R’ville Dem chair challenges Greenberg’s petition for State Senate

ALBANY COUNTY — After Governor Andrew Cuomo allowed exceptions to New York State Election Law due to the threats posed by the coronavirus pandemic, Democratic New York Senate candidate Gary Greenberg, who is running to represent the 46th District, says that his Democratic opponent, Michelle Hinchey, is using her establishment backing to challenge his qualifying petition, which, if successful, would keep him off the ballot. 

“It’s uncalled for,” Greenberg told The Enterprise, “and, to me, she’s trying to not let the voters decide who they want to represent them in the 46th District … In this environment I think it’s just disgraceful that she would object to a petition.”

The challenge, Greenberg said, is over the number of signatures Greenberg has received — 337 — which is fewer than the 1,000 typically required by election law to qualify for a ballot position, but more than the new threshold of 300, which Cuomo enacted to protect canvassers and residents from contact that could transmit the coronavirus. Cuomo also changed the deadline to submit those signatures from April 2 to March 17. 

The man who filed the challenge — Hébert Joseph, chair of the Democratic party in Rensselaerville and an endorser of Hinchey — told The Enterprise that his concern was not about the number, but how close Greenberg’s number is to the threshold. 

“We need to be sure that everything is in order,” Joseph said. “I am just exercising my right as a Democrat.”

When asked if he had any issue with the new threshold, Joseph said “not at all.”

“People’s health and safety is our number-one priority,” Hinchey told The Enterprise, “and as we have seen, the progression of the outbreak has quickly worsened. It was the right call to make sure campaigns did not have to put people in harm’s way.”

“My campaign did not challenge the petitions,” Hinchey said of Joseph’s filing, “but there’s a basic set of rules determining eligibility and they apply to anyone hoping to be a candidate on the ballot.” 

Under Cuomo’s executive order, candidates now need to collect only 30 percent of the statutory threshold: For Congress, candidates would need 375 signatures rather than 1,250; for State Senate, candidates would need 300 signatures rather than 1,000; and for Assembly, candidates would only need 150 signatures rather than 500.

“It’s hard to get on the ballot in the best of times,” Greenberg said. Greenberg is critical of the traditional requirements, which he called “archaic” and prohibitive of democracy. But with the coronavirus sowing fear of close contact among New York residents, getting those signatures is even harder. 

“As we went around,” Greenberg said, “it became more evident that the coronavirus was going to hinder getting signatures.”

Greenberg said that, after working on several campaigns in the past and successfully getting candidates on the ballot, he had “never seen an environment like this.”

“We had an Asian woman volunteering for the campaign,” Greenberg recounted of a Guilderland resident carrying his petition in that suburban Albany County town. “She had moved here 20 years ago, came from China, and is an American citizen. And she was told to get off people’s property. This is the environment. We have a president calling this the ‘Chinese virus.’”

The novel coronavirus was first seen in a Chinese patient from the prominent Chinese city of Wuhan, capital of the Hubei province, and global reaction to the virus has often included hostility to those of Asian descent, regardless of their connection to Wuhan. President Donald Trump has been criticized for referring to the coronavirus as a “Chinese virus,” which detractors say is stoking xenophobia in the United States while most people are now infected by those in their own community. 

“A lot of people were getting nervous,” Greenberg said of the time when reports of the coronavirus in the United States were just beginning to bubble. “They wouldn’t come to the door. They would say they didn’t want to be around people and, if they did sign, they would run and get their own pen.” 

Even some of Greenberg’s volunteers were wary of the relatively close social contact involved in canvassing, he said, which left him with a diminished force of about 20 volunteers who went around trying to get signatures. 

Meanwhile, Hinchey, who has the backing of all the Democratic committees of the five counties included, or partly included, in the 46th District — Greene, Montgomery, Albany, Schenectady, and Ulster — was able to use her establishment backing and her larger number of volunteers to overcome these tough new conditions, Greenberg said. 

Hinchey told The Enterprise that her campaign had more than 230 volunteers who retrieved 2,500 signatures, hitting the 1,000-signatures mark two weeks into the petition period.

“To my knowledge, we didn’t experience any severe reactions,” Hinchey said of the campaign environment, “but we also halted door-to-door canvassing before the end of the shortened petitioning period as soon as we saw the crisis worsening.”

Republican George Amedore currently represents the 46th Senate District but is not seeking re-election. Independence Party member Richard Amedure of Rensselaerville has the backing of the Republican Party chairs in all five counties.

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