The leadership of the city of Plattsburgh will change as the New Year begins. WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley looks at the political campaigns that unseated the incumbent mayor.
In May 2019, Democratic Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read revealed his intentions to run for a second four-year term. “I don’t think the city’s in firm enough financial foundation to be able to sustain itself. I think we’ve got another few years of work and I’ve always maintained that I’ll continue to do this until I’m very confident of the city’s got a good strong structural fiscal balance.”
Read had been criticized for his attempts to annex land from the adjacent Town of Plattsburgh, lawsuits filed over a decades old annexation agreement and downtown redevelopment plans. “I’m concerned about the long term economic growth and sustainability of the city and obviously that means I take a great deal of hits from people. We will ruffle some feathers but none of us can afford for the city of Plattsburgh to not thrive.”
In February 2020, Clinton County Legislator Chris Rosenquest, who had lost a bid for mayor in 2013, announced that he would challenge Read in the primary. At the time he said there was a growing sense that City Hall needed change. “Not so much about financially how things have been going, because I think it has gone in a positive direction. The concern though is how it's being done. You know, balancing the budget on the backs of our skilled staff; the amount of lawsuits and disenfranchised voices in our communities; the fracture between the town and the city.”
Republican Scott Beebie, a retired city police officer, also announced his campaign for mayor in February. He faced no primary challengers. “I understand the nature of many of the problems that can beset a small city and stand ready to work with the experienced managers, staff, counselors and citizens in a cohesive cooperative manner.”
Rosenquest defeated businessman Tenzin Dorjee and Mayor Read in the June 23rd Democratic primary. SUNY Plattsburgh Professor of Political Science Dr. Harvey Schantz said in losing Read made history. “This becomes the seventh mayor in Plattsburgh history to lose re-election. But of the seven this is the first time that the loser was in a primary election.”
Rosenquest and Beebie agreed on a number of topics including concerns about pending lawsuits and the erosion of town and city relations. The key difference between the candidates was their perceived management skills. The preliminary results of the November 3 elections were too close to call with unofficial election night results showing Beebie leading by 290 votes but more than 2,200 absentee ballots yet to be counted. Rosenquest expected the absentees to favor him. “There’s a 3 to 1 ratio between the Democrats and Republicans who submitted those ballots. You know that still makes up 40% of the total vote. That’s a lot of votes that are still out there.”
Beebie was also hopeful that the absentees would favor his campaign. “Obviously having 290 to the good is better than 290 to the bad. So it’s a good position to be in and with 2,200 absentee ballots out there anything can happen.”.
On November 9th the absentee ballots were counted. Rosenquest ended up taking the lead and winning the race by 310 votes. “ I’m going to have to hold back some tears because it’s a little emotional, um you know very satisfying to be given the honor to represent our community in this way.”
Beebie was disappointed but gracious in defeat. "This is my first attempt at an election. I learned a lot. I’m very proud of what we accomplished. I don’t know if I’d do anything different.”
At the last Common Council meeting of 2020, outgoing Mayor Colin Read bade farewell to fellow city leaders. “It’s been certainly an honor to serve the residents of Plattsburgh and these four Common Councils over the last four years and I certainly look forward to observing in private life how the city is able to live up to its vast potential and I thank you all.”
Mayor Read’s term ends December 31st. Rosenquest was sworn in earlier this month but says there weren’t two mayors presiding over the city. “It’s more in the sense that you’re going to be given information that’s sensitive and confidential and you’re going to keep it sensitive and confidential as the mayor-elect. When it comes down to it I was asking for information, asking to be caught up to speed, for a transition. This is the hoop that I was told to jump through.”
Rosenquest is planning a virtual ceremonial inauguration across his social media platforms on Monday, January 4th at 8 a.m.