Paul Van Cott gives the thumbs up to supporters in the Democratic headquarters at the Harrietstown Town Hall Tuesday, March 20 while next to Barbara Rice after finding out that they both had won four-year trustee seats in the Saranac Lake village elections. They beat Republicans Jeff Branch and Mark Gillis and will take office in April.
Saranac Lake voters elected political newcomers Barbara Rice and Paul Van Cott to the Village Board of Trustees March 20.
Rice and Van Cott — both Democrats —easily won four-year trustee seats with 542 and 417 votes, respectively, defeating Republican incumbent Jeff Branch (288 votes) and newcomer Mark Gillis (210 votes).
“I’m completely overwhelmed, completely excited, blown away,” Rice said after the results were announced. “I’m just really looking forward to getting to work ... I’m really ready to dig my feet in.”
The new trustees will join Mayor Clyde Rabideau and Trustee Tom Catillaz, both Democrats, and Trustee Elias “Allie” Pelletieri, a Conservative, at the board table in April, when the terms expire for Republican Trustees Branch and John McEneany.
Asked if having a majority of four Democrats on the board — including the mayor and three trustees — makes a difference, Rice said, “At the local level, I really truly do not think that your party has any bearing on what goes on. We’re all working for the same goals.”
Van Cott reiterated those sentiments.
“Barb and I, we’re both independent people,” Van Cott said. “We’re both smart people. We’ve got good skills, and we’re going to come to the board with the best interests of the village in mind. Whether we align with the other people on the board or not, we’re going to talk through the issues and try to come up with the best solutions.”
As the numbers came in, and it was clear that Rice had won a seat on the Village Board, she hugged her mother, Gail Rogers Rice, who had once been a trustee herself and was on the Harrietstown Town Board. Political moments like these have been part of the Rice family tradition.
“Your father would be proud,” Gail said.
Barbara’s father, George “Bob” Rice, had also been a trustee on the Saranac Lake Village Board, plus a councilman and supervisor for the town of Harrietstown.
Amidst the sea of smiles and handshakes in a crowded Harrietstown court room, Gail — grinning from ear to ear — was a beacon of family love and pride. For a moment, during the embrace, only mother and daughter existed. It was a symbolic passing of the political torch from one generation to the next.
“That was special,” Barbara said. “I think my dad would be proud. It’s really nice to be carrying the legacy on, with both my parents being on the Village Board, and I’m proud to do it.”
Democrats celebrated their victory later at the Downhill Grill.
The mood among Republicans in the Town Hall after the votes were counted was sobering. Branch and Gillis didn’t march off into the night ignoring the winners as some politicians do after losing an election; they hung around, congratulating the winners and thanking supporters.
“Maybe I’m still digesting it, but I’m not surprised,” Branch said. “I had a feeling going into it that it’s going to be a close race, and wasn’t really a close race. They had a resounding victory. Congratulations. They ran a good race.”
Branch said he’s not thinking about running for village trustee again in the future.
“It’s too early to think about that,” Branch said. “I’ve just got to get on ... I’ve got a whole list of other things I want to do and accomplish, and I’m going to work on those.”
Going into the election, Gillis took some advice from his grandmother in Massachusetts.
“She said, ‘Hey, it’s going to be tough for you to win. It doesn’t matter if you’re the Pope; it’s going to be tough to win,’” Gillis said. “She said, ‘Just try your best, speak the truth, and just don’t forget who you are.’ And that’s what I did during this election.”
Gillis wasn’t surprised that he lost, and he gave credit to all the candidates.
“Everyone’s heart is in to the common goal, and that’s the most important thing,” Gillis said.
Gillis said he’s not thinking of running again for trustee in the future, but he hasn’t ruled it out.
Judge Ken McLaughlin ran unopposed on March 20 and was re-elected to a two-year term with 613 votes.