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Schenectady mayoral race ‘far from over,’ McCalmon camp says

Schenectady mayoral race ‘far from over,’ McCalmon camp says

McCarthy, holding 65-vote lead, has declared victory
Schenectady mayoral race ‘far from over,’ McCalmon camp says
Theares McCalmon at her election night event
Photographer: Marc Schultz / Gazette Photographer

SCHENECTADY — Mayor Gary McCarthy holds a slim 65-vote lead over Thearse McCalmon.

The 4-point margin was enough for the mayor to claim victory in the Democratic primary on Tuesday. 

But McCalmon has not conceded the race, and her campaign is awaiting an official count and certification of outstanding absentee, affidavit and write-in ballots. 

The county Board of Elections had received 126 absentee ballots out of 242 total issued by Wednesday morning, making the number within the margin of victory. 

Absentee ballots must be postmarked no later than Monday and received by July 2. Election officials said a surge of additional incoming ballots is unlikely.

The county board will conduct its standard 3-percent audit of voting machines on Thursday, with an absentee ballot and write-in review scheduled to begin on Friday.

"We want to ensure each absentee ballot gets opened and each vote counted,” said McCalmon campaign press secretary Paul Paterakis. “We will also review the write-ins and fight for the counting of the affidavit ballots.”

McCarthy currently leads McCalmon 858 to 793 votes, according to unofficial turns. 

“This race is far from over,” Paterakis said. 

McCalmon, 41, had presented herself as a fresh-faced newcomer willing to shake up the status quo.

The results, she said on primary night, have put the mayor on notice.

McCarthy, 63, acknowledged the results were closer than expected, but attributed the gap to low voter turnout paired with complacency from city residents pleased with his administration who saw no urgency to vote.

“What happened is people who think the city is doing well — which is the majority — didn’t see this as a close or contested race,” McCarthy said. “It was hard to motivate my people to get them out.”

ABSENTEES OUTSTANDING

Elections officials also received 16 affidavit ballots, but the breakdown by political party was unavailable on Wednesday. 

McCarthy was endorsed by the city Democratic Committee; McCalmon, the Working Families Party (WFP). 

If McCarthy retains his lead following certification, McCalmon may still have a path forward in November's general election if she fends off the mayor's attempt to secure the minor party's ballot line through an insurgent write-in campaign.

A write-in candidate received 26 WFP votes compared to McCalmon’s 21. 

That candidate is presumed to be McCarthy, but details won't be confirmed until Friday’s ballot review. 

Chad Putman, a state WFP committee member, said he was “shocked and incredibly impressed” with McCalmon’s showing on Tuesday.

“For a political newcomer with minimal roots with the establishment in the city to come within 5 percent to defeating a sitting incumbent, that’s really remarkable,” Putman said. “There’s clearly an outcry of registered Democrats in the city who are hungry and thirsty for change. They’re tired of the status quo and development happening around them and without them.”

Jamaica Miles, a longtime Schenectady resident and an activist with Citizen Action of New York, said McCalmon’s campaign is the beginning of a “growing movement for justice and equity in the city of Schenectady that won’t stop, no matter the outcome of this election and no matter how much Mayor McCarthy wishes it away.”

“We will work every day to shift the balance of power in Schenectady to prioritize people over the profit of a few big developers, so we no longer have one of the highest poverty rates in the state and low-income communities with the lowest life expectancy rates in the Capital Region,” Miles said in a statement. “And we’ll continue to fight to end the mass criminalization of our community that’s led to our area having the highest marijuana arrest rate for black people in the state.”

Councilman John Polimeni, a Democrat and McCarthy supporter, said he did not think the numbers indicated McCarthy was vulnerable. 

“I can tell you talking with people in the city, they’re happy with the job (McCarthy) is doing,” Polimeni said.

MAYOR CONFIDENT

McCarthy said he felt confident his lead would hold, and perhaps even increase, following the canvas. 

“(Absentee ballots) tend to break close to what the machine is and mimic what’s there,” McCarthy said. 

He said his campaign sent out targeted absentee mailings to constituents with whom he had pre-existing relationships.

Republicans are not running a candidate, making McCarthy a favorite to win a third term in November. 

Turnout on Tuesday, which was the first June primary to be held as part of a newly-merged state and federal calendar, was anemic. 

A total of 1,163 registered Democrats in the city cast ballots for the two candidates on Tuesday, constituting 11.1 percent of active enrolled city Democrats. The number increases slightly when factoring in absentee ballots.

There are 330 active WFP members in the city, according to the county Board of Elections, resulting in a 14.2 percent turnout rate. 

In some regards, the close contest recalls McCarthy’s 2011 race in which he took office after defeating former Union College president Roger Hull by 89 votes.

In a 2015 general election rematch, McCarthy racked up a more comfortable margin: 4,394 to 3,664.

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