Duffy concedes Republican primary, will move on to general election as Conservative Party candidate

·5 min read

Jul. 1—WATERTOWN — Tuesday's primary for the 116th Assembly District may have decided the Republican nominee, but it didn't end the race.

Jefferson County Legislator Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, won the night with 3,423 votes to St. Lawrence County businesswoman Susan M. Duffy's 3,046. With 158 blank ballots, three voided and 10 write-ins, Mr. Gray held 51.5% of the vote to Ms. Duffy's 45.8%.

On Thursday morning, Ms. Duffy called Mr. Gray and congratulated him on his win.

In an interview later on Thursday, Ms. Duffy said she's still running for the Assembly seat, despite Tuesday's loss. She secured the Conservative Party's ballot line without a primary, and said she plans to continue her campaign as the Conservative candidate into November.

"We're basically going to give them a choice between two different Republicans, I'll just be doing it from the Conservative line," she said.

Ms. Duffy said she would feel different about continuing her campaign if a Democrat were running for the Assembly seat, and would likely bow out to avoid splitting the Republican vote and handing a win to the Democrat. But with no other candidate in the race, she said she feels comfortable continuing.

Mr. Gray, however, said there are not two Republicans in this race, as Ms. Duffy contends.

"Let's be clear, she's a Republican in registration only," he said. "I am the only Republican candidate in this race."

Mr. Gray criticized Ms. Duffy for continuing her campaign, arguing it shows she is ignoring the will of the Republican voters she had courted to support her.

"She just completely disregarded the Republican primary, just tossed it right away," he said. "That is a message to the Republican voters, saying 'I don't care what you had to say.'"

He noted that in the 2002 Republican primary for the then-118th Assembly District, which covered parts of Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties much like the 116th District does now, Mr. Gray stepped out of the race after losing the Republican primary to then-St. Lawrence County Clerk Patricia A. Ritchie, even though he had the Conservative Party's ballot line, like Ms. Duffy does now.

There was a Democrat in that race, Darrel J. Aubertine, who went on to win the seat.

Mr. Gray said he sees himself as a better candidate for the general election compared to Ms. Duffy. She positioned herself as more politically conservative than Mr. Gray in the primary. Now that the race is to be decided by all voters in the 116th Assembly District, not just the Republicans, Mr. Gray said he believes he has a track record that voters will appreciate.

"I have a history of bipartisan work in order to get things done, and my work has been centered on the constituents," he said.

He also said he believes he is more prepared for a general election competition, which could grow to be much more expensive than the already-pricey primary was.

Ms. Duffy said she wants to focus on the issues and concerns of the majority of the district.

"80% of us are in the middle somewhere, and we care about the same things, the cost of food and care," she said. "My message will continue to be that we need a fighter for the north country, and I'm a fighter."

Ms. Duffy said she's experienced failure and success, economic hardships and has worried about keeping her kids safe and fed. She said she thinks talking about her own experiences will help convince voters that she can relate to them, and represent their needs in the state legislature.

"I can relate to the people that are struggling, and I think that's the message I'll carry going forward," she said.

Ms. Duffy said the primary results show she has made strong inroads with voters, and Mr. Gray isn't as secure in some places as he should be.

"I won St. Lawrence County, and I beat him in 11 districts and tied him in three in a county where he's been a county legislator for over 10 years," she said. "So I feel very good about how that race turned out. I would have preferred to win it obviously, and it's unfortunate that we didn't have the turnout we needed to get that done."

Precinct-by-precinct data on election results will be complete once the election boards in each county certify the results, but initial results show that Ms. Duffy held a lead in a few towns around Jefferson County, toward the northern border with her native St. Lawrence County.

The region's sitting Assembly representatives were split on who to support in the primary. Ms. Duffy was endorsed by Assemblyman Mark C. Walczyk, R-Watertown, who is running unopposed for state Senate, while Mr. Gray picked up the endorsement of Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River.

On Thursday, Mr. Walczyk at first said only that Ms. Duffy needed to think about her campaign.

"I think there's a lot she's going to have to think about, that's what I would say right now," he said.

Later in the day, the assemblyman said he'll support Mr. Gray going forward, without naming him.

"I'll be supporting the Republican voters' selection and nominee to replace me," he said.

Mr. Blankenbush said he is continuing to support Mr. Gray, and said he believes all of the Republicans in the district should support him as well.

"Now that the primary is over, he is our Republican candidate," he said. "The Republican committees in both Jefferson and St. Lawrence, along with all the elected Republicans in the 116th District now should be coming to support Scott. We really don't want to pitch Republicans against Conservatives, and the bottom line is he won the Republican primary."

Mr. Blankenbush said he is proud to endorse Mr. Gray, referencing the years of work they did together when Mr. Blankenbush was chair of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators and Mr. Gray was in charge of the finance committee.

"Scott was one of my closest allies in the game in the legislature, someone who I knew understood the budget and I could call on him," he said. "We worked very well together, and I don't think that's going to change when we're working for the north country."