Dem running on GOP line in Knox decries decision to primary

Enterprise file photo — H. Rose Schneider

At last year's Knox Democratic caucus, Amy Pokorny, right, talks with Vasilios Lefkaditis. Pokorny got the Democratic party line but lost her bid for supervisor to Lefkaditis, a Democrat who ran on the GOP line.

KNOX — While Knox Democrats are using a primary rather than a caucus to avoid what they see as disruptive acts from GOP candidates for town offices and to include more voters, a Democrat running on the GOP line for town council denounced the primary as excluding other candidates from running on the Democratic ticket.

In a letter this week to the Enterprise editor [“On Primary Day, Knox Dems should vote for the GOP slate”], June Springer criticizes the Knox Democratic Committee for not notifying other Democrats in town like herself of the change from a primary to a caucus, because, she says, it prevented candidates other than the ones nominated by the committee to run on the primary ballot.

Dee Woessner, who chairs the Democratic committee, said, if Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis, a Democrat who was elected on the Republican line, and his running mates were to run on the Democratic line, it would exclude any other candidates from running, since he and his slate are already running on the Republican, Conservative, and Independence party lines.

Amy Pokorny, the committee’s secretary and treasurer, added in an email that it would be counterproductive for town Democrats to provide access for Lefkaditis and his supporters at the committee’s strategy meetings for similar reasons, since Lefkaditis — although enrolled as a Democrat —  is already endorsed by the Republican, Conservative, and Independence parties.

A letter written by Pokorny to the Enterprise editor describing the decision to switch to a primary was published on April 11, but Springer was critical that this was the same date petitions to ballot were due.

Pokorny wrote in the April letter that some caucus-goers had felt intimidated in recent years. “In order to increase Democratic participation and restore the privacy of the ballot box, we are discontinuing the use of the caucus in favor of a primary election,” she wrote.

The primary will be held on June 25; the state has set the date, moving primaries months head of the former date.

Matthew Clyne, the Democratic Commissioner at the Albany County Board of Elections, said there is only one slate of Knox candidates on the ballot for the primary — the candidates nominated by the town’s committee — but that voters can write in a name.

In previous years, Knox Democrats have held a caucus to choose candidates. Clyne confirmed that the change from a caucus to a primary was issued in February.

Springer, a candidate for town council running on the Republican line with Lefkaditis, said that she has been enrolled as a Democrat for 35 years. She told The Enterprise that she found out there would not be a caucus the Saturday before petitions to ballot were due. She said she filed a petition by that date after collecting signatures the weekend prior.

“I found out when they made the decision because I saw a copy of the papers they filed with the Board of Elections,” she wrote in an email.

Springer said that she is not sure yet if she will be campaigning to be written in on the ballot in the primary or campaigning for the rest of the slate to be.

“That’s our only option,” she said, of being able to run on the Democratic line.

Pokorny said there was no particular reason the letter to the Enterprise editor was sent the week of April 11, but said she was trying to communicate that a primary was being held and why to the public.

She confirmed that the decision to hold a primary instead of a caucus was made on Jan. 30. Woessner said that it was filed with the Board of Elections on Feb. 7.

“And after that, it was public knowledge,” she said.

Pokorny said that the committee met on Feb. 22 and decided on its slate of candidates. She said that committee meetings are not open to the public, and said that in the past her husband, Russell Pokorny — who is running for supervisor on the Democratic line — was dismissed when the committee was about to meet. She also said that traditionally both the Republican and Democratic committees have had confidential meetings.

But she said that the committee is accessible to the public, noting that someone who had considered running for office was able to reach the Democratic Committee by contacting the county’s board of elections.

According to Amy Pokorny, the six members of the Knox Democratic Committee, besides herself and Woessner, are Michael Hammond, Paul Scilipoti, Margo Ugalde, and Jean Gagnon.

Woessner said that, as soon as any documents were filed, the primary was made public and likely made known to the GOP candidates. Pokorny said that, while gathering signatures for a petition to ballot and speaking to registered Democrats in town, it was made known that a primary would occur.

Woessner said that, in the past few years, the Democratic caucuses have been disrupted by hostile behavior, such as Lefkaditis’s father-in-law taking pictures of the voters, or when members of last year’s caucus complained openly about using paper ballots rather than voting by hand as they had in previous years.

The supervisor’s wife, Anna Lefkaditis, said that her father never recorded or photographed any part of the voting process in the 2015 caucus that Woessner referenced.

“As a memento, he merely video recorded a sweep of the room as party members were settling in that lasted no more than 6 or 7 seconds to share with his family both here and overseas in Italy,” she wrote in an email on Wednesday.

Lefkaditis had tried, and failed, to get Democratic backing at two caucuses in a row. In 2015, he ran instead on the Conservative line, ousting in the general election longtime Democratic Supervisor, Hammond, who had been chosen by a landslide at the caucus.

The following election, in 2017, Lefkaditis got many more votes than at the previous Democratic caucus, but still not enough to best Amy Pokorny; the tally was 82 to 65. But he trounced Pokorny in the general election as he ran on the Republican line with two council candidates who were also victorious.

Knox has 708 enrolled Democrats, 463 enrolled Republicans, 133 enrolled Independence Party members, 71 enrolled Conservatives, 12 residents enrolled in other small parties, and 534 residents registered to vote but not enrolled in any party.

 

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