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Will Balter run in 2020?

It wasn't the outcome she wanted, but Dana Balter is pleased with the movement her campaign built and the conversation she helped start in the 24th Congressional District.

Balter, a Democrat, lost to Republican U.S. Rep. John Katko by six percentage points, 52 to 46 percent. For Katko, it was his closest race in three elections.

In an interview with The Citizen, Balter shared her initial thoughts about her campaign, its successes and whether she might try again in 2020.

Balter launched her campaign in September 2017. She won the Democratic Party's designation in February. With the rest of the Democratic field exiting the race, she could shift her focus to the general election.

That changed, however, in early April. Juanita Perez Williams, who declined to run for Congress, reconsidered. At the urging of national Democrats, she entered the 24th district race and forced a Democratic primary.

It was a test for Balter, who was supported by the local Democratic Party and progressives in central New York. While Perez Williams had significant financial backing from top Democrats in Washington, Balter had grassroots support. With her volunteer base, she was able to win the primary by 25 points.

Even though it was clear Balter had the campaign infrastructure to compete in the general election, the view from national Democrats was that she lacked the funding to mount a serious challenge.

In October, Balter altered that perception. She announced her campaign raised more than $1.5 million in the third quarter — the most raised in a single quarter by any Syracuse-area congressional candidate. The final numbers won't be known for a few months, but she is on track to be the best funded congressional challenger in this region's history.

Looking back on her campaign, Balter described it as a "phenomenal experience." She is grateful for the thousands of people she met during her 14-month run. Those meetings, she said, reaffirmed that we are more alike than not.

"We are full of really amazing, good people who are passionate and committed to their communities and to each other," she said.

While she was defeated, she said the most exciting election night result was the turnout. Absentee ballot results aren't in from all four counties, but turnout was high on election night.

To put the turnout figures in perspective: In 2014, there were 203,417 votes cast in the 24th district race. This year, there were 247,632.

The turnout numbers encouraged Balter, but she was also energized by the scores of individuals who volunteered during the campaign. Her campaign had more than 1,900 volunteers by the end of the election.

"The number of people engaged in the election process itself is like nothing I've ever seen before," she said.

A consolation prize for Balter was winning Onondaga County. The election night tally found she narrowly won the 24th district's largest county by one percentage point. It was the first time Katko has lost a county in three congressional elections.

But Katko had a strong showing in the district's three more rural counties. In Cayuga, Oswego and Wayne counties, he won each by 22 percentage points.

Balter, who campaigned often in Cayuga, Oswego and Wayne counties, had a different view of the results. In Wayne County, for example, she said she outperformed the Democrats' performance there in 2016 by nearly 10 points.

In Cayuga and Wayne counties, Balter nearly equaled Colleen Deacon's vote totals. That's impressive when you consider Deacon ran in a presidential election year.

"I think what it shows is all the things that I've been saying all along is that you have to show up and listen to people," Balter said. "It's not OK to write anybody off in our community. It just isn't, especially if you want to represent or you want to be a leader. You have got to show up. You have got to listen. It's not enough to tell people that you care about them or what they have to say or what they need. You have to demonstrate it."

She added later, "I think on every measure we made a lot of progress. There were a lot of successes there."

With those successes, there is an obvious question: Will Balter run again in 2020?

There is a precedent for a second try. In 2006, then-Democratic challenger Dan Maffei narrowly lost to longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Walsh. When Maffei decided to run again in 2008, Walsh opted to retire. Maffei won the election and served one term in Congress.

For Balter, it's too early for a decision on 2020. She wants to reflect on the 2018 campaign before looking ahead to the future. But she pledged to remain engaged in local politics.

"Obviously that's something that's incredibly important to me," she said. "I think we have built a really powerful movement here and I have no intention of walking away from that." ​

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Community welcomes the season with annual festival and parade in downtown Auburn

AUBURN — Dajinie Daniels said her family has been coming out to the Miracle on Genesee Street event in downtown Auburn since she was a child.

Daniels, surrounded by family members Saturday afternoon, said she was glad all of the features of the holiday event were so close together. The spot for horse-drawn carriage rides were right next to the recently opened Equal Rights Heritage Center, with various glimmering Christmas trees lined up across the street at Memorial City Hall. 

