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Clash Of Styles, Philosophies In Tuesday’s Race For Open Rensselaer County Executive Seat

Composite photo by Dave Lucas/WAMC
Republican Steve McLaughlin, Democrat Andrea Smyth, candidates for Rensselaer County Executive

The race for the open Rensselaer County Executive is defined by a contrast in styles.

In the September primary, Republican state Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin edged out the party favorite, Deputy Rensselaer County Executive Chris Meyer. Meyer carried the endorsement of his boss, sitting County Executive Kathy Jimino, who is retiring after 16 years. The bitter matchup ended in a close vote; Meyer initially refused to concede.

Political newcomer Andrea Smyth has the Democratic line as the party hopes to gain the office for the first time.

McLaughlin says he's dedicated to making Rensselaer County “grow and prosper,” citing a "pro-business record, experience in the public and private sector, and his work to upgrade infrastructure." He was a vocal critic of how the Cuomo administration handled the PFOA water contamination incident affecting residents of Hoosick Falls. "You're gonna blame the EPA and then push responsibility on to the village, which is a small village, and meanwhile the DOH is continued to say 'we didn't do anything wrong.'"

Smyth says her whole career has been in public management.  "I have a great understanding of the state budget and the funding streams that go to counties. I have very deep relationships at all levels of government. I did work for the New York State Association of Counties, so I have an understanding of the vast numbers of health and human services programs that counties manage for their residents. I think the combination is, as a result of all of that experience is that I am a very qualified executive manager."

Smyth has been making political hay out of an incident in which a longtime aide accused McLaughlin of assault. In heavily run commercial radio ads, Smyth employs excerpts of audiotape originally provided to the Times Union featuring McLaughlin uttering vulgarities. "There is no excuse for McLaughlin’s repulsive behavior. My opponent’s conduct isn’t a lapse in judgment; it is proof that he is unfit to lead. McLaughlin’s own words tell us the kind of man he truly is. [Dark, not attractive, bleeped and unintelligible words] He really uses the sexist slur no real man would speak to  a woman. Steve McLaughlin’s own words prove he is a bully who abuses staff and abuses women."

The aide later walked back the accusations. McLaughlin said he was sorry in an early debate. "As for my staff member, she and I have worked very closely together for seven years – we’re friends. Do I apologize for what I said? Absolutely. It was unacceptable to say what I said, and I've apologized greatly and profusely for that.”

McLaughlin has not returned multiple interview requests from WAMC during the course of the campaign. He's on record saying the media is biased against conservatives. Appearing on a local conservative talk radio station, he branded the Times Union a "fake news" outlet and said he wouldn’t speak to the paper for his entire term if elected .

The race comes at a time when the conduct of powerful men like Harvey Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly has been front-page news. Coupled with an unpopular Republican president, is there a chance McLaughlin could lose the race? WAMC's Political Observer Alan Chartock: "Anything can affect the outcome of any race. Now in the case of this local race, in which the guy is a member of the Assembly, a Republican in the Assembly, which I have said many times has the power of warm spit, you'd wanna get out of there any way you can. He thinks he's gonna win the race, and so he's playing it safe, the way that he sees it. Hey, that's the way politicians are."

Green Party candidate Wayne Foy could not be reached for comment.

Democrats have an enrollment edge over Republicans in Rensselaer County, but there are more unenrolled voters than members of either party.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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