Lefkaditis slate again sweeps clean in Knox

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Reading the tally: Alyce Gibbs announces results from voting machines in Knox Town Hall Tuesday night.

KNOX — The Lefkaditis juggernaut swept the Knox elections on Tuesday just as it had two years ago. The two Democratic incumbent councilmen were ousted.

Led by two-term Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis, the slate’s victories came despite the supervisor voting with the rest of the town board to censure himself for handing in annual financial reports years late, and despite the 2017 slate’s firing in January of transfer-station workers that violated Civil Service Law, causing public outcry at the time.

“Most people don’t care how the sausage was made; they care how it tastes,” Lefkadits told The Enterprise Tuesday night.

Small-party votes carried the day for the Republican-backed candidates at a time when New York is considering doing away with fusion voting. Without the small-party lines, none of the victorious council candidates would have won.

Lefkaditis took exception to the reference “Republican-backed” to describe candidates in this election and the election two years ago who had run with him but were members of various parties.

The rural Helderberg town had long been dominated by Democrats. Lefkaditis, himself enrolled as a Democrat, had unsuccessfully sought that party’s backing, ousting the long-time Democratic supervisor in 2015 solely on the Conservative line.

Out of 1,935 registered voters, Knox currently has 713 Democrats, or 36 percent. The town has more unaffiliated voters (519 or 26 percent) than enrolled Republicans (481 or 24 percent). The rest belong to small parties.

“Candidates shouldn’t be in any party,” Lefkatidis said on Tuesday night. “Candidates should be U.S. citizens.”

He said this should apply to elections from the local level to the national level, “even in the presidential race.” He went on, “The party system is dividing the country.”

Asked then how voters would coalesce to make choices, Lefkaditis said, “Individuals should run on their name and their track record.”

Lefkaditis, a hedge fund manager, received 561 votes, close to 53 percent; the vast majority (379 votes) were on the GOP line; he also received 101 Conservative votes and 81 Independence Party votes.

His opponent, Democrat Russell Pokorny, got 501 votes, just over 47 percent, with 442 on the Democratic line and 59 on the Working Family Parties line.

All of the tallies in this story are unofficial records from the Albany County Board of Elections obtained Tuesday night.

Pokorny, formerly the town’s assessor, ran on a platform of liberating Knox from the supervisor’s leadership of the last four years. “What’s at stake is integrity and respect and honesty and transparency,” Pokorny said during his campaign.

Asked what he thought caused the sweep by himself and his running mates, Lefkaditis said, “I couldn’t tell you what played out … I’m just grateful they did,” he said of voters’ support.

In the four-way race for two town board seats, June Springer, who is enrolled as a Democrat, and Dennis Cyr, who is enrolled as a Republican, bested the two Democratic incumbent councilmen, Earl Barcomb and Dennis Barber. 

Cyr, a veteran who owns and runs a business making prosthetics, was the top vote-getter with 573 votes or close to 28 percent.

June Springer, a manager at Diversified Automotive, followed with 535 votes or close to 26 percent of the vote. Both Cyr and Springer were making their first runs for a town post.

The vast majority of their votes were cast on the GOP line (399 for Cyr, 363 for Springer) but they also received votes on the Conservative (100 for Cyr and 98 for Springer) and Independence Party (74 each) lines.

Barber and Barcomb, however, had just the Democratic line and each received a handful of votes on the Unify Knox line, which isn’t a political party. Barber got 499 votes, a little over 24 percent, and Barcomb got 464 votes, or about 22 percent.

During the campaign, Barcomb, a high school guidance counselor and a farmer, had said, “I think it’s going to come down to tone — how we want our town government to act: conflict and controversy, or just quietly getting things done.”

Lefkaditis, on the other hand, said that results are what’s important. On Election Night, by way of example, he said, “If you smile, be polite, and raise my taxes two-fold, I’d rather you be less pleasant and lower my taxes.”

He went on, “When it comes to government, people are interested in how decisions affect them personally.”

Lefkaditis has tried to get a Multi-use Residential District passed for the area near the intersection of routes 156 and 157, but needed a supermajority vote of the town board — 4 out of 5 members — since the Albany County Planning Board had recommended against it, citing environmental and traffic concerns.

Barber and Barcomb had voted against the measure because, they said, the residents in the area didn’t want it, and creating the district doesn’t mean businesses will flock there, among other reasons.

Both Springer and Cyr said they would support an MRD. Lefkaditis said on Election Night, he will now pursue the MRD. “It’s very important to offer conveniences and jobs to residents of the Hilltowns,” he said. “We are not just a bedroom community.”

