with 460 votes, followed by Arnold Stevens with 433 and Katharine Nightingale with 415. There are 62 absentee ballots to be counted.

Democrat Kathleen Lorah leads Jo A. Smith 399-364 in the race for Johnsburg town clerk.

Also to be counted are 520 absentee ballots for Queensbury in the at-large race, McLaughlin said. The top four vote-getters on Election Night were Doug Beaty, 4,680; Brad Magowan, 4,327; Michael Wild, 4,323; and Matthew Sokol, 3,966. David Strainer finished out of the running with 3,826.

In Horicon, Patrick Farrell, who received 192 votes, would have to win nearly all of the 66 absentee votes to overtake Frank Hill, who got 249 votes, and capture the second seat on the Town Board. Robert Olson received 300 votes to win the other seat.

McLaughlin said this seemed to be an average number of races coming down to the absentees. Election officials had been preparing for Queensbury races to be tight, but the close races ended up being in Glens Falls.

Turnout was large countywide, according to McLaughlin.

“It seemed busy. Inspectors were calling. Lines were long.”

Hogan adjusts, embraces role as judge

SCHENECTADY — Court of Claims Judge Kate Hogan welcomed a visitor to her chambers in Schenectady on Monday.

She was microwaving a quick lunch after testimony in an arson trial had concluded for the morning and while she waited for a conference with lawyers in another case.

Hogan’s zest for multitasking has changed in her new role as a judge. Five months removed from her tenure as one of the state’s top prosecutors, Hogan seems as at home in a judge’s chambers as she did in the district attorney’s office, with little need for downtime when there is court work to be done.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed her in June to a nine-year term as judge on the state Court of Claims, after she spent nearly 16 years as Warren County district attorney.

After a week of state judicial training, the Glens Falls resident was assigned a chambers in Saratoga Springs and a caseload in Schenectady County, where she will be one of two judges to handle the busy county’s felony-level crimes.

Hogan works alongside Schenectady County Judge Matthew Sypniewski, and said Sypniewski and his staff have been “tremendously helpful” in the adjustment. Occasionally, judges from nearby Fulton County help out as well.

Hogan and her staff of two (court attorney Emilee Davenport and secretary Deborah Eggleston, former colleagues at the district attorney’s office) work from a second-floor office in the historic courthouse on State Street.

The transition to the bench has been a big change on a number of levels for a woman who, as district attorney and assistant district attorney, was involved with and invested in the prosecution of every serious criminal case in Warren County for more than 17 years.

But seeing decades of tragedy and sorrow (her last trial as a prosecutor was the horrific Lake George boat tragedy case) while working with crime victims and their loved ones wears on a person.

“It’s been a welcome change,” she said of the judgeship.

She also rose during her prosecutorial tenure to become president of the New York State District Attorneys Association, was appointed to the Moreland Commission on public corruption and was deeply involved in statewide lobbying for numerous law changes over the years.

Stepping away from that aspect of the job has been difficult, she said.

“The biggest change has been, as DA you are involved not just in prosecuting cases, but public policy decisions,” she said. “You are very removed from that now.”

It has become common practice for new superior court judges in the region to be assigned to Schenectady County to help the sitting judges deal with a heavy caseload. Saratoga County Judge James Murphy spent a year in the county courthouse as he waited for cases in which he had conflicts of interest from being the county’s former district attorney to work their way through the system.

Hogan said the busy courthouse is a good spot for a judge to learn the ropes. The caseload in Schenectady has been similar to that of Brooklyn, where she began her prosecutorial career. She has presided over three trials — a shooting, a rape case and an ongoing arson case. There has been no lack of work.

“It’s a great place to see a lot of varied cases,” she said.

Much of her case work this week involved presiding over an arson trial of Michael Harris, a Schenectady man accused of firebombing a building and trying to set his wife on fire last March. Her personality hasn’t changed on the bench, as during Monday’s proceedings she was the friendly, affable Kate Hogan many local residents came to know. Her sense of humor helped keep the jury at ease.

Lee Kindlon, who represents Harris, said he was initially “hesitant” when he learned the case had been assigned to Hogan, whom he knew from her days as a “very hard-nosed DA,” as he put it. But he said she has proved to be a fair jurist.

“She’s been great,” he said. “This has been one of the better trial experiences I have had.”

Hogan said that continuing to be in the courtroom, but seeing cases from a new perspective as an independent jurist, has been en enjoyable experience.

“I’m never bored,” she said. “It’s a very exciting new chapter.”