Ballot battle

Denise Randall

Richard Sherwood

Christopher Aldrich

Stephen DeNigris

GUILDERLAND — Democratic and Republican candidates in New York State often seek third-party lines. In Guilderland, as Primary Day approaches, several candidates are battling for Independence and Conservative lines.

Both major parties have full slates, and are going toe to toe. The Republicans, frustrated that the Independence Party chose all Democrats, have forced a primary on Sept. 10, where Independence Party members — Guilderland has 1,314 — may write in names for two town board slots, town clerk, receiver of taxes, and three justice posts.

Conservative Party voters — there are 465 in Guilderland — will see a Republican for town board on the ballot, as well as two Democrats, and all four candidates running for justice.

Allegations have been made that Guilderland town board incumbents are involved in a pay-to-play scheme to get Independence Party endorsement. 

“Government at the town level is not supposed to be political,” said Paul Caputo, chairman of the Albany County Independence Party.

Caputo, wrote Robert Majkut in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, was appointed to the planning board in 2010, and “has no qualifications to be a planning board member, but he does control the endorsement process for the Independence Party.”

Majkut contends that the people who appointed Caputo to the board — Supervisor Kenneth Runion, and councilmembers Paul Pastore and Patricia Slavick, all Democrats — are the candidates for the next town election receiving the Independence Party endorsement.

Runion, Pastore, and Slavick, all enrolled Democrats, voted to appoint Caputo to the planning board three years ago, to the opposition of the two Republican town board members at the time, Warren Redlich and Mark Grimm; Grimm is running against Runion in the supervisor race this year.

“I’ve actually been on the planning board since 2001,” said Caputo. “I was re-appointed in 2010, but when I was first appointed 12 years ago, it was a unanimous vote from a bipartisan board.”

The incumbents have received the endorsement, he said, because they are “completely knowledgeable” about the town.

“The Democratic team has a phenomenal record,” he said. “We’d absolutely love to run candidates enrolled in our own party, but you have to look at qualifications; just because someone is a member of the party doesn’t mean they are qualified.”

Party enrollment in Guilderland breaks down this way: 30-percent Democrat, 26-percent Republican, and 25-percent unaffiliated. The remainder are enrolled in small parties.

Authorization given by a political party to a candidate for public office in New York State that allows a candidate not registered with that party to run as its candidate is called a Wilson Pakula, named for the Wilson Pakula Act of 1947. The act forbids candidates from receiving the nomination of a political party if they are not registered as a member of that party, unless they receive permission to enter the primary from party officials representing a majority of the vote in the jurisdiction.

The Republican candidates for town office appeared before the Independence Party Committee to ask for endorsement and they were put through the same process as the Democratic candidates — filling out questionnaires and being interviewed.

Ultimately, the committee voted to endorse the Democratic slate — Kenneth Runion for town supervisor, Pastore and Slavick for town board, Denise Randall and Richard Sherwood for town justice, Lynne Buchanan for receiver of taxes, and Jean Cataldo for town clerk.

The Guilderland Republican Party chairman, Matthew Nelligan, said the Republicans decided to circulate petitions and gather enough signatures to allow for an opportunity-to-ballot, to force a primary for Independence Party endorsement.

“Essentially, when you are not an enrolled member of the party for the line you’re seeking, or you have not received a certificate of authorization from the party chairman to run as a candidate on that line, the only way to actually win on that line is to get voters to write your name in as the designated candidate,” said Rachel Bledi, the Albany County Board of Elections’ Republican Commissioner, earlier. 

When two or more candidates have been endorsed by a party to run for office, a primary is automatically forced, and voters have a chance to either vote for one or more of these endorsed candidates — depending on how many seats are open — or write in another candidate’s name.

Sometimes, when there are multiple candidates running for a given line, an opportunity-to-ballot petition is circulated unnecessarily, as primaries automatically happen when multiple candidates are looking to acquire a particular line.

The petitions the Republican candidates carried have allowed for the opportunity-to-ballot for Independence Party endorsement for all available positions except town supervisor.

On the Republican ticket, Mark Livingston and Lee Carman are challenging Pastore and Slavick for slots on the town board; Stephen DeNigris and Christopher Aldrich are making a run for town justice; Jason Wright is seeking the position of town clerk; and Bryan Best hopes to be the next receiver of taxes.

There will also be a primary election for endorsement by the Albany County Conservative Party, chaired by Richard Stack.

Three candidates have been endorsed by the Conservative Party for the town board position — Democrats Slavick and Pastore, and Republican Carman.

“Carman had approached us, and we let him know we had strong feelings toward the incumbents,” said Stack. “But, he wanted to go forward.”

The multiple endorsements force an automatic primary.

All four candidates for town justice will also primary for Conservative Party endorsement, though Stack said he strongly backs the Democrats, and echoed Caputo’s sentiments about choosing candidates by qualification, not party.