"We enjoy it, and it puts a smile on the kids' faces," Daniels said of the holiday event.

The heritage center served as the hub for much of the event, with various people coming in and out of the building. At one point about 30 people were in the building, checking the center's features or listening to the group Perform 4 Purpose play songs such as the holiday classic "Silent Night" and "Come Together" by The Beatles. Children were scurrying around a small pile of snow by the American flag outside, chasing each other or sliding down the snow. The event also included the annual holiday parade, tree lighting and visits by Santa and Mrs. Clause.

Diane Henry, waiting for the carriage with her family, said the event was a time-honored tradition.

"It kind of gets us all pumped up," she said.

Brothers Alexander and Arthur Roblee, wearing large lit Christmas decorations around their necks, looked at the statue of iconic abolitionist and former Auburn resident Harriet Tubman by the center. With parents Andrew and Devon Roblee nearby, Alexander, 10, said he has a keen interest in Tubman and Auburn's history.

"I like to see stuff that's supporting where I live and more stuff that makes people know about Auburn," Alexander said. "That makes excited, that more people are learning about it."

Auburn Mayor Mike Quill and Stephanie DeVito, executive director of the Auburn Downtown Business Improvement District, said the agency was excited so many people were attracted to the center for the holiday event. DeVito said center attendance for the day exceeded her expectations.

The event served as an example of "small-town America," Quill said.

"Many people come back to the area for Thanksgiving and it just gives them an anchor, almost, a sense of belonging once again," he said.

Gallery: Miracle on Genesee Street holiday 2018 holiday event in Auburn
Gallery: 2018 downtown Auburn holiday parade

Road salt prices higher as winter looms in Northeast

ALBANY — Budget-busting road salt prices are leaving municipal officials in the Snow Belt hoping for a mild winter.

Salt supplies are tight on the heels of a harsh winter last year that depleted reserves, leaving many localities in the Northeast and Great Lakes to pay prices that range from about 5 percent higher to almost double.

"Everybody's got their fingers crossed for good weather," said Rebecca Matsco, an official in western Pennsylvania's Beaver County, where one contract price came in at $109 a ton, 95 percent higher than last year.

The increases are frustrating to local officials who are locked into tight budgets. Some highway superintendents say they could choose to make their salt supplies last by mixing in more sand, which is cheaper. And others say it could force them to defer other road projects. But they can't stop salting slick roads.

"It doesn't mean that we're going to stop salting, it just means that it's going to be more expensive to get these materials," said Jack Cunningham, public works commissioner in the Albany, New York, suburb of Colonie, which is getting a relative bargain through a state contract of $62 a ton, a mere 5 percent increase from last year.

Ohio's Lake Township, which is paying about $90 a ton, says the good news is that it started the snow season with about 85 percent of what it needed in storage. That town's road superintendent, Daniel Kamerer, says he also employs a technique to make the salt go further — moistening the salt with brine or other liquids to make it stick to the road rather than bouncing off.

Orders can cover thousands of tons, and the prices localities paying now per ton vary widely based on the supplier, volume, shipping costs and other factors. Officials in snowy Syracuse, New York, for instance, report flat costs after extending a contract from last year.

Production issues at two major North American salt mines have contributed to tight supplies.

Cargill is addressing a leak in a salt mine 1,800 feet under Lake Erie off Cleveland, one of three U.S. mines the company operates. Company spokesman Justin Barber said it is working to fix leakage, but "it's lowering our salt production capacity for this winter season."

There also was an 11-week strike this year at the largest underground operating salt mine in the world, the Goderich mine under Lake Huron, off Ontario. Production slowed due to the strike but is now back up, said Tara Hefner, a spokeswoman for Compass Minerals.

One bright spot: Snow belt towns might get their wish for an easier winter. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an outlook last month that said conditions could be warmer and drier this winter in parts of the North.

Still, there have been a couple of early season storms already. Kamerer notes he had trucks out last week when an early-season storm that swept over the eastern United States.

"I get a little bit nervous," he said, "when we have to go out before Thanksgiving."