The Republican primary race for Saratoga County Sheriff ended this week in a close vote, and observers are now weighing in on what it will take to capture victory this November.
Republican candidate Mike Zurlo claimed victory in the primary over Jeff Gildersleeve after a contentious summer campaign season that was highlighted by a lawsuit and criminal complaints.
Zurlo said it was a positive attitude and attention to the important issues that secured him the Republican nomination, and it’s what he believes will resonate with voters this November when he faces Democrat and Conservative Party-backed candidate Phil Lindsey.
"I kept a positive attitude and spoke to the residents to see what their needs are," said Zurlo. "I pushed my idea of public safety, going after sex offenders, DWI's, neighborhood safety, and our kids in our schools."
Zurlo had secured major endorsements in his primary campaign including state and federal lawmakers and the Saratoga County Republican Party. Gildersleeve had not received the same level of endorsements, but did separate himself from Zurlo with an endorsement from the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association and support from ex-gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino.
Bob Turner, an associate professor of government at Skidmore College, said that the candidates’ approach to the SAFE Act was a major player in the race. Turner said Gildersleeve’s opposition to Cuomo’s first-in-the-nation legislation and resonance with 2nd Amendment advocates accounted for the close race, even if Gildersleeve lost.
"To channel that sort of money and organizational money to sort of fuel his campaign - that was never going to be enough - but that he was able to also wrap it in a critique of Zurlo's administrative abilities...made more a really interesting political dynamic," said Turner.
Turner, who was surprised by the seeming divide between the more Tea Party Gildersleeve and establishment Zurlo could mimic future Republican electoral contests on a broader level in New York state.
"We might see a similar-like fault between the two Republican candidates running in the next gubernatorial election," said Turner.
Zurlo said that the primary season may have contributed to a distortion of his views on the SAFE Act, and that he is seeking the support of county Republicans who may have become divided in the past several weeks.
"I presented myself that I disagreed with the SAFE Act, that I was pro-Second Amendment, that I wasn't going to violate anybody's rights, I wasn't going to go door-to-door and get weapons, I wasn't going to look for weapons out into the fields with the hunters," said Zurlo ." I guess my message is that we should all work together as a Republican team here and look forward to the November election."
Lindsey, is backed by the Democratic and Conservative parties of Saratoga County. Chair of the Saratoga County Democratic Party Todd Kerner said that regardless of the candidates’ position on the SAFE Act, voters ultimately will be choosing the candidate that can bring administrative change to the sheriff’s office, held for the past four decades by Republican James Bowen.
Kerner believes that Lindsey’s endorsement by both Democrats and Conservatives will benefit him at the ballot box.
"When we interviewed him and I'm sure when the Conservatives made their decision, it was they felt he was comfortable, he provided some good ideas on moving the sheriff's department forward, and that's what it's all about."
Lindsey was not available in time for broadcast.