Former councilman claims mayoral race

Watertown mayoral candidate Jeff Smith, left, hugs his wife Milly after declaring victory in Watertown’s mayoral race Tuesday night at the Paddock Arcade. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Current Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. knew early on who he wanted to replace him in the part-time position.

But it took a little time for Mayor-elect Jeffrey M. Smith to know of his friend’s plan for him, he acknowledged on the night he won the election.

“He knew before I knew,” Mr. Smith joked. “He knew before my wife knew.”

In a convincing victory Tuesday, Mr. Smith led with 1,653 votes over Allison I. Crossman’s 1,325 votes and Cody J. Horbacz’s 1,271 votes, according to unofficial results.

About 350 absentee votes are yet to be counted, Mr. Smith’s supporters said Tuesday night.

Within the hour before polls closed, however, Mrs. Crossman’s wish to have the ballots impounded was granted by a judge.

State Supreme Court Judge James P. McClusky signed the document at about 8 p.m. Tuesday, an hour before the last vote was cast, Mrs. Crossman said.

A short time later in front of a crowd of supporters at the Paddock Lounge, Mr. Smith, who will turn 50 on Friday, embraced his wife Milly as he declared victory.

“All you have to do is win by one, we won, it is over, I am happy,” Smith said.

As for his first course of action, Mr. Smith said he will sit down with his longtime friend, Mayor Butler, on Wednesday to consider priorities and to set an agenda.

Not only did he credit Mayor Butler for convincing him to run, but he also thanked the mayor for working hard for him, going out door-to-door and talking to voters during the campaign.

“That’s what you do for friends,” Mr. Smith said, recalling how he convinced Mayor Butler to run for City Council 12 years ago.

On Jan. 1, Mr. Smith will be joined by Councilwoman Sarah V. Compo and Jesse CP Roshia, who won election to council on Tuesday night. They ran as a team.

“We have a team,” Mr. Smith said in an olive branch to the two remaining council members.

“Not a team of three, but a team of five, working with Councilman Ryan Henry Wilkinson and Councilwoman Lisa Ruggiero on what’s best for the city of Watertown.”

While it was a convincing win for mayor, Mr. Smith could not celebrate the passage of a new City Charter. For more than a year, he served as chairman of the charter commission. It was easily defeated.

“We hoped for the grand slam,” Mr. Smith said.

Six years ago, Mr. Smith was tossed out of office in his reelection bid for council. It never crossed his mind that he’d get back into local politics and never thought he’d be serving as mayor of the city he loves.

“I didn’t have any plans or aspirations,” he said. “It didn’t even cross my mind.”

Despite his loss six years ago, Mr. Smith “persevered” and used that experience to forge a comeback, Mayor Butler said.

“I’m as happy as I was for my win for mayor,” Mayor Butler said.

His friend could be called the comeback kid. With Tuesday’s victory for mayor, it was the third time he returned to elected office after losing a prior election.

He entered local politics at the age of 23 when he won election to the old Jefferson County Board of Supervisors back in 1993 and served from 1994 to 1995.

He served two stints on City Council, from 2000 to 2003 and from 2006 to 2013. Mr. Smith also ran for mayor in 2011 when he was defeated by former Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham.

Mr. Smith had no concerns about the ballots getting impounded on Tuesday night.

All of the ballots, including the memory stick from each voting machine and paper, absentee, affidavit and military ballots will be secured.

All election material will be brought back to the Board of Elections storage room, where it will be secured until Nov. 18. On Nov. 19 the judge will be asked to finalize the count.

“The polls are closed. Everything is safe and secure,” said Mrs. Crossman’s attorney John Ciampoli.

Each of the two election commissioners got a key and the sheriff’s department gets the third key. The ballots will be stored in a secure room there.

Mrs. Crossman was out campaigning Tuesday and people seemed to be supportive when she was waving signs on Thompson Boulevard. Many motorists honked and waved back, she said.

“I’m satisfied with my campaign,” she said.

Over at the Corner Stone Eatery on Public Square on Tuesday night, about 50 supporters of Councilman Horbacz still cheered their candidate on, even when the news wasn’t good.

Carrying Horbacz signs, they cheered, “Cody, Cody, Cody, Cody.”

With his loss, Councilman Horbacz will be leaving elected office. It doesn’t seem to faze him, however.

“I did what I came to do,” he said. “And we got the pool done.”

He supported using $2.9 million in the city’s fund balance to finance the new pool and bathhouse at Thompson park. The move might have cost him the election.

“And I don’t care,” he said, stressing that he was elected to make sure the community and Thompson Park got a pool.

The councilman doesn’t foresee his return to local politics, but he vowed to remain involved in the community. He leads Watertown First, a nonprofit group that supports local businesses. and has had an integral role in the summer block parties on Public Square.

That work will continue, he said.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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