Lefkaditis also said, “We will work full bore on a community center.” He said further he looks forward to realizing ideas broached by his running mates of whom he said he was “very proud.”

Justice at last

Bonnie Donati, a Republican making her fourth run for town justice, was victorious.

“I’ve had a judge’s robe in my basement for 22 years,” she told The Enterprise on Election Night. “I get to wear it now.”

The robe had belonged to her husband, Alfred Donati Jr., a New York State Supreme Court judge who died in 1997.

Donati’s victory was clear as poll worker Alyce Gibbs read voting-machine results from a long roll of paper to the few people who gathered to hear at the town hall them after the polls closed at 9 p.m. on Tuesday.

Most of the results were not clear and onlookers huddled in groups, quietly adding figures. Gibbs told The Enterprise that 960 people had voted in Knox on Nov. 5 but there were still “120 early votes out there” as state voter reform allowed early ballots this November for the first time. Gibbs also noted poll workers had no way of knowing how many absentee ballots had been mailed in.

Donati received 662 votes, over 72 percent. Her opponent, Dana Sherman, an Independence Party member making his first run for judge, solely on the Unify Knox line, got 256 votes, close to 28 percent.

The post was open as James Corigliano did not seek a third term.

Donati, a paralegal, has an extensive legal background. “The law is supposed to protect you and teach you as well as punish you,” Donati said, stating her judicial philosophy during the campaign.

After the results were read on Election Night, Donati told The Enterprise, “I will definitely, definitely do my best … I’m looking forward to going to school.” She added, “I’ve heard the training is equivalent to the first year of law school.”

Clerk Schanz keeps post

Traci Schanz was the only candidate besides Donati on hand at the town hall after voting closed Tuesday night.

She was challenged by Democrat Joan Adriance for the part-time post. 

Schanz received 606 votes or just over 58 percent. Adriance got 437 votes, not quite 42 percent.

An Independence Party member, Schanz was first elected with the Lefkaditis slate two years ago.

“I’m a people person,” Schanz had said during her campaign, explaining why she loves being town clerk. “I grew up here … I’m proud to be up here. I love seeing people when they come into Town Hall.”

On Election Night, after the results were announced, she said, “Thank you to the residents. I very much appreciate it.”

Unopposed

Two posts were unopposed. Elizabeth Walk, a Democrat, ran with the Lefkaditis slate because she was asked to, she said.

Democrat Diane Champion who won the post in 2011, did not seek re-election.

Walk garnered 852 votes, most of them on the Republican line but also on the Conservative and Independence Party lines.

Like Lefkaditis, Walk had said during her campaign, “I don’t believe in strict parties. I believe in voting for the people.”

Gary Salisbury was also unopposed for highway superintendent but has said he will not take the job.

He resigned from his job as highway superintendent on Aug. 27, his 55th birthday, citing “nasty politics.” At the same time he resigned as the Knox Republican Party chairman and as the town’s deputy superintendent.

At its September meeting, the town board accepted Salisbury’s resignation, and increased Deputy Superintendent Matthew Schanz’s salary to match what Salisbury’s had been since Schanz is running the department. 

Schanz told The Enterprise in September that he wouldn’t launch a write-in campaign. “Historically, there’s not a good outcome,” he said of write-in campaigns.

Rather, Schanz said, with Salisbury on the November ballot, “If enough people vote for him, he can decline after the election, then they can appoint me on January 1st.”

“It’s a very unusual circumstance,” said Rachel Bledi, Albany County’s Republican election commissioner. “It’s not an ideal situation for voters.”

Salisbury got 793 votes, mostly on the Republican line but also on the Conservative and Independence Party lines.

On Election Night, The Enterprise asked Salisbury if he was still the Republican Party chairman and he answered, “Apparently.”

Asked his response to the victories of the Republican-backed candidates, he said, “I think they did a good job.”

More Hilltowns News

  • As coronavirus cases continue to climb in Albany County and vital services are shut down in response, children and seniors in the Hilltowns are vulnerable not only to the virus, but to hunger. To remedy this, the Berne Youth Council, Berne Library, and Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District are working together to deliver meals and groceries to these at-risk populations.

  • Some of the towns with land on the Helderberg escarpment where large wind turbines were proposed in 2008 drafted laws on wind energy; others haven’t.

  • After her husband’s suicide last year, Berne resident Jennifer Williams’s life has transformed as she signals optimism and strength for her two young children while pregnant with a third. She hopes her story will inspire others to remain strong in the face of devastating adversity. 

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.