While a lower court has found that the petitions forms for Giles Wagoner and Dan Coffey were filed incompletely, the appeals process is currently under way. We hope that the voters of Bethlehem will have the opportunity to vote for their candidate of choice in the primaries. We promise to keep you informed.
Dear Residents of Bethlehem:
I want to update all of you on ongoing litigation that could have significant impacts on our Democratic slate this fall.
As most of you are aware, after the petitioning process started, the BDC’s endorsed candidate for Bethlehem Highway Superintendent, Brent Meredith, accepted a job at SUNY Albany and announced that he would not be seeking reelection and would thus be declining the designation of the Democratic Party.
The N.Y. Election Law contemplates this eventuality by allowing the “committee to fill vacancies” identified on designating petitions to select a replacement candidate in the event a designation is declined. The committee to fill vacancies on Brent’s petition was Dan Coffey, Pam Skripak, and me.
After the BDC executive committee held a second round of interviews for Highway Superintendent last month, Dan, Pam, and I selected Giles Wagoner to fill the vacancy as the endorsed candidate of the Democratic Party for Bethlehem Highway Superintendent. Because Giles had been the BDC’s endorsed candidate for town board, but could not run for both positions at the same time, Giles declined the designation for town board. Pam and I then selected Dan to fill the vacancy as the endorsed candidate for the Democratic Party for town board.
At a meeting on July 11, Dan, Pam, and I completed the Certificates of Substitution. The Certificates have three sections all on one page: a certification, an affidavit, and a consent of the substituted candidate. The Certificate form printed by the NYS Board of Elections is, to put it mildly, confusing. While the top section of the Certificate has lines immediately below which are printed the words “Signature of vacancy committee member,” the middle section of the Certificate (the affidavit section) does not. It unfortunately did not occur to any of us that each member of the committee to fill vacancies was technically supposed to sign each of the Certificates twice. As a result, Dan, Pam, and I signed the top section of the Certificates but had our names printed in the middle affidavit section. Our signatures on the Certificates were duly notarized.
On July 12, Dan filed the Certificates with the Albany County Board of Elections. Matt Clyne, a member of the BDC and the Democratic elections commissioner, apparently examined the Certificates at length but said nothing to Dan about any problems. Ideally, the Democratic elections commission is supposed to assist Democratic candidates and officials to avoid or correct technical compliance issues with election documents. Not only did Mr. Clyne say nothing to Dan about this issue, but Mr. Clyne informed George Harder and Dan Morin of the issue.
Last week Messrs. Harder and Morin filed a Verified Petition to invalidate the Certificates on the grounds that they were only signed once as opposed to twice. Notably, it was Mr. Clyne who notarized Messrs. Harder and Morin’s Verified Petition. Our case was heard on Monday, July 31, before Judge Michael Mackey, who refused our request that he recuse himself. During the hearing, even though he was one of persons being sued, Mr. Clyne argued on behalf of Messrs. Harder and Morin that the Certificates should be invalidated on the technical grounds they asserted.
On Tuesday, August 1, Judge Mackey ruled in favor of Messrs. Harder and Morin and invalidated the Certificates. We are in the process of appealing Judge Mackey’s decision to the Appellate Division, Third Department. Our Third Department appeal will likely not be decided until the end of August. We remain of the firm opinion that the substitution forms, even if not filled out 100% correctly, nonetheless were valid and Democratic voters should not be deprived of their right to choose their candidate at a September 12 primary.
Unfortunately, if Judge Mackey’s decision is not overturned, George Harder will be one of the two Democratic candidates for town board in November, and Dan Morin will be the Democratic candidate for highway superintendent, despite the fact that they received only 3 and 2 votes, respectively, from the 52 out of the 60-member BDC at our endorsement meeting. Dan Coffey and Giles Wagoner have the Working Families line for town board and highway superintendent, however – so anyone will still be able to vote for them in November.
These events are obviously frustrating and disappointing – and my fear is that the only ultimate beneficiaries will be the Republican candidates for the offices in question in what should have been a strong Democratic year. That having been said, nothing has been finally decided with respect to the judicial or electoral process. While not having Dan and Giles on the Democratic line will be a challenge to their electoral success, I believe it is one that can be overcome if the members of the BDC rally together and put in a maximum effort in November.
As always, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or wish to discuss this matter further.