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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 10, 2011

Gordon and Aylward ousted
GOP’s cut-taxes message carries Busch and Stevens to victory

By Zach Simeone

ALBANY COUNTY — In an upset on Tuesday night, two longtime Democratic legislators were ousted, just months after their districts were controversially reshaped, and both said yesterday that they will now retire from politics.

Legislators Alexander “Sandy” Gordon and William Aylward were edged out of their seats on the county legislature, making way for Republicans Deborah Busch and Travis Stevens to represent the Hilltowns and Altamont in the coming year.

Gordon, 56, a former Knox Town Board member who has a grass-fed beef farm at his home in town, has served Albany County’s 39th Legislative District for 16 years.

According to the unofficial results from the Albany County Board of Elections, Gordon garnered 1,170 votes, or 47 percent, while Busch received 1,321 votes, or 53 percent, winning in her third attempt at political office. Busch had run for county coroner in 2009, and state assembly last year, but lost in both races.

“I don’t think it’s as much a political issue; it’s taxes,” Busch, 48, a nurse, told The Enterprise of her victory. “People are strapped to the limit. They can’t afford it anymore, working harder than ever, and getting less return on our dollar, and the quality of life is affected. It’s no longer voting for parties, but whom you can afford to vote for. That’s what it’s coming down to. And, if someone can guarantee to you that they’re not going to raise taxes, but they’re not going to take away essential services that should be provided by the county, then we’ve struck a deal.”

Aylward, 76, who has been involved in local politics for decades as a former supervisor of Guilderland and mayor of Altamont, lives in the village, and is a member of its board of trustees. He has served the 31st Legislative District for 12 years.

On Election Day, Aylward got 978 votes, or 48 percent, while Stevens got 1,059 votes, or 52 percent.

“They showed with their votes that our community cares about history, and tradition, and votes with a small-town feel,” said Stevens, 37, who works for the state in energy conservation. Of voters in Altamont and the Hilltowns, Stevens said yesterday, “I think they’d really like to see a legislator who will fight, in Albany, the ever-increasing taxes that are brought on by the city politicians.”

Stevens, who was elected to his first term on the Knox Town Board two years ago, is still unsure of whether or not he will have to step down from that post in order to represent District 31.

At a loss

“I’ve lost my first race and my last race,” said Gordon, who told The Enterprise Wednesday that he does not plan to run for political office again.

“I took the high road in this campaign, and it appears to be the road less traveled,” Gordon went on. “I didn’t go into negative campaigning, and I never have, and I’m pleased to have the dignity of never being a negative campaigner.”

Campaign literature mailed in recent weeks cast both Gordon and Aylward in a negative light, with one claiming that Gordon often voted in the legislature to impress his political bosses.

Said Aylward, “I think the literature was at least misleading, if not untrue. It portrayed me as having a budget with a 19.2-percent increase, which wasn’t my budget; it was the county executive’s budget.” Aylward had said last month that he looked forward to upcoming meetings with the different legislative committees on how to reduce the levy, as he and his colleagues did last year when the county executive proposed a 15-percent increase.

Aylward, a retired schoolteacher, said Wednesday that he will likely retire from politics as well; while he currently serves on the Altamont Village Board, he does not plan to run again once his term expires.

“We had a good campaign, and I thought we would do better,” Aylward said, “but the most votes wins, and that’s what he has, so I wish him luck.”

Gordon, on the other hand, did not speak so highly of his opponent.

“As much as she railed that I was part of the political party bosses, it’s not true,” Gordon said of Busch. “If it was, they certainly would not have redistricted me out of three-quarters of my hometown, and I don’t understand why there were changes in polling places in towns that were not changed in their district. In the town of Rensselaerville, there were people who were told, when they walked to their firehouse to vote, that they had to vote somewhere that was six miles away, and they just didn’t vote.”

Anticipating a string of Republican victories, Edward Cox, chairman of the New York State Republican Committee, issued a statement last week, saying, “Republican victories in local elections will demonstrate that our momentum, which started with local victories in 2009, and carried us through historic wins in 2010, and Bob Turner’s upset victory in the 9th Congressional District, has not ceased.”

But Gordon sees Cox, a lawyer at a Manhattan law firm and son-in-law of former President Richard Nixon, as a mouthpiece for the views of corporate America.

“This is the effect of big money and outside interests, and corporate America has invaded our government, and it’s percolated to the local level,” Gordon said. “It’s not what the constitution set up for this country, and corporations do not have the rights of citizens, and yet, the Supreme Court has given them unbridled opportunity to make corporate contributions for their own good. The people in Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Albany, they’re sick and tired of corporate America. And Mr. Cox articulates corporate America’s view.”

