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Finding the flaws: Clifton Dixon alleges election wrongdoing.

PHOTO: Chris Shields

Following the Petitions

Allegations of old-fashioned fraud come out of a primary race for Albany County Legislature


In 2003, the New York State Supreme Court adopted a legislative redistricting plan to create majority-minority districts in fair proportion to the population of minorities in the City of Albany. The case, which evidenced unequal access to the political process for minorities in Albany County, expanded the 4th Legislative District to include parts of the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 11th, and 12th wards in Arbor Hill, North Albany, Albany Shaker Road, and Bishops Gate.

According to Clifton Dixon, a 4th District Democratic candidate for Albany County Legislature in this Tuesday’s primary election, “This is the first regularly scheduled election where the majority-minority constituency will be able to elect the candidate of their choice.”

However, Dixon is concerned that the “historically disenfranchised community” is being manipulated by his opponent, Democrat Jacqueline E. Jones. “Her egregious behavior is contradictory to why it was made a majority-minority district,” he alleged, “for there to be a clean and fair election where the constituency would be able to pick, fairly, the representative of their choice.”

Dixon filed a general complaint against Jones on July 23 with the Albany County Board of Elections, in which he alleged that his opponent’s petitions contained fraudulent signatures. “She registered them to vote and had them sign at the same time,” he said. “Oftentimes, she had them sign the petition before she registered them to vote. In many instances, she wasn’t able to do that in time, and the person was registered the day after the date the signature shows.”

“Dates were predated or backdated, because if you get one person’s signature first,” explained Dixon, “other candidates can’t get it. Each fraudulent act can be punished as a misdemeanor under election law. There are dozens of allegations.”

In several instances, he alleged that Jones was absent when constituents signed the petition, though she declared herself a witness.

“She signed an affidavit saying she was in my presence when I signed my signature, and that wasn’t the case,” said Dana Mackey, a constituent whose name appears on one of Jones’ petitions.

Although the Albany County Board of Elections found many of Dixon’s claims to be true, there were not enough faulty signatures to invalidate the petitions.

“The election law is very clear, where if the witness statement is incorrect, the whole sheet is supposed to be thrown out,” said Dixon. “But it’s up to the discretion of the election commissioners. I was under the impression that the commissioners would look at these issues directly, but apparently it was given to someone else. I don’t think these issues were looked into totally, with complete diligence.”

“You need five percent of registered, active voters in the district,” explained John A. Graziano, Republican commissioner for the Albany County Board of Elections. “The complaint that he filed against certain signatures—even if we agreed on certain ones, and we eliminated them—it didn’t go below the number that was required.”

“We’ve done an extensive review of every complaint Clifton had brought in,” Graziano continued. “We communicated to him in writing what our position was. Literally, we spent hours with him. But he brought it above us.”

Following the BOE’s ruling, Dixon attempted to bring the case to court, but it was dismissed by state Supreme Court Justice John Egan Jr., who claimed it was not filed on time, though Dixon countered that he filed by the date he was given.

“It was my last resort,” said Dixon. “Justice Egan dismissed the case based on the fact that it was served the day after it should have been, though it was served on the date I was originally told. So that’s a concern.” Court documents appear to confirm Dixon’s claim.

In a letter of request for investigation sent to Albany District Attorney David Soares on August 29, Dixon stated that Wanda F. Willingham, Jones’ mother and Democratic County Legislature incumbent, interfered with a judicial subpoena on Aug. 6 by encouraging witnesses not to obey its orders and appear before Justice Egan.

“When we were at court, Willingham came up to court that day, telling everybody not to speak to anyone,” said Bruce Wilson, a resident of the 4th district who signed Jones’ petition and was called to testify in court along with 11 other witnesses. “She said that to all the witnesses. She just said, ‘Don’t speak to them.’ She said it to all of us.”

Dixon also filed a request with the Board of Elections to invalidate the designating petition of Jones on the grounds that her 2004 change of party enrollment from Working Families to Democratic was not made in conformity with election law.

“It was not done through any credible procedural process,” said Dixon. “I believe the reason she changed from the Working Family Party in 2003 was because she wanted to vote for her mother, Wanda Willingham, in the primary.”

Dixon, a self-employed real-estate broker, political consultant, and community activist, worked as Willingham’s campaign manager during the 2003 election.

On August 21, BOE commissioners Graziano and Matthew J. Clyne denied Dixon’s request, dismissing his complaint as “a ministerial irregularity by a BOE staff member three years ago.”

“I don’t think all my objections were looked into totally,” said Dixon. “But at this point she’s on the ballot, and the election’s next week.”

Jones did not arrive for a scheduled interview to discus Dixon’s allegations.

—Jessica Best

What a Week

You Don’t Have to Go Home, but . . .

Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed his prime minister and the Russian government Wednesday, just three months before scheduled parliamentary elections, and six months before next year’s presidential election. He appointed ally Viktor Zubkov to replace the prime minister. Reports suggest that the move positions Zubkov as Putin’s obvious successor in next year’s election.

Silenced Voices

Two soldiers who were involved in a seven-soldier op-ed piece, “The War as We Saw It,” which appeared in The New York Times three weeks ago, were killed in Iraq this week. In the op-ed, Sgt. Omar Mora and Sgt.Yance T. Gray questioned the war in Iraq and whether the situation there can be fixed. The op-ed ended, “We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.” Mora and Gray both died in a vehicle accident in western Baghdad on Monday.

No Change in Sight

After being questioned by both houses of Congress, Gen. David H. Petraeus and American Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker could not confirm that the surge of American troops in Iraq has helped improve security or unify sectarian leaders. Both men declared the necessity for a continued strong presence of American troops, quelling hope that there would be a change of military strategy. Though a recent New York Times/CBS Poll showed that Americans prefer having the military in charge of the war instead of the White House, there appears to be little difference between what Petraeus and Bush have planned for the troops.

Killing New York

President George W. Bush is telling New York to “drop dead,” according to Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who lambasted Bush for his refusal to allow the expansion of children’s health insurance in the state. The heated Spitzer has joined with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), and others in an attempt to fight against federal regulations preventing Spitzer from expanding Child Health Plus in New York.

Party Crashers

In Troy, the fight over the Working Families Party slate goes to court

Chris Consuello’s petitions are in at the board of elections. Filed as a candidate with the Working Families Party, he intends to run for mayor of Troy. It is not the first time his name has been on the ballot, either. Last year, Consuello gained marginal notoriety when incumbent Assemblyman Ron Canestrari (D-Cohoes) conceded the WFP’s line for state Assembly to the political neophyte.

So why did his fellow WFP members move to remove him, and six others candidates running for City Council, from the party? Because, WFP said, these candidacies are part of a widely acknowledged game of one-upmanship that consumes major players in Rensselaer County politics. Just as the Conservative Party has been taken over by Republicans in Rensselaer County, and the Independence Party has been taken over by the Republicans and their allies, insiders say the WFP is in the sights of powerful Republicans.

“We have seven candidates in Troy who did not go through the endorsement process,” said Pat Pafundi, chair of the Rensselaer County Club of the Working Families Party. “It undermines our whole process.”

This endorsement process, Pafundi said, is “rigorous,” pointing to the lengthy questionnaire each candidate must fill out, which is designed to ascertain whether or not they are sympathetic to the party’s goals and beliefs.

“We interview lots and lots of people, and if we have a difference of philosophy, we are not going to endorse them. These people, we have never seen these people,” she said. “We have suspected that we have people who are trying to take over our line. We have spoken to these candidates, and we suspect they are not real candidates. We had members reach out to them, and some of these people didn’t even know they were on the line. How does that happen?”

“We have been working very hard,” said Pafundi. “We don’t want to be undermined by another party.”

Earlier this month, a member of WFP filed a complaint, pursuant to election law, to the chairman of the party about the “rogue candidates.”

“A voter can make a complaint that another member of the party doesn’t belong in the party and should be kicked out,” said Josh Sabo, an attorney representing WFP. “There was a complaint that these seven individuals didn’t belong, that they were tools of other parties, and they should be kicked out of the party.”

After a hearing, Sabo said, “The chairman decided that the charges were true and that each of these individuals were basically working at the behest of Robert Mirch, that they were working at the behest of the Conservative Party, and that they should be removed from the Working Families Party.”

Mirch, who is the Dept. of Public Works Commissioner in Troy, as well the constituent liaison to Sen. Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) and the majority chair in the Rensselaer County Legislature, signed off as public notary on the petitions for the contested WFP candidates.

Mirch did not return calls for an interview.

Upon the WFP chair’s decision, instead of acquiescing, the seven people hired lawyer Tom Spargo to reverse the decision made by the chair, and to allow them to continue to be in the party, Sabo said. The chair of the party has in turn filed a counterclaim saying that not only should they be removed from the party, but they shouldn’t be on the ballot for the primary election.

“Since it is a battle over control, there were many new registrants in the WFP, way out of whack with registrations anywhere else,” Sabo pointed out.

In Troy, as of Sept. 1, there were 596 members of the WFP enrolled. In November 2006, there were 483—an increase of 113. For comparison, in the entire county of Rensselaer, there were 883 WFP members registered in April of last year. There were 1015 members enrolled as of April of this year—an increase of 132, the vast majority being in Troy.

“We don’t have that many serious rogue attempts, but, in a couple of places, we have seen surges upward in registration,” said Emma Wolfe, organizing director for WFP. “This isn’t that common. In Suffolk, we’ve had some issues, and then in Troy. Those are the two places; otherwise, there is a not really a situation.”

