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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 26, 2009

Runion bows out of race in midst of wild web wars

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — In the wake of web wars with political opponents, five-term supervisor Kenneth Runion said yesterday he won’t run for re-election in November.

“I’m 99.9 percent sure,” he told The Enterprise, saying he felt stalked and has had his identity stolen; he threatened a lawsuit.

Runion had headed an all-Democratic town board until Republicans Warren Redlich and Mark Grimm launched an aggressive and successful campaign two years ago, to win seats on the board.

A series of skirmishes between the two camps escalated recently when Redlich created a signed website named after Runion, critical of his administration.

Redlich said he bought the domain name so that when people voting in the November election do an Internet search for Runion, they would come to his site. He also said that Runion should have known enough to register the site with his name before someone else got to it.

“It’s safe to say that, over the past decade, the Internet has gone from the periphery of politics to center stage,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Rainie echoed Redlich’s thought. “Most experts will tell a politician to buy up any domain names that could be associated with them, even the negative ones,” he said.

Claiming that Redlich had stolen his identity by registering www.kenrunion.com, Runion then bought the domain names for 11 sites, at a personal cost of $300 to $400, he said, in an effort to protect his name.

“Someone is going to be sued by me by the end of this whole thing,” Runion, a lawyer, told The Enterprise last week.

Rainie said that there is really not enough case law on situations like this, because the use of the Internet as a political platform is relatively new. “It is usually taken case by case,” he said. “The legal rules are still being ironed out.” Rainie did note that, in most cases, as long as an individual hasn’t purchased a domain with intent to sell it and make a profit, it is not illegal.

In February 2007, Eliot Spitzer submitted a complaint to the National Arbitration Forum, because someone had registered two domain names using his name for both the name of the websites, and the registrant’s name.  Spitzer requested to have the domain names transferred to his ownership.  Spitzer was granted his request.

Illegal or not, Runion said that he and his family are uncomfortable with Redlich’s actions. “It feels like I am being stalked,” he said.

In addition to Redlich and Runion’s sites, unsigned websites and blogs have appeared, discussing Guilderland politics, supporting Runion, and presenting a negative view of Redlich and Grimm, the only other Republican town board member, and candidate for supervisor in the next election.

Runion told The Enterprise last week that he had no affiliation with the websites, which include www.guilderlandenterprise.com and www.guilderlandnews.com. Records showed that an e-mail address, runionk@verizon.net, was used to register the two domain names, and Runion told The Enterprise last week that he did not recognize that address, and that it did not belong to him. He thought someone might have fabricated the address to make it look like he had registered the sites.

After The Enterprise published Runion’s statements, the newspaper received e-mails that had been sent to Redlich, from Runion, using the same e-mail address — runionk@verizon.net. The e-mails contained town board meeting information.

When presented Tuesday with this information, Runion said, “I thought you had been asking me if that was my current e-mail address. I used to have a Verizon phone that I sent e-mails from, and they might have come from that address.”

Runion said that, although he was affiliated with the e-mail address, it was one that he no longer used, and that he had not used it to register the two “anonymous” websites.

Roger Lipera, a web designer and expert in Guilderland, said that it is technically possible for someone to have found out Runion’s e-mail address and used it to register a domain name, but that it would be tricky. Many times the registrar will use the provided e-mail address to contact the registrant, and if the individual doesn’t respond or the e-mail bounces back, the website will not be created.

Lipera also noted that, if the address had once belonged to Runion, even if his account has since lapsed, no one else would be able to obtain the address for themselves. “Every e-mail address is unique,” he said.

The Internet has now become a standard part of any politician’s platform, said Lainie, and no self-respecting politician can afford not to have a web presence. “Slander and smear have always existed,” Lainie said. “The Internet is just a new pathway for it.”

“I’ve come to the realization that I can’t get my job done with all the other crap going on,” Runion said yesterday. “There are too many diversions and distractions…The last two weeks I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing because I’ve been dealing with all this web stuff and everything else.”

Runion said that he still has nine months in office, and, if he wants to focus on the budget and other town issues, he can’t get involved in what he said could have been “one of the dirtiest campaigns Guilderland has ever seen.”

He also said that, if he were to run and be re-elected, he would have to deal with political battles with Redlich and Grimm for the next two years. “I don’t feel comfortable,” he said. “I’ve run out of adrenaline.”

Runion said he has told David Bosworth, chairman of the Guilderland Democratic Committee, to start looking for another candidate.

“I’m going to use the next nine months to do the job I was elected to do,” said Runion. “People are paying me too much money to play around.”

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