Riding the surge of a 61 percent election-night plurality in Ulster County voting, Democratic state Senate candidate Cecilia Tkaczyk has narrowed the gap to 111 votes over Republican George Amedore. More than a month after the election, the cliff-hanging contest in the 46th state Senate district is still not over. Last week a judge began a review of an estimated 887 legally disputed absentee ballots, including 521 from Ulster. Unless further complications arise, a winner should be known any day now. (Editor’s note: As of Monday, Dec. 10, it’s still up in the air.)
When counting of absentee ballots began at the Ulster election headquarters last Monday, Amedore held a 900-vote lead in Albany, Montgomery, Greene and Schoharie counties. But Tkaczyk wiped out all but 111 of those votes with a 2,113-to-1,305 win of the absentee ballots in Ulster, officials report. She carried Ulster by 8,200 votes on election night.
There remain the contested ballots. Republicans have challenged 458 Democratic absentee votes, while Democrats have challenged only 63 inUlster. Election officials estimate some 350 absentee votes are being challenged in the other counties.Ulsteris the county with the largest population in the new district.
Ulster municipalities in the new state Senate district include the City of Kingston and the towns of Saugerties, Woodstock, Ulster, Kingston, Ulster, Hurley, Marbletown, Esopus and Lloyd.
Why were so many ballots in Ulster challenged by the Republicans and so few by the Democrats? Because Tkaczyk won 60 percent of the Ulster vote, it seems the Republican lawyers were much more eager last week to try to set aside questionable ballots.
“Unless the judge — Montgomery County surrogate Guy Tomlinson — does something crazy, this one is over,” Ulster Democratic Chairman Frank Cardinale predicted last week. He thought that his candidate, Tkaczyk, would be the ultimate winner.
The Amedore forces saw it differently. “I’d rather be ahead than behind,” said Amedore spokesman Kris Thompson. “Besides, nobody knows what’s inside those ballots.”
The tight race won’t be officially decided until later this month, said Ulster Elections Commissioner Tom Turco, when the contested ballots in all five counties will be opened, judged and counted.
Which of course raises the question, why do these things take so long? Absentee ballots have to be postmarked no later than the day before election, so most are in hand before voters go to the polls. Why not count those ballots — in strict secrecy — before the machine vote and add the results election night? I know. I know. There are rules, probably dating to 1890, that prevent any kind of common sense approach.
Control of the Senate
After the November election, pundits declared the importance of the race in the 46th in determining control of the state Senate, which with the exception of a short Democratic interregnum a couple of years ago has been in Republican control for decades. And indeed the district did turn out to be decisive in the battle between candidates of the two major parties for control of the state’s upper chamber.
But hey, this is New York State. Republican majority leaders in the state Senate have been adept for many years in persuading individual Democratic senators to change sides in exchange for greater influence. State Sen. Jeff Klein, whose district includes parts of The Bronx and Westchester, has led a dissident group of four Democrats who have pursued an independent path, sometimes siding with the Republicans and sometimes with the Democrats.
Klein has indicated a preference for an alliance with the Republicans, led by Long Island state Sen. Dean Skelos. On Tuesday the new Republican-Independent Democrat alliance, enlarged by the addition of a fifth Democrat, began to take shape with the announcement that Skelos and Klein have made a deal. The two will alternate as the presiding officer of the state senate, with each serving two weeks at a time.
If that tactical partnership, dubbed by some pundits as “Skleinos,” continues, the outcome of the Amedore-Tkaczyk race won’t matter as much no matter the result. It will of course matter a great deal to the residents of the district.
Should Tkaczyk squeeze out a win, Ulster Republicans will have some explaining to do. The Republican leadership was hearing the thunder well before election officials huddled over absentee ballots last week.
Question: Might former assemblyman John Guerin, grousing over the trouncing Republican candidates took in Ulster County, go after county GOP Chairman Roger Rascoe’s job? Rascoe says he “doesn’t know anything about that.” Guerin, an outspoken assemblyman for two terms in the mid-1990s, was neither denying nor confirming an interest in Rascoe’s job.
In any case, his timing is off. GOP Committee members elected Rascoe to a two-year term last September. The chairman says he’s actively working on plans to back Republican candidates for county clerk, family court judge and county comptroller in 2013, and that “everybody” is welcome to help out.
County Clerk Nina Postupack, a Republican, is up for a third four-year term. Family Court Judge Marianne Mizel seeks 10 more years on the bench. Democratic County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach, running for the third time in five years, will soon announce for a four-year term. (In one of those quirks of the 2006 county charter, the comptroller ran for a two-year term in 2008 and a three-year term in 2010. The office will carry a four-year term going forward.)
The anti-A team
Given the flap over the county executive’s move to kidnap two of the county comptroller’s auditors, it occurs to me that nobody in county government — other than the comptroller — really wants an independent, powerful, separately elected official looking over their shoulders.
Some of this is personal. While they’d never say so in public, most officials consider comptroller Auerbach something of a pest. His audit of legislative mileage a few years ago was considered petty, but then that’s what the legislature is. His occasional forays into the executive wing have been beaten back by a gaggle of lawyers. His well-researched reports on various departmental practices have been either downplayed or ignored by the executive.
With all these white papers flying around, one wonders how Auerbach’s staff finds the time to audit some $300 million in county spending every year.
It would appear that is about to change, or at least be shifted to the finance department. For authority in shifting the two auditors to finance, Hein cites the charter amendment approved last month that “clarifies” discrepancies in language regarding auditing and accounting responsibilities in county government. Ironically, Auerbach went along with the proposal to more clearly define the roles the financial people would play. He would in time suffer buyer’s remorse.
Hein and his minions seized the opportunity to denude the comptroller of his basic responsibility and — surprise! — place it under direct control of the executive. The effect would be to have the executive auditing himself. Why there hasn’t been a hue and cry from the original charter drafters is beyond belief. There was one voice in the wilderness: Dare Thompson, a charter drafter, expressed dismay at the executive’s proposal at a budget hearing held by the legislature’s Ways and Means Committee in Marlboro last month, but her voice apparently didn’t reach beyond the apple orchards therein.
A compromise was rumored as the legislature moved to rubber-stamp the executive’s budget this week which would allow Auerbach to retain one of his auditors. This isn’t exactly Solomon splitting the baby, but it does allow everybody to save face, albeit compromising on an important principle.
Auerbach thinks he can limp along with one auditor for awhile — he frequently complained he was understaffed before Hein’s raid — and believes he’ll get restored down the road. From Hein?
There’s always the people. Auerbach is up for election next year. Should he win decisively — and with former foe Jim Quigley settled in as town of Ulster town supervisor there appears to be no credible Republican on the horizon — Auerbach will have the opportunity to make his case with the electorate.