Long-serving Hammond survives supervisor challenge
KNOX — In the closest board race Knox has seen since revaluation rocked the political boat two decades ago, the all-Democratic town board will stay that way although Pamela Fenoff, the challenger for supervisor, said after the polls closed Tuesday night that she wasn’t conceding victory to the Democratic incumbent, Michael Hammond, until absentee ballots have been counted.
Fenoff, an Independence Party member also running on the Republican and Conservative lines, garnered 409 votes (46 percent) to Hammond’s 487 votes (54 percent), according to unofficial results from the Albany County Board of Elections.
“It was a good race,” Fenoff said after the results were announced. “It was really close. It’s hard to say which way it will end up.”
She concluded, “I think a lot of people are ready for change.”
Hammond, on the other hand, interpreted his 78-vote margin this way: “It has been said many times by citizens: We like what’s going on in Knox; we don’t want change.”
The county’s board of elections said yesterday that there are 37 absentee ballots in Knox, which are scheduled to be counted next week. The board of elections also reported 14 “under votes” in the supervisor’s race, meaning 14 people did not fill in the bubble for either supervisor candidate.
In the three-way race for two town board seats, long-time Democratic incumbent, Nicholas Viscio, was the top vote-getter with 588 (38 percent). Democratic incumbent Amy Lauterbach Pokorny, running for her first full term, won the other seat with 542 votes (35 percent). And Republican Robert Altieri, making his inaugural run for political office, garnered 407 votes (26 percent).
The board of elections reports that there were 276 “under votes” in the councilmember race and two “over votes,” meaning two ballots were disqualified because the voter filled out more than the allowed two bubbles for councilmember.
The Democratic victories may be rooted in enrollment: 39 percent of registered Knox voters are Democrats, 22 percent are Republicans, 27 percent are not affiliated with a party, and the rest are enrolled in small parties.
Poll worker Jan VanEtten said Tuesday night that about half of Knox’s registered voters had cast ballots. Knox has 1,843 registered voters, according to the board of elections.
Many more voted on small-party lines than are enrolled in those parties. Fenoff, for example, garnered 105 votes on the Conservative line although only 3 percent of Knox residents are enrolled in that party. Fenoff also got 42 Independence Party votes; 6 percent of Knox voters are enrolled as Independence Party members.
After the polls closed, a score of people gathered in Town Hall and listened as poll worker Alyce Gibbs read from long lists of printed-out results for each of the election districts.
The Democrats broke into applause when she was finished. The only Republican to win, again according to the unofficial results, as are all tallies in this article, was the unopposed highway superintendent, Gary Salisbury. Salisbury got the most votes of any candidate in Knox elections this year — 734.
Asked what his victory meant, Hammond answered, “And the work goes on…”
With 40 years at the helm in Knox, Hammond, 70, is the longest serving supervisor in Albany County. He has retired from teaching high-school technology and owns a carpentry business, run from his Knox property.
“I’m more prepared to be a supervisor now than in all the elections before this,” he said.
About this year’s campaign, where some of the issues were forming a business district, following the board’s policy of advertising for appointments, and enforcing zoning regulations, Hammond said, “We made a concerted effort to reach out to all the voters. We spent many days, many weekends conversing with people.”
Asked if having an energetic adversary had changed his usual campaign strategy, Hammond replied, “I always campaign with as much vigor.”
Pokorny said of the election results, “I think it shows people are satisfied with the way the town is being run.”
Pokorny, 61, who has retired from a career with the state’s Department of Social Services, was appointed to the town board in 2012 after Travis Stevens, a Republican, won a term as an Albany County legislator. She ran last fall to fill out the last year of Stevens’s term.
A former zoning board member, Pokorny is currently leading the process of updating the town’s comprehensive land-use plan.
Asked, just after the vote counts were read, what the results meant, Viscio said, “It means I get to go back to work.”