“It’s about the candidate and what they stand for,” said Stack. “We do understand that it takes a lot of time and commitment to run for office, so we do like to give everyone a chance.”

Judge’s races

DeNigris, making his first run for political office, is actually a registered Democrat running on the Republican line, and seeking endorsement from both the Independence and Conservative parties.

DeNigris was a police officer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for 16 years, before he went to law school. He worked for a year for the Court of Appeals in Florida, and also worked as a trial attorney at a federal agency for a time. In 1995, he started his private practice. He moved to Guilderland in 1998.

“I’ve never run for political office before, but I’ve always had aspirations of running for a judicial position,” said DeNigris. “I felt it was time to give something back to the town.”

DeNigris sought the endorsement of his own party, the Democratic Party, but did not receive it.

“I felt the Democratic Party wasn’t receptive to change,” he said. “It’s unfortunate to me that you even have to run on a party line.”

His biggest concern, he said, is the overcrowding in the Guilderland Town Court.

The busyness of the court is the reason there are two positions open for town justice in the coming election. For the first time in the history of the court, there will be three sitting judges.

In 2009, George B. Ceresia Jr., then the Third District Administrative Judge, suggested that Guilderland elect a third judge, after statistics showed it was the third-busiest court in Albany County. It took months for the town board to vote to approve the creation of the third judge position — Republicans Grimm and Redlich, then board members, wanted more information — and there was a further delay because the state legislature had to authorize the decision. The town board officially created the position on Jan. 1, 2013.

DeNigris, however, said he doesn’t believe that the court crowding can be solely attributed to the fact that there are currently only two town justices.

“To simply believe just hiring a third judge will solve the problem is unacceptable,” he said.

He has his own ideas for how he would “turn the court around.”

His proposals include working in town court eight hours per day, three days per week, and holding court sessions in alternate locations, such as the University at Albany, and Crossgates Mall.

“What’s nice about me,” said DeNigris, “is that I own my own law practice and can come and go as I please.”

In a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, DeNigris states, “The present town court elected officials spend only four days a month in town court, and they alternate between weeks…There is no indication as to how many hours each elected official spends on that aspect of the position.”

DeNigris said that, by working at least 24 hours each week and providing alternate locations, he would provide greater access and efficiency.

“I feel I am a better candidate than the current leadership and the town attorney,” he said. “If I were the current leadership, I’d be thinking maybe it was time to step aside.”

Randall, the Democratic incumbent up for re-election, said her opponent’s assertions “betray a lack of understanding of what the job entails.”

Randall also owns her own law practice, and said she has reduced her hours there in order to fulfill her obligations to the town court.

In addition to sitting in court two days per week, every other week, the town justices alternate being on-call 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

“We do suppression hearings, bench trials, and jury trials during daytime hours,” she said. “On weekends, we go out doing warrants and orders of protection.”

The town comptroller performed an audit this year, and asked Randall, and the second town justice, John Bailey, also a Democrat, to record the hours they worked for the town for a period of three months.

“We were stunned to find out we were working more than full-time,” said Randall. “We have two people handling what the Office of Court Administration is saying is a three-person job.”

If cases are delayed, she said, it has nothing to do with the lack of efficiency of the judges, and everything to do with the sheer volume of arrests, and the complexity of the cases.

DeNigris’s proposal to hold court in other locations, specifically the mall, is not a new one, Randall said.

“Four years ago my opponent proposed it; two years ago Bailey’s opponent proposed it,” she said. “The idea is not appealing to the residents.”

Randall said she decided to run for another term because she likes being in a position to do so much good for the community.

“You have the opportunity to divert a young person back onto the right path, help the person whose crime is a result of substance abuse get to the root of the problem, and perhaps go out in the middle of the night and save someone’s life,” she said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to make a difference in the community I love.”

“Denise is one of the most highly regarded sitting town judges in the state,” said Caputo. “She’s fair and she’s tough, and that’s her reputation.”

“Randall stands above the field,” said Stack.

Caputo and Stack also feel current town attorney, Sherwood, a Democrat, is the obvious second choice for the town justice position.

Sherwood has worked as the town prosecutor for the past six years.

“I have seen how things work and how crowded the court is,” he said. “There is certainly the need for the third judge.”

Sherwood has been involved in the community for as long as he’s been a resident of Guilderland, as a coach for youth sports, on the board of the YMCA, and as the town attorney.

“Sherwood has a broad base,” said Stack.

“Sherwood has been an exemplary town attorney,” Caputo said.

Aldrich, a Republican, the fourth candidate for town justice, ran against Randall once before, in 2009, and is the opponent she referred to who proposed holding court in Crossgates Mall.

