Supervisor Stewart yet to concede, but appears defeated. Council will likely be 5-0 GOP
BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
Orangetown Republicans racked up their biggest victory in decades Tuesday, sweeping every single position in Rockland County’s southernmost township and apparently defeating incumbent Democratic Supervisor Andrew Stewart in the process. Due to a narrow 36-vote margin and outstanding absentee ballots, Stewart has yet to concede, but political insiders expect Wettje will prevail when all is said and done.
The win gives the GOP a solid 5-0 control of the Town Board come Jan. 1, a feat they haven’t enjoyed since the leadership of supervisors Clarence Noyes and John B. Lovett nearly a half-century ago.
Stewart is a freshman Democrat who had just won the position two years ago when he defeated then incumbent Republican leader Paul Whalen in a startling upset at the time. The council has been politically split since then, with four Republican Town Board members and Democrat Stewart as supervisor.
The only registered Democrat to win election in Orangetown Tuesday was Town Clerk Charlotte Madigan, who ran on all four party lines this time around, and won her biggest vote on the GOP ticket, despite also being on the Democratic, Conservative and Independent lines.
Madigan, a long-time Pearl River resident and former school board member there, has been Town Clerk for nearly 20 years and has received widespread support over her lengthy tenure. She accepted Conservative endorsement a few years ago, upsetting some Democratic committee members who tried to dump her or force her to give up Conservative row C but she refused, and won re-election on both lines. This time she also accepted the Republican endorsement, enraging ever more Democratic committee members who waged a fierce battle over her re-nomination on their ticket.
Ignoring the hubbub her campaign aroused, she happily ran on all four lines this year, with no opposition.
Other Republicans cruising to an easy victory Tuesday in Orangetown were incumbent Councilmen Denis Troy and Thomas Diviny, Receiver of Taxes Robert Simon, Highway Superintendent James Dean and Town Justice Rich Finning, all long-term incumbents who were easily re-elected.
Wettje vs. Stewart
The biggest gain for the Republicans, however, was the likely election of newcomer Walter Wettje as supervisor. Wettje is a long-time Pearl River resident who is a telecommunications computer executive who has been active in local sports and community organizations for many years, but is new to politics.
Defeated in Tuesday’s election, along with incumbent Stewart, were Democratic candidates Dan Salmon and Annmarie Uhl for Town Board and Chris Smith for Receiver of Taxes. The Democrats offered no opposition candidates to Dean and Finning.
Republicans gathered for their victory celebration at Emmett’s Castle restaurant at the town-owned Blue Hill Golf Course Tuesday evening to await the election results. With the polling places closing at 9 p.m., the first results didn’t start tricking in for nearly an hour, and the final results were not announced until nearly 11 p.m.
The contests were a see-saw match all evening, as a batch of districts from Pearl River would come in and tilt the totals toward the GOP, followed by another batch from Nyack, tipping it back toward the Democrats.
The two races that kept switching back and forth during that tense two-hour waiting period were for Rockland County Executive and Orangetown Supervisor, with the GOP easily leading in all other races throughout the evening, with little challenge from their Democratic opponents.
Democrat Stewart, along with Democratic county executive candidate David Fried would lead for 20 minutes, followed by a 20-minute lead switch to Republicans Wettje and Ed Day. The changes were apparently based on the locations of the districts doing the reporting at any given time.
Under the procedure setup by the Rockland County Board of Elections, inspectors from each of the hundreds of election districts were to physically drive their results to the board’s New City headquarters, where they would be inputted into county computers by board staff members working overtime.
The process normally takes about a half hour before results begin being posted, and about an hour until they are complete with every district reporting.
The difference this year, election officials explained, is that instead of driving paper results to New City, the inspectors were to remove tiny USB portal cards from each polling computer and drive that to the county headquarters, where it would be plugged into the master computer and instantly tallied.
Instead of speeding up the process, it slowed it down for reasons that remained unexplained by midnight. Ironically the county’s computer system is under the jurisdiction of Troy, who is in charge of MIS (Management Information Systems) for Rockland. Troy took some heckling over this from partiers at the town’s GOP headquarters Tuesday evening as they stared at blank television and computer screens waiting for the results to be posted.
After the GOP sweep was finally announced to a prolonged round of applause and cheers about 11 p.m., however, all of the candidates had nothing but praise and congratulations for each other, their campaign staffs, the Republican party, and the voters of Orangetown.
“Boy oh boy oh boy,” Wettje exclaimed giddily, surrounded by his wife, children and extended family at the golf course clubhouse in Pearl River.
Recalling his entry into community activism as a basketball player for Albertus Magnus High School, Wettje metaphorically shouted “Tonight, we swept it out of the court.”
“I won a race tonight,” Wettje noted, “but I also won in life because of the many wonderful people and new friends I met on the campaign trail.” He thanked his campaign staff, including Pat and Ronnie Moroney, John Murphy, Troy and Diviny, among others, noting, “I learned in high school that you run as a team, not as an individual.” He also thanked his family and introduced several of them attending the victory party. He added that he would now spent the coming two months preparing to take over Orangetown government on Jan. 1.
“I’ll run Orangetown the same way I try to run my family, with love and compassion,” Wettje told the still cheering crowd as his wife and daughter beamed broadly in appreciation.
Troy cautioned that the final vote results showed Wettje only beating Stewart by 36 votes, 5,948 to 5,912, and there were still more than 500 absentee ballots to count. While that could change the ultimate outcome of the race, Troy said the Republicans mounted an intensive “get out the vote” campaign, including assisting residents who would be out of town Tuesday to obtain, complete, sign and mail in absentee ballots in advance of Election Day. As a result, he said he feels confident the GOP will retain and probably even enlarge its margin of victory over the Democrats once all votes are counted, which could take several days.
Troy called Tuesday’s GOP victory “a great win for all of Orangetown” and said he couldn’t wait to have the all-Republican council begin work on January 1, “for a new and better Orangetown.”
“We worked our asses off, with help from all of you,” he told the wildly cheering audience of GOP committee members and party faithful. Troy concluded his victory remarks by noting that most in the room were probably well aware that he had “differences” and “issues” with Stewart over management of the town and the conduct of board meetings, but that could now be set aside because of Stewart’s defeat and replacement with Wettje. Wettje is a “team player,” Troy asserted, and should work well with the all-GOP council.
Diviny called the last six months of campaigning for re-election while at the same time clashing with Stewart on the Town Board “six months of living Hell,” which he was glad were now almost over. Turning to brighter topics, Diviny quipped as he scanned the room of party faithful eagerly consuming food and drinks that “I can see it’s going to be quite a bar bill tonight,” as the audience roared its appreciation. He then thanked them all, saying “We wouldn’t be here without you and your support and your hard work.”
At the Rockland County Republican victory headquarters at the Comfort Inn in Nanuet, party Chairman Vincent Reda said the entire county GOP should be proud of its many victories Tuesday, in which the party wracked up wins at the county, town and village levels, and practically swept all major contests for the first time in several years.
Despite the fact that registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans throughout Rockland County, Reda said this was the biggest and best GOP election in decades, with sweeping victories in Orangetown, Clarkstown, Stony Point and even Ramapo. Reda and other party leaders were also gushing with pride at the victory of Ed Day over Democrat David Fried for county executive.
Incumbent County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election after 20 years in office as the county’s highest leader. Polls had shown Day and Fried in a tight race, with Fried frequently given the edge to win if for no other reason the huge Democratic enrollment in Rockland County.
In the end Day swept the election, however, winning a quick concession from Fried by 11 p.m.