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4 election nail-biters may be unprecedented in Orleans

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 12 November 2013 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Orleans County elections officials at right begin a three-hour process this morning in counting absentee ballots in four close races in Albion, Barre, Carlton and Ridgeway. Many of the candidates crowded into a room next to the Board of Elections office to observe the count.

Orleans County Election Commissioners Janice Grabowski, left, and Dennis Piedimonte count an absentee ballot earlier today in one of four tight races. Ed Morgan, the Orleans County GOP chairman, is in the foreground.

ALBION – Long-time political observers in Orleans County called it unprecedented, the four local elections that came down to the absentee ballots today.

In some elections, there might be one race like that. Four years ago, Dan Gaesser had a 16-vote lead over Jack Gillman for Kendall town supervisor on election night. After the absentees were counted, Gaesser won by seven votes, 413-406.

That’s the closest race I can remember during a November election. The all-time closest, in my memory, came during a village election in March 2006. Mike Hadick beat incumbent Ed Salvatore, 440-438, for Albion mayor.

In that election, a paperwork snafu kept Salvatore off the Republican line. Hadick was at the top of the ballot as a Democrat while Salvatore was listed far below on an independent line. Hadick’s victory may be the most shocking upset I’ll ever see. To Hadick’s credit, he was a tenacious campaigner and got out the vote.

Most of our local elections don’t have opposition. If a Republican has a challenger, the Republican generally wins 2 to 1.

This time was different. Two of the four super-close races involved highway superintendents. Both Dave Krull of Carlton and Mark Goheen of Ridgeway are finishing their first terms. With about four years on the job, their names are not yet ingrained in the public from multiple terms in the position.

They both faced challengers from their own party. Paul Snook managed to capture the GOP line from Krull in the Republican primary. Goheen held off Ray Wendling in the primary, but Wendling kept campaigning on two other lines, Conservative and the Ridgeway Peoples Party.

Both Snook and Wendling have jobs with highway departments, which gave them credibility in their campaigns. In the end, both Krull and Goheen held on to their jobs.

I think they will be even harder to beat four years from now if they run again. Both will be much more established in their jobs.

The only time I’ve seen a challenger unseat a veteran highway superintendent was four years ago when Krull defeated Steve Jones, who had been the highway superintendent in Carlton for 12 years. Krull was able to win the general election this time with only the Independence Party line. The man has proven he can overcome long odds in an election.

Albion had a close race for town supervisor. Neither of the candidates was the incumbent in the position. That presented an opportunity for a close race because generally the incumbents are so difficult to beat.

Both Jake Olles and Matt Passarell had a major party line and a secondary line. The second line proved critical in this race and in the highway battles. (If Krull didn’t have the Independence line, the race would have been over at the primary.)

Passarell ultimately defeated Olles on the strength of the Republican Party’s big advantage in enrolled voters. But without the Conservative line for Passarell, Olles would have taken the election, which is hard to do running as a Democrat.

Potential candidates should take notice: get a second line, and if you’re going to run against an incumbent, you should strike before the candidate has more than a term in office.

I recall another close election six years ago for county legislator. Gary Kent defeated Don Allport that election after Allport had been in office one term or two years.

Allport won the following election in 2009 and has now beat Kent the last three elections for a county-wide legislator position. It’s difficult for a Democrat to win a town race in Orleans County. I think it’s a major challenge for a Democrat to pull it off across the county. Kent has been close, but Allport won the latest election by about 500 votes, 3,419 to 2,917.

Now that Allport is established in the position, I’m not sure he can be beat, even if John F. Kennedy or Daniel Patrick Moynihan was living here and in his prime. Kent deserves a lot of credit for keeping the race so close.

The town justice race in Barre was interesting, and we don’t get to see too many races like this one. A long-time sitting judge, Al Jones, is retiring. That opened the door for a new candidate. Three people wanted the job, including Republican Richard DeCarlo, Democrat Rick Root and Conservative Sean Pogue.

Normally, the Republican would win big. But Pogue siphoned off some of the DeCarlo’s votes. Root is from a well-known family in Barre, plus Root had been on the Town Board. DeCarlo, a former Gaines resident, also is new to Barre. He moved to the town about 1 ½ years ago.

If I were a betting man I would have guessed the dynamics were in Root’s favor and the Democrat would have won in the Republican town. (However, Barre has a recent history, more than any other Orleans town, of electing Democrats.)

DeCarlo was unrelenting in going door to door and that may have been the difference in his 213-207 victory. (Pogue got 122 votes.)

So that’s another lesson for local candidates: don’t forget to get out there and press flesh and meet people. The personal touch is often the deciding factor.