Local Dems fight for Working Families Party endorsement amid GOP lawsuits

ALBANY COUNTY — A statewide push by rightwing parties to kick leftwing candidates off the progressive Working Families Party line is affecting candidates from Berne, Bethlehem, Guilderland, and elsewhere in Albany County.

Each has been named in a county-level suit alleging that an authorization certificate submitted by the WFP was photocopied and not an original document, as required by law. 

The certificate, known as a Wilson Pakula, is what allows candidates from outside a party to run on that party’s line. The WFP, considered a minor or third party, has traditionally endorsed Democratic candidates.

Albany County Board of Elections Republican Commissioner Rachel Bledi told The Enterprise that the WFP authorization form “raises issues of fraud.” She went on, “Additionally, the signatures of the presiding officer and secretary are a cut-and-paste job that were used on multiple documents filed across the state.”

The WFP maintains that its means of filling out the certificate was legitimate because of an executive order issued by Governor Andrew Cuomo in March 2020, soon after the coronavirus pandemic was declared, that allowed for remote notarization and the use of electronic signatures, requiring that only the notary’s signature be signed in ink.

“Our staff and lawyers followed the Governor’s Executive Order to the letter,” Anita Thayer, of the Capital District WFP, said in a statement to The Enterprise. “This is nothing more than a desperate attempt by the GOP to suppress the voice of voters and undermine the democratic process. We look forward to campaigning in support of our endorsed Working Families candidates.”

“The Executive Order,” said Bledi, “simply allows for a notary to witness the officers sign a document via Zoom or some other video media platform. The order then states that the signers scan the signed document back to the notary to be notarized. 

“In accordance with the [executive order], we would have received a document with an original wet signature from a notary public with clear indication that the presiding officer and secretary signed the documents because they would have appeared on the signature line, with slight variation of the same name from county to county. That is not what occurred.”

The conditions laid out by the executive order allowing for remote notarization include that the notarization take place in real time rather than in a pre-recorded video or other such means, and that the signatory must send the document to the notary the same day it’s signed, with electronic transmission permitted.

“The notary must print and sign the document, in ink, and may not use an electronic signature to officiate the document,” the order reads. “The signatory may use an electronic signature, provided the document can be signed electronically under the Electronic Signatures and Records Act (Article 3 of the State Technology Law). If the signer uses an electronic signature, the notary must witness the electronic signature being applied to the document, as required under Executive Order 202.7.”

Bledi also stated that “these types of shenanigans” are what “likely prompted the Albany County Democratic Chairman [Jacob Crawford] to publicly announce that his candidates should not be taking this line.”

However, Crawford told The Enterprise that his statement that Albany Democrats should not seek the Working Families Party Line, made last month, was related to the WFP’s decision not to endorse Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, a Democrat, in her bid for re-election, and had nothing to do with the contention over the certificate of authorization.

Crawford said that the Democratic Party “has no role in this lawsuit between the minor parties of Albany County.”

A hearing on the WFP lawsuit is scheduled in the State Supreme Court on April 20. 



The petitioners

Curiously, one of the “citizen objectors” named in the lawsuit, Pat Stempel, who is a Berne resident, told The Enterprise that he wasn’t aware that he was classified as a petitioner. 

Stempel’s petition is affiliated with the Berne Democratic candidates, meaning, essentially, that he’s the person lodging the complaint against the endorsement based on the alleged error in the filing.

“I didn’t know this,” Stempel told The Enterprise on Wednesday when informed of his involvement. “I’ll have to get back to you. I’ll check it out.”

He could not be reached again later that day.

 The other petitioners named in the suit — six, including Stempel, each representing their respective municipalities — could not immediately be reached to comment on how they got involved. 

Albany County Republican Party Chairman Randy Bashwinger did not respond to Enterprise questions. Bashwinger is also the Berne Highway Superintendent.

The attorney representing the petitioners, John Ciampoli, operating out of a Long Island law firm, could not be reached. 

Berne Democratic Party Chairman Kevin Crosier told The Enterprise that the lawsuit is a threat to his candidates because a third-party endorsement, “in a small town like [Berne], makes all the difference.”


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