Come January, Aylward said, he would be keeping busy with his other interests.

“I will be turning 77,” he said, “and I’m going to enjoy my family, and do the things I enjoy doing: gardening and other things, and watching the news.”

Gordon, too, will focus on appreciating life outside of the political arena.

“I woke up this morning, I looked over at a beautiful farm, and that’s a great place for me,” Gordon concluded. “If this is the level politics is sinking to, I’m glad to have served when there was some dignity in the discourse.”

The road ahead

“I worked hard,” Busch said Wednesday, “and I felt that we had very good issues, and I couldn’t understand why our constituents wouldn’t support my issues, and what I was running for. So, I’m very honored that people would vote for me, and it’s a wonderful privilege. But, I have to say: We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us now.”

Stevens told The Enterprise that he is still anxious, and will not feel truly victorious until the official results are calculated.

“I think people would like to see fresh ideas in government, and somebody who’s not always going to vote with a majority on everything,” said Stevens, whose hometown of Knox has nearly twice as many Democrats as Republicans. “I think the biggest thing now is just trying to maintain taxes, so we can get through these tough economic times, and I think that’s what the vote is about.”

District 28

In a closely contested race, Democrat Dennis Feeney won a seat on the county legislature in District 28 over Republican opponent Bryan Best.

The preliminary results from the Albany County Board of Elections show that Feeney received just over 55 percent of the votes; he had three lines on the ballot, with backing from both the Conservative and Independence parties.

If only the votes from the two major parties had been counted, Best would have had a slight edge over Feeney, with 610 Republican votes to Feeney’s 585 Democratic votes. Feeney received an extra 180 votes from the small parties, resulting in a total of 155 votes more than Best.

Feeney served part of a term as a legislator in District 30, from 2004 to 2007, before he had to resign because he moved out of the district.

There was no incumbent candidate for District 28, which covers portions of Guilderland and Colonie, because the lines were shifted after re-districting.

A lawyer, Feeney is a principal in the firm of Feeney, Centi, and Mackey.

“I want to be able to help the residents of Guilderland in any way that I can,” Feeney said during his campaign. He wants to focus on reducing government through attrition, as well as seek mandate relief on the county’s share of Medicaid costs. Both efforts would help to reduce the budget, which currently has a proposed tax hike of 19.2 percent, something Feeney said he would not support.

“My initial reaction is, I’m happy to have won and to have a chance to represent the residents,” Feeney said on Tuesday night.

Best, 24, works at the State Capitol, and was making his first run for office. He could not be reached for comment.

District 29

Republican incumbent Lee Carman ran unopposed for his seat in District 29, and received 1,139 votes.

First and foremost, Carman said the legislature will need to tackle the budget before it can face other issues.

“If we don’t figure out the budget, we’ll be dealing with the same problems year after year — the budget deficit grows every year,” Carman told The Enterprise yesterday.

With two upsets in local districts — Republicans Stevens and Busch won over longtime Democratic incumbents Aylward and Gordon — the makeup of the legislature has changed.

“I know Travis worked really hard and campaigned really well, so I think that’s had a lot of influence on his victory,” Carman said, noting he had no knowledge of the close contest between Busch and Gordon, and what impact that might have on the Hilltowns.

“I don’t think I’m the right guy to ask about that,” Carman said. “I had to campaign hard the last two races, but this time I didn’t have to work that hard.”

District 30

Bryan Clenahan, the Democratic incumbent representing Westmere, kept his seat with 61 percent of the vote.

“We ran a positive campaign, a strong campaign with a record of accomplishment and a vision of the future,” Clenahan said yesterday, explaining his view of his win.

“It would have been nice to win,” said his Republican opponent, author Peter Golden, “but I’m appalled at the number of people who didn’t have opponents.” He described politics as “a contact sport” and said that he understood why many people don’t run. (See related story.)

Still, he said, he was glad he made the effort, enjoyed going door-to-door, and concluded, “It’s a way to keep the process healthy; it’s made to be oppositional.”

The lion’s share of Clenahan’s 939 votes came from Democrats — 805 — but he also garnered 93 votes on the Independence line and 41 on the Working Families line.

Similarly, most of Golden’s 596 votes — 460 — came from Republicans while 136 came from Conservatives. These are unofficial results posted yesterday by the Albany County Board of Elections.

Clenahan expressed regret that two of his fellow Democrats were ousted — Alexander Gordon and William Aylward. He noted that both represented districts where the lines changed with the recent redistricting.

