What do Walter Cronkite, Ronald McDonald and Grumpy Cat have in common?
They all received a vote in the Schenectady school board election. The three names were among 132 write-in candidates — and 816 write-in votes — tallied in the race that had only two candidates file petitions to run for three open seats.
Dharam Hitlall led all write-in candidates with 142 votes to win a seat on the board. School board member Cheryl Nechamen was re-elected with 981 votes and Tanya Hull, a newcomer who submitted petitions to be on the ballot, won a seat with 934 votes.
Art Brassard, a Republican Board of Elections commissioner for eight years, said he couldn’t recall any local election with such a high number of write-in candidates.
“I think it’s quite a number that’s going be hard to surpass,” Brassard said.
He and Brian Quail, the Democratic commissioner, supervised a group of 12 school district canvassers who spent three hours Tuesday night hand-counting the ballots. Eight of the write-in candidates received at least 10 votes, while most of the 132 names had very few votes or just one, Brassard said.
“Certainly it didn’t change the outcome, but it made for an interesting night,” he said of counting names such as Cronkite, McDonald and Cat (first name Grumpy) toward the tally of candidates.
Mickey and Minnie Mouse were among the initial round of write-ins that were “filtered out, as they should be,” he said.
Hitlall, a mortgage broker with a 5-month-old son, said he launched his write-in campaign last week and spent five hours Monday going door-to-door. Bernice Rivera, a former Mont Pleasant Middle School teacher, came in fourth with 96 write-in votes, followed by Matt Canavan with 93 and Jon Simms with 89.
“I was shocked that I came out on top,” said Hitlall, 35.
He said he might have won because “a lot of people know me and they like my ideas.”
Hitlall and his wife, Ann, have lived in Schenectady for six years. He is a member of the Schenectady Board of Assessment Review, the Guyanese American Association of Schenectady, the city Democratic Committee and the Salon Democrats.
During his campaign, he said he would like to see more children graduate from high school and ultimately stay off the streets.
Hitlall, along with Nechamen, the incumbent, will be sworn in during the school board’s first meeting in July and serve three-year terms. Hull, because she received more votes than Hitlall, will finish out the last month of Ed Kosiur’s term before serving three years. Kosiur resigned in February to take a seat on the City Council. Hull was sworn in at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
“While it’s not great that we didn’t have a full slate of candidates, I think it bodes well for the district that there are now some people who have put their names out there and said, ‘I might be interested,’ ” said Laurence Spring, Schenectady superintendent of schools. “It’s good to have more than 100 people out there who are willing to do that.”
In Duanesburg — where no one filed petitions to run for two open seats — the tally of write-in candidates was 50, with 30 names receiving only a single vote.
Write-in candidates Mike Jackson and Mara Burns — who ran as a team — took the two open seats with 136 and 96 votes, respectively. Write-in Lance Manus was third with 41 votes and Bob Fiorini, the current school board president who did not seek re-election, came in fourth with 38 write-in votes.
It wasn’t clear Wednesday how Grumpy Cat fared in that race.
Jackson has sons in kindergarten and second grade at Duanesburg Elementary School, and Burns has a son in kindergarten at the elementary school and a 3-year-old daughter. They launched their campaigns last month.
“I think it’s great that there [were so many people] that came forward that wanted to serve the community,” said Jackson, 45. “I’m hopeful that next year we have people on the ballot and go back to the more formal process.”
Jackson, because he received the most votes, will be sworn in soon to fill the seat vacated by Paul Munson. Burns will take the oath of office in July.