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Shapiro, Catillaz win Saranac Lake election

High turnout, numerous absentee ballots, Democrats-vs.-DSA contest make this vote different

Saranac Lake village trustees Rich Shapiro, left, and Tom Catillaz shake hands in January after being selected as the Democratic candidates for this year’s village board election during a party caucus at the village offices. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

SARANAC LAKE — Incumbents Rich Shapiro and Tom Catillaz won reelection to the Saranac Lake Village Board of Trustees Tuesday night. Actually, it was early this morning, as it took hours longer than usual to tally the votes, thanks to an unprecedented number of absentee ballots and write-ins.

When the votes were all in, well after 1 a.m., Shapiro, a Democrat, had garnered 549 notes; Catillaz, also a Democrat, received 454; Fred Balzac, running on a Green Party ticket, had 334; and Trevor Sussey, a registered Democrat not on the ballot but running as a write-in candidate, had 247.

Shapiro and Catillaz won new four-year terms. This is Shapiro’s second term; Catillaz, a former trustee and mayor, was reappointed to a trustee seat late last year.

The election drew more than three times the number of voters than the last village election, which had three uncontested candidates for three seats.

This was an election that drew increasing public interest in the months since March, when the pandemic forced the postponement of the original election date of March 18. With galvanizing issues — notably diversity and police reform — drawing attention, Sussey campaigned as a write-in candidate. High Peaks DSA, the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, endorsed both Balzac and Sussey. Catillaz and Shapiro put up more signs around the village than many towns have Halloween decorations.

Saranac Lake village Trustee Rich Shapiro, left, watches as Sue Dwyer and Jeremy Evans count votes in the Harrietstown Town Hall auditorium early Wednesday morning. (Enterprise photo — Amy Scattergood)

“We’ve never done it like this,” said village Clerk Kareen Tyler, who was at the Harrietstown Town Hall into the early morning hours overseeing the count. In previous elections, a few election inspectors counted votes and announced the results, often within a few minutes of the polls closing.

This time, four election inspectors sat spaced apart at two tables on the stage, counting ballots and writing the results on large paper-covered panels. Jeremy Evans penned hash marks for each vote under each candidate’s name. Sue Dwyer, Dennis Dwyer and Allan Wright sat near Evans, opening ballots one by one and marking the results.

It looked like a golf leaderboard made by a high school teacher.

“I wanted to be as transparent as possible,” said Tyler about the old-school — and very public — methodology, citing the sheer number of absentee ballots, which Tyler counted as 375, and write-ins. (Not only did Sussey get a large number of votes, but George W. Bush and Dick Cheney each got one, among others. Tyler said that she normally sees one or two votes for “lizard people.”)

As Balzac, Shapiro and Sussey sat on folding chairs watching Evans mark down each vote, it was very public indeed. Catillaz stayed home.

When the election was finally called, there were only a few people left at the town hall, a marked departure from previous years, when a crowd of candidates and their supporters would assemble. Last night each candidate was allowed to bring one guest. Tyler baked chocolate chip cookies, which sat on a lonely paper plate.

Voters, however, had showed up in large numbers.

“I’ve been here for 20 years, and it’s the biggest turnout I’ve ever seen,” said Tyler, who remarked that quite a few people who don’t even live in the village showed up, hoping to vote.

“And everybody wore a mask,” she said appreciatively.

On Wednesday night the Board of Trustees will gather for their next meeting at the town hall, another departure from the norm — usually, the next meeting of the board is weeks after the election. Catillaz and Shapiro will be absent from the meeting. Trustees Melinda Little and Zelda Newman — whose term is up in March, as she was recently appointed to serve out Patrick Murphy’s term when he resigned — and Mayor Clyde Rabideau will gather to conduct village business in a meeting held on a different day and with fewer trustees. Welcome to 2020.

(This story will be updated.)

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