Press-Republican

November 19, 2013

City of Plattsburgh Ward 5 race deadlocked

City Council seat undecided after absentee ballot count

By JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — After absentee ballots were counted on Monday, the race in Ward 5 of the City of Plattsburgh Common Council race was dead even and the final outcome still uncertain.

Republican Bruce Lawson was leading Democrat Becky Kasper by just 4 votes after election night, Nov. 5, but Kasper pulled even after 48 absentee ballots were counted Monday at the Clinton County Board of Elections.

“I guess this is testimony of our democracy in action,” she said.

“You think you got it all figured out, and it can still come up dead even like this.”

Kasper captured 26 absentee ballot votes to 22 for Lawson.

There were three ballots being challenged by Lawson that had not yet been opened on Monday. One of those was contested because it was apparently cast by a poll worker prior to the two-week period before the election allowed by law.

The others apparently featured identifying marks on the outside of the ballot envelopes.

Lawson has three days to decide whether he wants a court to rule on whether the ballots should be opened and counted or thrown out.

“I’m still considering my options,” he said Monday.

OPTIONS IN A TIE

If the race is still tied after the ballots in question are counted, then there are options for picking a winner.

Board of Elections Commissioner Greg Campbell said the state told him that the newly elected council can appoint one of the candidates after the members take office on Jan. 1.

The person appointed would then have to run in a special election in November of next year for the remaining two years of the three-year term.

Mayor-elect James Calnon said Monday night that he was still researching the issue and would confer with City Corporation Counsel John Clute to see what the city’s options are.

“It appears that state law will supersede our City Charter, but we still have to look at it closer and get some interpretations if we need to,” he said.

CALNON STILL WINNER

There were no changes in the other five wards of the city.

In Ward 1, Democrat Rachelle Armstrong was still leading comfortably over Republican William Ferris and independent Maureen Carlo; Democrat Michael Kelly held on to his 20-vote lead over Republican Michael Drew in Ward 2; Republican Dale Dowdle still led Democrat Justin Meyer in Ward 3; Democrat Paul “Crusher” O’Connell remained ahead of Republican Peter Ensel in Ward 4; and Democrat Joshua Kretser was still on top in Ward 6 over Republican James Wemette and independent incumbent Chris Jackson.

There were no significant changes in the mayor’s race either as Calnon, who led by 444 votes on election night over independent Chris Rosenquest, maintained his wide margin.

Democrat Mark Tiffer finished a distant third in that race.

DAME KEEPS LEAD

In the Clinton County Legislature Area 8 race, it appeared that Mark Dame would hold on to his comfortable lead despite the large number of absentee ballots submitted in that race.

Dame, a Republican incumbent, filed a complaint with City Police and the Board of Elections about the manner in which numerous absentee ballots were distributed.

He claims that members of the Working Families Party may have convinced some voters to just sign the absentee ballot applications as well as the ballots before filling the rest of the documents out themselves.

The Working Families Party supported most Democratic candidates in the election. Officials from that party have denied any wrongdoing.

93 BALLOTS CHALLENGED

In Monday’s counting, Dame, who led on election night, 872 to 680, over Democrat Robert Dolan, picked up 80 more votes to Dolan’s 59. The tally on Monday sat at 952 for Dame and 739 for Dolan.

Dame and his attorney James Walsh of Saratoga challenged 93 absentee ballots on Monday. He can ask a court to rule whether those ballots should be counted, which he said he likely will do even though he cannot mathematically lose the election.

“This is not about winning or losing,” he said. “This whole thing is about morals and ethics.”

Dolan, who was not endorsed by the Working Families Party, said he had nothing to do with absentee-ballot collections.

‘INTIMIDATION’

Police continue to investigate Dame’s charges, which irritates County Democratic Party Chairman Martin Mannix. 

He said it is Republicans who are intimidating voters, not Democrats or Working Families Party representatives.

“When uniformed police and the mayor show up on your doorstep and tell you that you may have committed a felony, that’s intimidation,” Mannix said.

“That’s just wrong, and I don’t go for that.”

Mannix also said Dame’s challenge of 93 absentee ballots on Monday was “costing taxpayers a lot of money” by dragging the process out.

“I think this is an orchestrated effort to discredit the Working Families Party,” he said.

‘CONFUSING’

Dame said that is nonsense.

“When things are going their way, they are all for justice and due process, but now they aren’t,” he said.

“I find that confusing, and frankly, so do a lot of other people.”

Elections commissioners Campbell, a Republican, and Democrat Susan Castine will continue counting absentee ballots this morning, starting with the Town of Plattsburgh. 

The count may not be finished for the entire county until late Wednesday.

Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com