Non-Republicans landed two seats on the Schenectady County Legislature but fell far short of upsetting the formidable majority held by the Democrats.
Brian McGarry, a Republican, beat incumbent Democrat Matt Martin for the two years remaining on the District 4 seat that Angelo Santabarbara left to join the state Assembly this year. The GOP also saw a gain in District 3, where Grant Socha appeared to have won one of three seats up for grabs.
The Legislature was also joined by another Conservative member. Randy Pascarella joins incumbent Holly Vellano in representing District 4, which covers Rotterdam, Princetown and Duanesburg; both were endorsed by the Democrats.
Prior to the election, Vellano and Republican Minority Leader James Buhrmaster were the only non-Democrats on the 15-member Legislature. Now, the GOP will have at least three members, which Buhrmaster hopes will give the minority more of a voice in county matters.
“I have company,” beamed Buhrmaster as unofficial results poured in late Tuesday evening. “We’re looking at a clear change in the direction of the Legislature. It looks very hopeful for the people who do not want to continue doing business as usual.”
Of course, the Democrats still hold enough of a majority that the party will chose the next chairperson of the Legislature. Chairwoman Judith Dagostino, a representative of District 4, did not run for re-election.
McGarry, who had two unsuccessful runs for Rotterdam supervisor, managed to best Martin by more than 800 votes, according to preliminary results. The victory was satisfying for the Duanesburg Central School District teacher and one that he didn’t accept until more than 97 percent of ballots had been counted.
“It’s been a long road. It really has,” he said. “I’m really humbled by it.”
Socha, a Conservative and the vice president of Socha Management, helped to unseat incumbent Democrat Martin Finn, who had served on the Legislature since 2008. At 26, Socha will be the youngest person on the Legislature and possibly the youngest legislator ever elected.
The Democrats also appeared to retain two seats in District 3, which represents Glenville and Niskayuna. Newcomer Rory Fluman secured a seat, while incumbent Cathy Gatta guarded an 89-vote lead over Republican Alan Boulant for her first full term on the Legislature.
There are 471 absentee ballots that need to be counted in District 3, meaning Gatta’s slim margin of victory could evaporate. Enrolled Republicans sent back 189 of the absentee ballots, while enrolled Democrats sent back 155; independent voters accounted for 85 of the ballots.
Fluman, who serves on the Scotia Board of Trustees, was the top vote-getter among the six candidates vying for three seats. He said he canvassed his district hard, usually working five days a week to meet voters.
“The minute these guys asked me to run, I anticipated how much harder I would have to work,” he said. “Now I’m ready to get to work in the Legislature.”
Democrats managed to easily defend challenges in District 1 and District 2, which represent the city. Longtime incumbents Philip Fields and Karen Johnson, the Legislature’s vice chairwoman, handily defeated challengers Jason Planck and Benjamin Wallach.
McGarry said the results of the election show that voters aren’t satisfied with the one-party rule the Democrats have enjoyed on the Legislature since 2011. He hopes having a larger minority caucus will allow new ideas to surface.
“The people realized that having no balance of power isn’t good on the local level,” he said.