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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 5, 2009
Sphere and loathing on the campaign trail
By Saranac Hale Spencer
NEW SCOTLAND Voters were definitive on Tuesday, electing the slate that ran as Team New Scotland, which is taking the victory as a mandate for a cap on the size of retail development.
The course of future development was the defining issue in this year’s race for two seats on the town board and the supervisor’s post. It is the first election in town since Cazenovia-based Sphere Development proposed building a Target-anchored shopping center at the corner of routes 85 and 85A almost two years ago.
Democratic incumbent Supervisor Thomas Dolin, Republican incumbent Councilman Douglas LaGrange, and Democrat Daniel Mackay won with a wide margin in a race where political parties became meaningless.
Looking out at Democrats and Republicans filling the upstairs meeting room of the American Legion Hall in Voorheesville, Mackay noted the mixed attendance as he told the crowd of about 100 supporters, “That speaks to the larger issue here,” meaning commercial zoning and a size cap.
The last of the trio to speak after the results were in, Mackay was greeted with wild applause and stomping, which surely echoed to the downstairs barroom, where the New Scotland FIRST candidates were gathered.
Republicans Roselyn Robinson and Timothy Stanton were galvanized to run for town board when it became apparent to them this summer that all of the candidates who would appear on major party lines had similar views of development, they said. They ran with Michael Fields, who got the Republican nomination for supervisor after Karen Moreau dropped out of the race in July. The trio campaigned as New Scotland FIRST, opposing a cap on the allowable size of retail developments and advocating for property rights.
“We gave the voters a choice and they decided,” Robinson said yesterday of the results. “It was an uphill battle,” she said of her slate’s campaign, since she and Stanton had to force a primary on the Republican line. She won a spot with the GOP; Stanton did not. Then, Robinson went on, she, Stanton, and Fields faced a court challenge to their nominating petitions for the New Scotland FIRST line.
“The town of New Scotland lost,” Fields said yesterday when asked for his reaction. “They just don’t want to put anything over there big enough to pay our taxes,” he said, referring to the victors’ approach to zoning and development.
Between 20 and 30 supporters gathered with New Scotland FIRST, sitting tensely around two tables in the Legion Hall basement.
Upstairs, the mood was light, with several dozen supporters feeling celebratory even before results started coming in. As the polls closed, the results were shown in a bar graph on a flat screen monitor at the front of the room with a steady group of people watching the numbers Dolin, LaGrange, and Mackay led from the beginning and maintained the lead as all eight districts reported.
Altogether, 3,343 voters turned out for the election, said Town Clerk Diane Deschenes. Dolin won with 66 percent of the vote in the supervisor’s race while, in the race for town board, LaGrange got 39 percent, Mackay got 30 percent, Robinson got 20 percent, and Stanton got 11 percent, according to unofficial numbers from the town.
Deschenes, the Democratic incumbent, was up for re-election this year and won handily against Republican challenger Penny Barone Deschenes won 79 percent of the vote. Darrell Duncan, the Democratic incumbent highway superintendent, was unopposed in his bid for re-election he garnered 2,452 votes, according to figures from the town.
“I think this was a referendum on what the people want,” Dolin said on Tuesday night, referring to the zoning and development issue. “I think they like the town the way it is and they want to keep it that way.”
“We’ve always sensed that majority was there,” Mackay said of the results, apparently in favor of his slate’s platform, which was supported by the citizens’ group New Scotlanders 4 Sound Economic Development, of which he was a founding member. Team New Scotland and NS4SED have each supported a cap of 50,000 square feet on single retail stores and a cap of 100,000 square feet on shopping centers.
All three winners said that the first order of business for the new town board will be addressing the zoning issue before the town’s moratorium on large-scale commercial development expires on Feb. 1. The town board needs to “draft an ordinance that reflects these election results,” said Mackay.
“It was a mandate,” LaGrange said of the results, meaning that voters want a limit on the size of retail development. The zoning issue is an umbrella that encompasses many of the other obstacles facing the town, like a lack of available water and rising taxes, he said.
The “public doesn’t want a big box… Overwhelmingly, they don’t want a big box,” said the Democratic Party chair and town attorney, Michael Mackey, of the results.
“It seems pretty clear people don’t want big-box development,” Republican Party Chairman Lance Luther said yesterday. He added that a 50,000-square-foot cap will achieve that goal, but he said that it is too restrictive.
“I am disappointed that certain candidates engaged in negative advertising, a smear campaign and scare tactics in order to win this election,” Luther wrote in a statement on election night. That view was echoed by some of the candidates on the New Scotland FIRST slate.
“I would challenge them to point to one thing” that Dolin, Mackay, or LaGrange said during the campaign that was untrue, Michael Mackey responded yesterday. “Team New Scotland ran probably the cleanest campaign I remember,” he said, adding that the trio established their support for a 50,000-square-foot cap on individual retail buildings at the start of the campaign and stayed consistent.
“All we did was present facts,” LaGrange said yesterday. “Quite frankly, I’m a little disappointed,” he said, that opposing candidates are implying that his campaign with Dolin and Mackay was dishonest. “If they were against a big box,” LaGrange said of the New Scotland FIRST ticket, “they should be happy.”
Daniel Mackay was the only candidate for town board who signed the Fair Campaign Pledge, according to Fair Campaign Practices for the Capital Region, Inc. He pointed out in an e-mail yesterday that none of the candidates raised Luther’s allegation during the debate nor did they bring complaints to the fair campaign practices organization.
“They are not specific about what serves as the basis for this remark… I’d be pleased to respond to any specific accusations,” Mackay wrote.
Party affiliations became meaningless in this election as candidates split on the issue of development. Several notable Democrats supported the largely Republican New Scotland FIRST slate, including Margaret Neri, a town board member who chose not to seek re-election this year; her husband, Louis Neri, who is the lawyer for the town’s planning board; Robert Stapf, chairman of the planning board; Cynthia Elliott, a member of the planning board; Elizabeth Stewart, also a member of the planning board; and former Supervisor Herbert Reilly.
The Team New Scotland slate included two Democrats and a Republican all of whom were given the Democratic line in this election at that party’s June caucus and its supporters included many long-time Democrats as well as former Republican committee members Janna Shillinglaw, Charles Voss, and Kurt Anderson and former Republican Committee Chairman Joseph DeFronzo.
“There may remain some divisions,” Michael Mackey said when asked about the future of the Democratic Party, since several of its long-time insiders supported the other slate.
The Republican committee is still digesting the results, which came as a surprise, Luther said. The party plans to rebuild and recruit new members to the committee, he said.
Speaking to supporters after the results were in on Tuesday, Mackay referred to the shift in the balance on the town board, which has had a three-member majority that was like-minded on zoning and development, often leaving bills proposed by Dolin and LaGrange unable to advance.
“This is not just about three votes on the town board,” Mackay said of his victory with Dolin and LaGrange, “this is about open government.”