“I think losing Bill and Sandy is a tremendous loss,” said Clenahan. “They were two great leaders. No one fought harder for the Hilltowns than Sandy, and no one fought harder for Altamont than Bill.”

Clenahan said that, during his campaign, “I certainly encountered a lot of upsetedness about the tax burden, especially with the 19 percent,” he said, referring to the tax hike proposed by the outgoing county executive. “But we were up front early about not supporting that,” said Clenahan, noting that Gordon and Aylward had been, too.

“These are tough economic times for everybody,” said Clenahan. “I sense a lot of frustration and anger.”

But what distinguished his winning campaign from his colleagues’ who lost, he said, is his constituents recognized his accomplishments. A lawyer who works as counsel for State Senator Diane Savino and the Senate Children and Families Committee, Clenahan was appointed to the county legislature in 2007 to fill a vacancy, and then was elected for a four-year term.

In that time, he introduced five laws that were passed unanimously. Two banned the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles, one banned drop-side cribs, another banned electronic cigarettes, and the most recent created a registry of animal abusers to prevent them from procuring pets.

Clenahan went on of his constituents, “They also knew we’re working to make government more open with webcasting meetings.”

He concluded, “Thanks to everyone in Westmere….“It really means the world to me.”

For his part, Golden said that his campaign message — reducing taxes and creating jobs — was similar to that of Hilltown Republican Stevens, who ousted Gordon, the longtime Democratic incumbent in his district. “They just bought it up there,” Golden said of the Hilltowns, “or thought it wasn’t so bad here,” he said of Westmere.

“In the long run, we’ve created a system we can’t sustain…That’s not a message that works well,” said Golden. “People don’t like to be frightened. I’ve been a writer for 30 years so I’m more used to it. Government and schools often attract people that are risk-averse.”

Golden concluded, “The bigger question no one wants to answer is, what do you do when you’re promised more resources than you have…What’s happening in Greece is happening in slow motion here.”

District 32

Mary Lou Bartolotta-Connolly, the unopposed Democratic incumbent in District 32, received 1,096 votes to secure her sixth term on the county legislature.

“It doesn’t matter what party you are, we are all in this together for the residents,” said Connolly.

She said she was surprised by the results in districts 31 and 39.

“I’m just shocked, because Aylward has done such a wonderful job as a county legislator and as an advocate for his district,” Connolly said.

She said she would reach out to the newcomers in the legislature.

“You can’t learn everything overnight,” she said. She hopes the replacements for Aylward and Gordon — Stevens and Busch — will be advocates in favor of the nursing home, Connolly’s biggest cause.

“We’ve got a lot of decisions to make that will impact the county,” Connolly concluded. “We need a group of people who can work hand in hand. “

Busch said during her campaign that the proposal to build a new nursing home is “out of the question.” She proposed having a private contractor run the old one.

Stevens said he saw two options — “a public-private partnership with a lease purchase, or full privatization of the facility.”

District 33

In an uncontested election, Herbert Reilly, 75, won his third term representing the 33rd District in the county’s legislature.

The district covers part of New Scotland, including the village of Voorheesville, and part of Bethlehem.

Reilly, who garnered 1,685 votes according to unofficial figures from the county’s board of elections, was pleased that he got as many votes as he did.  Although he had no opponent, he put out signs and sent a mailer to his constituents because, he said, people are entitled to know who their representative is.

Reilly was shocked by the outcome in the neighboring 31st and 39th districts that saw long-time Democratic incumbents ousted.  “I really can’t explain it,” he said.  “The Hilltowns lost two very good legislators.”  They always attended committee meetings and offered thoughtful remarks, Reilly said.

He guessed that the challengers might have had more stamina for campaigning door to door or that the Tea Party movement might have a foothold in the area.

District 38

L. Michael Mackey, 55, in his first run for public office, got a seat in the county’s legislature in an uncontested election for a newly created district that includes parts of New Scotland and Bethlehem.

He got 1,474 votes, according to the county board of elections, but it would have been a more gratifying win had he had an opponent, Mackey said.

Of the outcome in districts 31 and 39, Mackey said, “The single most important factor was the proposed tax increase,” referring to the county executive’s proposed budget with an increase of 19 percent.  “Both Bill and Sandy had the misfortune of being sitting legislators when that enormous tax increase was proposed,” he said of Aylward and Gordon.

— Anne Hayden wrote on districts 28, 29, and 32. Melissa Hale-Spencer wrote on District 30, and Saranac Hale Spencer on districts 33 and 38.


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