Aldrich has worked as an attorney for more than 25 years, and moved to Guilderland in 2002. He has worked for the Albany City Court, splitting his time between traffic and criminal court.

Though Aldrich lost to Randall four years ago, Nelligan said he believes he is “extremely well-qualified, and comes at it from the angle of managing judges and caseloads.”

Town board election

In the town board race, Caputo said he felt the Republican candidates were not as well informed about some of the issues they were raising as they should be.

“When we have a candidate come in and talk about planning, and then admit that they haven’t read the master plan, that’s a problem,” he said.

Slavick, running for her fourth term, said she feels she has been endorsed based on her record — her time on the board and the things she has accomplished.

Before she was elected to the town board, she was involved with the town as a member of the Economic Development Advisory Council and as a study-circle facilitator when the comprehensive plan was being drafted.

She works for the state in finances.

She hopes to serve at least one more term in order to complete some of the projects the town has been working on for the past several years, including sidewalk installation on Route 146, drainage issue resolution in McKownville, and zoning law reformation.

Lee Carman, senior vice president of lending at Kinderhook Bank, is in his third term at the Albany County Legislature, and said he feels as though he can use his experience in the public sector, along with 30 years in the private sector, to help the town where he was raised.

“I think I could be more helpful at the town level,” he said.

Carman is highlighting smart business growth in his campaign.

“I’m not saying I want to go crazy with development,” he said, “but I think we need more revenue in the town to keep the taxes compressed.”

The town could do more to renovate older, run-down businesses, or bring in new businesses, he said.

One way to help do that, said Carman, would be to revamp the zoning and planning boards, and appoint professionals in those fields to the committees.

“Bringing in experts that have more experience in those areas would maybe help us to have more of a business-friendly town,” he said.

New appointments, though they would have to wait until the current appointments run out, might also resolve the one-sidedness of the current administration, he said.

Pastore, a lawyer, is running for another term because he feels lucky to have the “honor and privilege” of being a public servant.

He said he recognizes and appreciates the diversity of the town and the people in it, and knows how to balance the interest and need for development with the necessity for smart growth.

“We’ve accomplished a lot, but we have more to accomplish,” Pastore said earlier. “I believe I possess the requisite experience to keep the town moving forward.”

Mark Livingston, a Republican and political newcomer and the fourth candidate for councilmember, has been a Guilderland resident for more than 50 years, and has coached Guilderland soccer and a Guilderland Rec girls’ lacrosse team, is a Guilderland Elks Club member, a board member of the Jack Falvo III Foundation, and the past president of a neighborhood association.

Livingston worked as a project superintendent for Schenectady Hardware and Electric for 20 years, and spent 21 years as the director of facilities at St. Peter’s Hospital. He is currently semi-retired, and a project manager for GW Martin.

Clerk and collector

Wright, a Republican who currently works for the Albany County Board of Elections, will challenge Democrat Cataldo, the current receiver of taxes, for the position of town clerk.

“I decided to run because the position is similar to my current position, in terms of customer service, and I think I would be good at it,” said Wright.

His biggest goal, he said, would be to make the clerk’s office more accessible to residents, by extending office hours and potentially being open on weekends.

“The current hours are sort of inconvenient to a lot of people, because they work,” he said.

He also said he could bring “new energy” to the job.

Cataldo has worked as the receiver of taxes for 12 years. She originally ran a close but unsuccessful race for town clerk in 1999, against the Republican incumbent. After the election, Runion asked her if she would be interested in working in the tax office; she started as the deputy receiver of taxes, and was appointed as receiver of taxes a short time later.

“My background is very suited to a town clerk position,” Cataldo said. “I have a customer-service and a secretarial background.”

In addition to working as the receiver of taxes, she has experience taking minutes as the secretary for Friends Organized for Responsible Community Expansion, and, as a secretary, she was in charge of correspondence and filing for many years.

Democrat Lynne Buchanan, who worked as the deputy receiver of taxes under Cataldo for a number of years, but recently transferred into the town comptroller’s office, is running for the receiver of taxes.

“I worked for three-and-a-half years as the deputy, so it made perfect sense to make this a smooth transition,” Buchanan said.

Republican Bryan Best will challenge Buchanan for the position.

“I’m interested in running because I want to bring a fresh face to the town and improve on town services,” said Best, who ran for Albany County Legislature in 2011, but lost to Democrat Dennis Feeney.

Best currently works at the New York State Legislature as an assistant legislative director.

“I know I can’t affect policy, but I want to do things in the office to reduce taxes,” said Best.

He proposed an online billing system, to help reduce postage costs, e-mail reminders to residents when bills are due, and the extension of hours to make the office more accessible.

Best also said he would be willing to cut the salary for the receiver of taxes by 10 percent to save the town money.

“I’m a smart, hardworking person,” said Best. “I’ve worked in government for a while, and I believe I could bring something new to the table.”

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