In Rensselaerville, small parties determine outcomes

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

By the numbers: Democratic Chairman John Kudlack, right, and Conservative Chairman Robert Bolte, both town board members, compare numbers they took down in the quiet Rensselaerville firehouse just after 9 p.m. on Election Night. All of the candidates endorsed by Bolte’s committee won seats, with multiple endorsements.

RENSSELAERVILLE — The Conservative and Independence Party lines tipped the scales for the town’s assessor and council candidates, leaving candidates on only the Democratic line with large portions of the vote, but no winning races.

Deputy town Clerk Heather Kelly, a non-affiliated write-in candidate, lost to court Clerk Victoria Kraker, a Democrat with 85 percent of the vote. Kraker, along with winning council candidate Gerald Wood, also a Democrat, was endorsed by all four major parties. She will be the town clerk and tax collector in January, after Democrat Kathleen Hallenbeck retires from 40 years in the position.

Incumbent assessor Michael Weber switched from the Republican to the Independence party, because, he said, he disapproved of Republican assessor Donna Kropp processing her parents’ tax exemptions, the subject of an ethics investigation brought in 2012 by Weber’s Democratic running mate, Jeffry Pine. The ethics board determined the complaint was unfounded.

“I probably hurt myself in the process, but it’s just a matter of putting principle over party, and the consequence was that I lost,” said Weber.

The Democrats both lost to incumbent Kropp and newcomer Kathryn Wank, an Independence Party member.

Pine said he is waiting for the absentee ballots. “There should be enough that it’s going to be close,” said Pine. Forty-four absentee ballots had been received by the board of elections on Wednesday, to be opened next week.

At 285, enrolled Republicans in Rensselaerville are less than half the 632 enrolled Democrats (47 percent of registered voters in the town), according to 2013 figures from the Albany County Board of Elections. Fifty-four residents are enrolled as Conservatives, 99 as Independence Party members, four with the Working Families Party, and one with the Green Party. Twenty percent, or 269 voters, is not affiliated with a political party.

“For some reason, they don’t give us a shot at it,” John Kudlack, chairman of the town’s Democratic committee, said of the county Independence Party after hearing the results in the Rensselaerville firehouse. Rensselaerville, unlike the other three Hilltowns, has a local Conservative Party committee, chaired by town board member Robert Bolte, also at the firehouse to hear the results on Election Night.

The winning candidates this year each had Independence, Republican, and Conservative endorsement. Broken down into Republican and Democratic votes, the council and assessor positions had more votes on the Democratic line.

“We vote for people, period,” Bolte said of the results.

“They’re always like this,” he said of cross endorsements. “It’s who gets them.” Kudlack agreed, noting Wood is an enrolled Democrat, but said the Democratic committee did not know of Wood’s Republican endorsement at the time he was given its backing. Wood believes he told them.

“A lot of Democrats don’t come out and vote,” said Kudlack.

For two town council seats, Democrat Jeannette Rice, with 294 votes, lost to Wood, with 554 votes (44 percent), and Conservative incumbent Marion Cooke, with 407 votes (32 percent), according to unofficial results from the Albany County Board of Elections. Ballots cast without all allowed votes made — called “under votes” — in the council race totaled 125.

Wood had 218 votes on the Democratic line, 166 on the Republican line, 105 on the Conservative line, and 65 on the Independence line.

“I think that it showed the people are pretty happy with what the board’s doing right now,” Cooke said of the results.

Cooke said she was happy to see in this election almost no negative campaigning.

“It’s a small town, and it just makes hard feelings when that happens,” said Cooke.

For the two assessor positions, Pine had 326 votes, Weber had 266 votes, Kropp had 373 votes, and Wank had 341 votes. Sixty-seven ballots cast did not choose a candidate in the assessor race. Six ballots were disqualified for choosing too many, called “over votes.”

Incumbent Republican supervisor Valerie Lounsbury was unopposed, with 548 votes. Highway Superintendent Randall Bates, an enrolled Conservative, ran unopposed as well and received 549 votes.

Rice said she would continue to be involved in the town, with her seat on the zoning board and attending town board meetings.

“I think the Democratic Committee needs intense reorganization and new leadership,” Rice said on why the committee couldn’t endorse winning candidates.

Kudlack agrees and believes the committee’s limited funds restrict the donations it can make to the county Independence Party.

“I’ve been doing it the last few years, and I keep telling them, and I say, ‘You need to look for somebody else,’ and nobody wants to step up to the plate and do anything,” said Kudlack of the committee.

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