Viscio, 57, has retired from his job as director of media services at Guilderland High School and is still a filmmaker and pilot. He has served five four-year terms on the board.
Viscio said that some of the “so-called” issues in this campaign were trumped up by the opposition. “The business district has been in the works for awhile,” Viscio said. “It turned into a quote-unquote hot-button issue for political reasons.”
He went on, “Every election is an education.”
Asked what he had learned from this one, Viscio said, “I learned that a few people had misconceptions…It caused us to draw clarity on some issues….Some of the accusations were just — how do I define them? — unfounded.”
He gave “the appointments issue” as an example.
Fenoff, 49, who works as an office manager for a social consulting firm, had questioned the town board when it voted to fill the position of a transfer-station alternate worker without advertising the post, contrary to the board’s 2011 resolution to post any vacant positions.
During her campaign, Fenoff asserted that, when the Knox assessor’s seven-year term was up, the town board should have advertised for a replacement, while the Democrats pointed out the post was not vacant. It is held by Russell Pokorny, the husband of Councilwoman Amy Pokorny, who abstained from voting on the matter.
Viscio went on, “I admire people like Bob Altieri or Amanda or Gary for running a clean campaign.” He was referring to Amanda Gullestad, candidate for clerk; and to Salisury, the highway superintendent.
Viscio concluded of their campaigns, “They were politically challenging and made a fair race of it.”
Republican Chairwoman Pat Gage sat in an alcove with Altieri as they waited in Town Hall for results on Tuesday night. “I’m not nervous,” Altieri said, “but I’m anxious, obviously, to see what the results are.”
Altieri, 27, a project manager in heavy construction, said that campaigning was “a good experience.” He went on, “I got a real feel for what the community values.”
Asked, if he were defeated, if he’d run again, Altieri said, “I’d definitely think about it.”
“One thing that was different than last time is we had some real go-getters,” said Gage of this year’s election.
She said she hadn’t heard any complaints about lack of civility. “All that serves is to make ill will, which doesn’t do anyone any good,” said Gage.
“It’s a business, not personal,” Altieri concluded.
The incumbent clerk, Kim Swain, a Republican, did not seek a fifth term. She has served four two-year terms.
“I want to be home with my kids,” she said. Her younger child is 6 and her older child is 10, so they are both now in school, she said.
“I hate being away from them at night,” said Swain, adding of the clerk’s job, “I’m sad to give it up.”
She will be replaced by Democrat Tara Murphy who received 490 votes (58 percent) to Amanda Gullestad’s 356 votes (42 percent). Gullestad, a Conservative Party member, ran on the Republican line; Murphy ran on both the Democratic and Independence Party lines. There were three “over votes” and 60 “under votes” in the clerk’s race.
“I just really like meeting people and hearing their stories and talking with them,” Murphy, 36, said during the campaign of her reason for running for the part-time post.
She said she would like to update the town’s website, making more forms and documents available over the Internet, and digitizing the town’s paper records, for which grants could be pursued.
Three incumbents ran unopposed: Tax Collector Diane Champion and Judge Jean Gagnon, both Democrats, and Highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury, a Republican.
Diane Champion won her second two-year term with 551 Democratic votes and 155 Independence Party votes for a total of 706. The board of elections reports 201 “under votes” for tax collector.
She worked as an auditor for the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance and said she is available to meet with residents who call her.
Gagnon won a third four-year term with 459 Democratic votes, 179 Conservative votes, and 66 votes on the Independence Party line, for a total of 704 votes. There were also 201 “under votes” for town justice.
Gagnon, 57, manages a travel and tourism agency. She said she first sought the justice post to be more involved in the community.
Salisbury garnered 471 Republican votes, 142 Conservative votes, and 121 Independence Party votes for a total of 734 votes. There were 173 “under votes” for highway superintendent.
Salisbury, 49, has, in the last decade, instituted strict record-keeping and scheduling for the highway department.