After absentee count, challenger defeats Smith by 341 votes
By Chip Rowe
By the thinnest of margins, Robert Langley Jr. on Nov. 14 became Putnam County’s 54th sheriff.
After absentee votes were counted late into the night by the Putnam County Board of Elections, Langley had defeated four-term incumbent Don Smith by 341 votes of nearly 25,000 cast for the office. He led by 355 votes after all 172 precincts reported their machine results on Nov. 7. The tally remains unofficial until certified by the county’s two election commissioners.
The count released by the Board of Elections on Nov. 14 showed 12,308 votes (49.71 percent) for Langley, who lives in Garrison and ran on the Democratic and Women’s Equality lines, and 11,967 for Smith (48.34 percent), who ran on the Republican, Conservative, Independence and Reform lines.
In a statement on Nov. 15, Langley thanked those who voted for him and said he was “eager to earn the support of those who did not.” He said he would “serve with integrity and accountability to the public” and “return integrity to the Office of Sheriff.”
“To the men and women of the Sheriff’s Department, I am eager to work alongside you and serve the public with you. In the coming weeks, I will be planning my transition into office and considering appointments that I believe will best serve our communities and our team.” (Click here to read entire statement.)
In a statement on Nov. 15, Smith wrote: “Mr. Langley will be the next sheriff of Putnam County and I congratulate him and wish him well. I know we both agree that all the votes need to be counted and we both will respect the final tally. I am very proud of the positive, clean campaign that we conducted and, I believe, our campaign upheld the honor and integrity of the Office of Sheriff.”
Smith also thanked his supporters and Putnam County residents “for giving me the privilege of serving you these past 16 years as your sheriff. It has truly been one of the greatest honors and privileges of my entire life.” (Click here to read entire statement.)
Smith would have needed to win about 65 percent of the 1,286 absentee and affidavit ballots to overtake Langley. (Affidavits are paper ballots used when a voter did not show up in the rolls.) Nearly 42 percent of Putnam County voters turned out for the election.
There were also 483 write-in votes (up from 467 reported on Election Night), presumably with most cast for Andrew DeStefano, who hoped to challenge Smith in the Republican primary but whose nomination petition was invalidated. That means DeStefano may have played the spoiler, taking enough votes from Smith to swing the election for the Democrat.
205 Years of Sheriffs
The first sheriff of Putnam County was William H. Johnston, in 1812. The longest tenure of the men who followed was three two-year terms. In 1947, Frank Lyden was elected as a Republican. He was re-elected until 1966, when he retired. He was succeeded by a deputy, Ray Weizenecker, who was endorsed by his boss and the Democratic Party. After Weizenecker’s death in 1985, Robert Thoubboron, a Republican, was elected and re-elected until 2001, when, under the cloud of a state investigation, he was soundly defeated in the Republican primary by Smith, the deputy county executive.
In a comment posted Nov. 8 at highlandscurrent.com, DeStefano charged that Putnam Board of Elections Commissioner Anthony Scannapieco Jr., who is also a town chairman for the Putnam County Republican Party, derailed his nominating petition to prevent a primary battle for Smith.
“His scheming backfired badly,” DeStefano wrote, adding that he received reports from the Republican election-night headquarters at Villa Barone in Mahopac that Scannapieco was “cursing my existence…. Never has anyone received 467 votes on a write-in in Putnam.”
Scannapieco did not return an email message seeking comment.
With other Philipstown Democrats, Langley awaited the returns in a Main Street home in Nelsonville, where fervent shouts and applause greeted his victory after all 172 polling stations had reported. He said that he won because “it’s what the people want, what the people choose. This has never been about me. It was about the community in Putnam County.”
The next day, in a statement, Langley was more cautious, saying it “appears we have won an historic victory.” He added: “Voters sent a clear message that we need a sheriff with integrity, and one worthy of trust. I am honored and humbled by the trust you have placed in me.”
In his own statement on Nov. 8, Smith attributed the close race on what he said was higher-than-expected Democratic turnout because of widespread opposition to a ballot measure calling for a constitutional convention.
However, the focus of Langley’s and DeStefano’s attacks on the sheriff during the campaign was a defamation lawsuit filed against him by a former Putnam County district attorney, Adam Levy. Smith agreed in June to settle the case with a public apology and $150,000. He paid $25,000 and Putnam County legislators voted to have the county pick up the rest. Smith is also fighting a multimillion-dollar civil suit in a related case.
Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong contributed reporting.