By SUZANNE MOORE
---- — ROUSES POINT — The incumbent justice here won a new term Tuesday with 77 write-in votes, defeating contender Michael Phillips by 33 votes.
John LaBonte, 56, had not planned to run, due to some health concerns and other issues.
But then, he said, his health improved and he started getting calls from village residents, asking him to seek the post after all.
“There was a number of residents who wanted an alternative to Mr. Phillips, for whatever reasons.”
Phillips, a local attorney, had thought he was running unopposed for the four-year term; he was the only candidate to submit a nominating petition in February.
He had approached LaBonte a few months back to ask whether the incumbent intended to seek a new term.
“If you’re not running, I am,” Phillips remembered telling the justice. “He said, ‘Good luck.’”
LaBonte remembered that conversation.
“I said I’ve got too many things going on,” he recalled telling Phillips. “I wasn’t trying to sandbag him (with the late-date write-in effort).”
In his mind and heart, he said, he hadn’t intend to run.
In December 2012, LaBonte suddenly went blind in his right eye. Surgery mended a detached retina, but he was left with continuing sight issues.
The same had happened to his left eye, “like a lightning bolt,” seven years earlier, he said. But the damage in the most recent incident was far worse.
As well, he has been taking care of his mother, Lina, who’s 84.
Those issues made him stop and think about simplifying his life some. And so he decided to continue as a Town of Champlain justice — a seat he has held for 24 years — but end his eight-year run as village justice.
Phillips said it came as a complete surprise Tuesday night when write-in votes for LaBonte started piling up.
“Mr. LaBonte ran a very effective campaign,” he said.
“I didn’t campaign,” LaBonte said Wednesday in a separate interview.
Beginning in mid-February, the phone calls from villagers asking him to run “just kept piling in.”
Maybe 10 days or so before the election, LaBonte told those who wanted to organize the write-in effort to go ahead if they wanted to do so.
His eyesight had improved beyond what he’d expected, and that, he said, was the main reason he changed his mind about running.
“I have no problems with Mike Phillips,” LaBonte said.
He feels honored that citizens worked hard on his behalf to keep him in office, he said.
Phillips, who didn’t say whether he would make another run for a justice seat in the future, wasn’t left with the best taste in his mouth.
“I guess I’m cynical enough to say that’s what I’ve come to expect from politics.”
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