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Popular incumbent Clayton councilman defeated by political newcomer in surprise upset

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CLAYTON — George E. Kittle joined the Town Council as a 27-year-old “kid” newly-elected as the top vote getter in 1989.

After serving on Clayton’s town board for 24 years — under four different supervisors — the popular Republican incumbent was defeated in a surprise upset Tuesday night by political newcomer Mary J. Zovistoski, 557-490, according to the unofficial tally.

“I had a good run,” Mr. Kittle said Wednesday. “Do I have any regrets? Honest to God, not one. Not a single regret.”

He attributed his anticlimactic “retirement” from local politics to a general lack of campaigning efforts this year, and jokingly stated that many of his supporters assumed it would be another shoo-in election.

“He’s wonderful,” Ms. Zovistoski said about her political opponent. “He’s done a great service to the community.”

Ms. Zovistoski, a Democrat and owner of The Scoop, an ice cream cafe on Riverside Drive in the village, said she is excited to join the council in the midst of some major developments — such as the construction of the $22.5 million 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, which many residents consider the beginning of a “new chapter” in Clayton’s history.

“The town board is running smoothly and I just wanted to be a part of it,” she said.

Mr. Kittle credited elected officials — both local and regional representatives who were always “just a phone call away” — and the “incredible philanthropists” of the St. Lawrence River community for Clayton’s continuing success.

Numerous workshops held to plan and discuss future development, “hundreds of committees” that had been created to tackle core missions and “educated” volunteers and public servants are among some other distinctive qualities that make Clayton special, Mr. Kittle said.

He said the “weirdest” thing he had experienced while serving on the town board was the “civility shown by residents” during the controversial and sometimes heated debates over industrial wind development.

Mr. Kittle, who pushed for stricter local zoning regulations on the placement of commercial wind turbines, said people would disagree with each other at public meetings but “there wasn’t any confrontation” and that everybody went back to being neighbors and friends at the end of the day.

While he would be more than happy to assist the town when needed, Mr. Kittle said he does not plan on running for Town Council again.

Ms. Zovistoski officially starts her four-year term on the town board in January. Incumbent Councilman Robert W. Cantwell III was re-elected, receiving 593 votes Tuesday.

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