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A look at the only primary race in Clinton County

Plattsburgh City Hall (file)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Plattsburgh City Hall (file)

There is one primary race this month in Clinton County, New York. Voters in the city of Plattsburgh’s Ward 2 will decide which Democrat will advance to the general election.

Current Ward 2 Democrat Mike Kelly decided not to run for re-election and there are two candidates running in the Democratic primary: Jacob Avery, who lost to Kelly in 2020, and newcomer Damion Gilbert.

Avery is the interim director of the Center for Student Involvement at SUNY Plattsburgh and serves on the Clinton County Planning Board and the city’s City Climate Task Force. He is a member of the Public Library’s Board of Trustees.

Avery says he wants to bring accessible and sensible representation back to the common council.

“What is our plan for spending? What’s the one-year? What’s the two-year? What’s the five-year plan? How are we paying for all of these projects that are going on? There’s a number of great projects. I’m thinking of the parks off the top of my head," Avery said. "Awesome projects. Great ideas. But how are we going to pay for it? I plan on starting my family, continuing my family growth in the city of Plattsburgh and I don’t want to sit on the sidelines and see if we don’t have a way of paying for these things.”

Gilbert has lived in Ward 2 for 23 years. Although he lives in the city, he commutes to Burlington, Vermont where he works in the Public Works Department. He is president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 1343 and has negotiated a number of labor contracts with Burlington. Gilbert says that and other experiences in the larger city across the lake have given him an invaluable background to hold a Plattsburgh council seat.

“If I hadn’t had gone over to Burlington it wouldn’t prepare me for where I would be today to be on the city council. Being a union leader, working with the mayor, Miro Weinberger, working with all the city council, all the department heads there which are a lot bigger than Plattsburgh," Gilbert said. "It’s just really made me who I am today and if I hadn’t worked over there it wouldn’t prepare me for what I’m about to do if I get elected on that city council.”

Current Ward 2 councilor Kelly commuted regularly to his job at IBM-Global Foundaries in Essex Junction until his retirement.

Among the issues Gilbert feels need attention are water and infrastructure needs.

“I would put an economic plan in for the next three years," Gilbert said. "The city council in the last four terms hasn’t done anything. I mean they would have prepared for this many, many years ago and I think that they just need some newer individuals to come in and kind of really look in and address a lot of the issues here and have some foresight to take care of the obstacles that will be in place let alone sustaining some revenues that can support that without having to raise taxes.”

Avery wants to engage constituents more if elected.

“I think the biggest piece I bring to the table is connecting like-minded people to a given cause," Avery said. "How are we going to have those open dialogues and move the city of Plattsburgh to a more positive direction. Another aspect that I’m involved in which has really opened my eyes is the Clinton County Planning Board and all that actually goes in to running a county, but let alone the city as well. So I think bringing that experience and then bringing the connections that I have with the current representation.”

A dispute between the Clinton County Board of Elections and Gilbert regarding a witness signature on a petition was determined by District Attorney Andrew Wylie to not “meet the level of intent to commit fraud.”

Gilbert said the situation helped him focus on the campaign.

“I believe right now it’s all good p-r because the D.A. looked at everything and I explained everything to them that I was having major issues with the (Clinton County) Board of Elections in getting the right answers," Gilbert said. "So eventually I just started calling Albany. So I kind of look at it that I’m kind of cleared of all that right now and I believe that voters will see it the same way. I think they saw it that way to begin with anyways.”

Early voting starts Saturday, June 17 and runs through Sunday, June 25, 2023. Primary day is Tuesday, June 27th.