It is a bizarre way to get political power, she said, but on the other hand, it makes a lot of sense. “Basically, you figure out how you can co-opt a political party line, and you get a lot of elected officials coming to you because you have the power of the ballot line.”

“Going to court is not something we wanted to do,” she said. “But when you have candidates running on your line without endorsements, but also running without even intending to hold office, it is sort of beyond the pale.”

—Chet Hardin

The Insider and the Outcast

To many, the Albany County comptroller primary is as much about settling old scores as it is about implementing new visions


Old wounds have been reopened in the Albany County Democratic Party as incumbent Michael Conners and Guilderland Town Board member Patricia Slavick prepare to square off in Tuesday’s county comptroller primary. Party pariah Conners is relying heavily on his legislative experience and his record as comptroller, as his comparatively less experienced opponent flexes her qualifications and party ties in a race that highlights divisions within the party.

Slavick is endorsed by a long list of Albany County Democrats, including state Sen. Neil Breslin, who backs Slavick “on her credentials alone.” Slavick, a certified public accountant and business analyst, worked for General Electric in various capacities for 27 years. In 1999, she moved into the public sector, working for the state tax department and for the Office of Mental Health. Slavick has served on the Guilderland Town Board since 2000, and is currently employed in the office of the state comptroller.

“I think that [the comptroller’s] office needs to be managed by someone with my experience,” said Slavick. “I would bring a lot to the position based on my work history and credentials and qualifications and my town-board experience.”

Conners has overseen a number of high-profile, sometimes unpopular audits that have led him to push for reforms in administering Medicaid, the operations of Capital District OTB, and the Albany County Nursing Home. He said that his office has saved Albany more than $34 million in debt service at the Albany County Airport.

As comptroller, Conners said, he has also implemented a fraud, waste, and abuse hotline for county employees and upgraded the county’s computer financial system.

The race thus far has been a fairly quiet one receiving little attention from the local press, save for a Times Union article about a FOIL petition submitted by Slavick’s campaign manager, Donald Csaposs, to the office of the comptroller requesting a list of all audits scheduled to be performed in 2007, as well as all audits performed for the last three years.

“I expected maybe one piece of paper listing all the audits,” said Slavick. “But we didn’t get any type of response, and I haven’t seen anything published on the [county] Web site as far as audits. I would think because there is no list. I would have to surmise that.”

Conners claimed that the FOIL request was indeed processed in a timely manner.

“They never picked it up,” said Conners. “Everything they wanted was available the 14th of August. We’re not allowed to respond to people on a FOIL request; the clerk does. If the clerk didn’t inform them that that was there, shame on the clerk. If the clerk did and they didn’t pick it up, shame on them.”

The phantom FOIL response has caused Conners’ opponents to question his performance as comptroller and has given Slavick one of her key platforms.

“I would like to develop an audit plan with audits on a schedule . . . to make sure audits did get performed so we know how well the county is meeting its goals,” said Slavick. However, “due to confidentiality,” said Conners, the 2007 audit schedule from his office requested by Slavick’s campaign’s FOIL petition was denied.

“The audit schedule we’ll never give to anybody on the outside, because when we do these audits, we show up at the department unannounced, which is the best way to do it,” explained Conners. “You don’t want to give people the chance to do things, hide things, whatever they’re gonna do.”

Conners claimed to have repeatedly requested that Slavick debate him publicly on the issues of the race and her criticisms of his office but that she has declined to do so.

“There was no communication to me on that, absolutely none,” Slavick said. “No one on his campaign has mentioned something like that to me. I would have responded.”

“I have very powerful enemies who are unfortunately using my opponent to try and do things to me that they didn’t have the courage to do themselves,” said Conners. “It’s ridiculous to make the assertion . . . that I can’t do the job of comptroller because I’m not politically loyal to the Breslins or to the party bosses.”

Conners has been an adversary of Sen. Breslin, and his brother, Albany County Executive Michael Breslin, since the 2004 race for Neil Breslin’s seat in the state Senate. Conners switched his party affiliation and accepted the aid of Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno (R-Brunswick) in challenging Breslin after the Democrats declined to support his bid.

Conners’ move across the aisle downgraded him from dissenter to outcast in the Democratic Party, and his wavering party allegiance continues to be cited by his enemies.

“I’m a Democrat, I’ve been a Democrat, I will stay a Democrat . . . because I follow the philosophies of that party,” said Slavick. “I would never switch parties for an opportunity somewhere else.”

Conners defines himself as “fiercely independent” and justifies his shunning from the rest of the Democratic Party as a boon rather than a handicap.

“I’m not under the control of the Democrats, the Republicans, the Legislature or the county executive,” said Conners. “I do what I think is right.”

—Jason Chura

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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