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What you need to know for 11/19/2017

Foss: Negativity doesn't work in Niskayuna

Foss: Negativity doesn't work in Niskayuna

Syed's victory brings breath of fresh air to town politics
Foss: Negativity doesn't work in Niskayuna
Political newcomer Yasmine Syed knocked off longtime Niskayuna Town Supervisor Joe Landry on Election Day.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

I don't like negative campaigning, but I understand why people do it. 

It can be very effective, as tactics go — more effective than playing nice, taking the high road, sticking to the issues, etc. 

What made the Niskayuna town supervisor race so refreshing was that it was a rare example of negative campaigning not working. 

At least, not working as intended. 

In the weeks before the election, the Niskayuna races turned unexpectedly ugly, with the Democratic Committee distributing flyers that linked the Republicans running for town supervisor and Town Board to divisive right-wing media figures such as Alex Jones. 

In some communities, this scurrilous attack might have worked. 

[Niskayuna supervisor-elect Syed ready to work]

But it didn't work in Niskayuna, and I got the sense that for a lot of voters the flyers simply went too far — that their nastiness not only rubbed people the wrong way but actually inspired sympathy for Yasmine Syed, the Republican who unseated Democratic Town Supervisor Joe Landry on Tuesday night. 

So it's not that the flyers weren't effective. 

They were effective — at getting voters to turn away from Landry in disgust and vote for his opponent. 

Of course, there were other factors at play. 

Let's start with Syed, who was a strong candidate. 

She might be a political newcomer, but she's not new to the community. 

She grew up in Niskayuna — her father is a respected local doctor — and works as a senior budget analyst at Albany Medical Center. Her campaign emphasized important town issues, such as the mistreatment of town employees, long-delayed repairs to the town's sanitary system and property taxes. 

The other big factor in the race was Landry. 

Despite Syed's win, it would be wrong to describe the Niskayuna election as a defeat for town Democrats. Voters rejected the Republican candidates for Town Board, and Democrats will continue to hold all four Town Board seats. 

If the outcome of the town supervisor race tells us anything, it's that voters were weary of Landry and ready to show him the door. 

It's difficult to know what role the absurd and petty political dispute between Landry and Town Court employees might have played in his loss, or whether stories of unhappy town employees convinced voters that it was time for a change. 

More than once, I heard the word "bully" used to describe Landry's style of leadership. If there's one thing we don't need in government, it's bullies. 

In any case, voters were clearly looking for an alternative to Landry — a sentiment Syed capitalized on with a well-run, issue-focused campaign. 

Her victory is a welcome one.

It shakes up Niskayuna's one-party governance, and brings a breath of fresh air to town politics. 

It also shows that voters can be discerning. 

We'll never know for sure how big a role those nasty, offensive campaign mailers played in setting the stage for Landry's defeat and Syed's victory. 

But voters saw through them, and that's a very encouraging thing. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Her blog is at https://dailygazette.com/blogs/thinking-it-through.

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