Kingston Democrats endured an agonizingly close and ultimately frustrating primary night Tuesday, which ended with two mayoral candidates locked in a virtual dead heat as they await an absentee ballot count to determine the winner. Republicans, meanwhile, saw a newcomer take a near-certain victory while the most experienced candidate in the race fell to a distant third.

According to unofficial vote counts from the Ulster County Board of Elections, Hayes Clement, who ran with the backing of the party establishment and holds its official endorsement, beat out Shayne Gallo by a razor-slim margin of 648 to 642. Sources in both camps noted that 160 absentee ballots had been issued to voters and 103 had been returned as of Tuesday afternoon. The thin margin and robust absentee turnout left neither candidate willing to declare victory.

“Think good thoughts over the next 24 hours,” Clement told his supporters. “I think this is going to work out well.”

Shayne Gallo, right, and supporters watch election results come in. (Photo by Dan Barton)

The mood at Clement’s headquarters, located in the Millard building on Broadway, was upbeat Tuesday night. Party leaders, including Chairman Frank Cardinale, Common Council President Jim Noble and Alderman Tom Hoffay, rubbed elbows with business leaders like former Business Alliance of Kingston Chairman Kevin Quilty and developer Steve Aaron. At Gallo headquarters around the corner, the crowd was smaller and more subdued. Ward 5 Alderwoman Jennifer Fuentes represented the Working Families Party, which gave Gallo its endorsement and has actively campaigned on his behalf. Joe DiFalco, incoming chairman of Kingston’s Independence Party committee, was also on hand as Gallo narrowly fended off Clement’s write-in campaign to snatch away the third-party line by a vote of 28-26.

“I know it’s going to be close but it will come out in my favor,” Clement said. “I am happy that I won it. I always knew it would be close, I just didn’t know ‘how’ close. I always knew it would be an unprecedented election, just not an unprecedented outcome. … There are lots of interesting implications.”

Gallo on the fence

Moments after the results came in, Gallo said that he had not yet decided whether he would run on the Working Families and Independence Party lines in the event that he loses the Democratic primary.