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In Ulster County, Three Votes Separate DA Candidates

District attorney races in two Hudson Valley counties are too close to call. In Ulster County, the candidates are in a dead heat. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne has more on the contests that Republicans previously dominated.

Ulster County Republican chief assistant district attorney Michael Kavanagh wants to succeed his boss, Holley Carnright, who is retiring. Democrat Dave Clegg, a criminal defense attorney who chairs the county’s Human Rights Commission, says he would bring a sea change to the office. Clegg addressed supporters near midnight Tuesday night, when not all districts had been counted and he was leading by less than 2 percentage points.

“We have been here for all the right reasons. We are here to transform criminal justice in our county,” Clegg says. “We’re here to move us into the 21st century. We’re here to find a way to rehabilitate people who have addiction, as opposed to incarcerating them.”

It turns out a medical emergency at the Ulster County Board of Elections had halted the ballot counting late Tuesday. Democratic County Board of Elections Commissioner Ashley Dittus says her staff member is fine after a trip to the ER. The counting resumed Wednesday morning, and, with all districts reporting, the DA candidates are in a dead heat. Kavanagh leads by three votes, and each has 49.99 percent of the vote. Dittus says 2,074 absentee ballots will be counted; perhaps more, as 3,602 had been issued. And there are affidavit ballots.

Kavanagh declined to comment. In a previous interview, he shared his views on statewide bail reform that takes effect in January.

“I am a proponent of responsible bail reform. I think bail reform is a good thing in some aspects,” says Kavanagh. “However, this bill went way too far. Some of the crimes that are excluded from cash bail I don’t think should have been. I think it creates a dangerous situation for the community.”

And he said cash bail reform will do away with a mechanism to secure services.

“Bail, not for punishment but to get somebody incarcerated to hit rock-bottom so that they can receive services immediately, not to languish in jail for six months and then, oh, OK, something, a bed’s open, now you can go,” Kavanagh says. “We need services in place now, and we don’t have them.”

Clegg attributes the close race partially to a flier that depicts him shaking hands with a Kingston activist who has been critical of police. He thinks that was a scare tactic that may have had some success.

“Well, there was some bumps in the road. And we had the Soros Foundation come in, nothing to do with me, didn’t coordinate in any way, but they said some things which got people upset, and that’s kind of unfortunate. Our campaign was always positive. Our campaign was issue driven. Our campaign was about moving us forward into the 21st century of criminal justice. And so, that’s what I think it’s about,” says Clegg. “And there was one moment in time where I shook somebody’s hand who had been convicted of a crime, and that’s what I do as a person who treats people decently. So that was something that shouldn’t have even been an issue, but it was.”

The division is similar across the river in Dutchess County, where longtime incumbent William Grady, a Republican, leads Democrat Richard Berube by 814 votes, or 50.60 percent to 49.38 percent. Dutchess County Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner Elizabeth Soto says the office has received 2,120 absentee ballots as of November 5, and had issued 3,569.

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