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Take my seat: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand joined 20th Congressional candidate Scott Murphy in Saratoga Springs.

Photo: Chet Hardin

And Now, We Wait

Scott Murphy surprised many by pulling even with Jim Tedisco—and even they remain, until absentee votes are counted

With roughly 30 percent re porting, a gloom was beginning to settle over the emotionally drained Scott Murphy supporters Tuesday night at the Gideon Putnam in Saratoga Springs. The Democratic neophyte candidate for the 20th Congressional District had fallen behind his Republican opponent, New York Senate Minority Leader Jim Tedisco. A volunteer from Citizen Action seemed crushed, standing among a thin crowd in the ballroom that, until the bad numbers started pouring in, had been packed. She made the glum prediction that most of Murphy’s supporters were now either at the bar or in their rooms, crying.

Murphy was never supposed to get anywhere near victory. The unknown Missouri-born venture capitalist had announced that he was going to run as a Democrat for a seat that historically has been a Republican stronghold; the district was drawn to carefully avoid the urban centers of the Capital Region. The early polls had predicted a victory of 20 points or more for Tedisco.

But Murphy appeared to ride the tide of popularity surrounding the Obama administration, and also the popularity of the woman who recently vacated the seat to assume the U.S. Senate post, Kirsten Gillibrand. In the typically Republican northern counties of the district—Essex, Warren, and Washington—Obama and Gillibrand both secured comfortable victories in 2008, and in this special election, these counties were reporting as Murphy victories.

There are numerous other reasons Murphy supporters point to in explaining the tall, amiable young Democrat’s unexpected success in pulling even with his opponent in the polls: Tedisco failed to come out on message early in the campaign; he was a victim of a Republican brand of failed campaigning, the same kind that doomed McCain, which tries to impose the message of the party from the top down; he waited, and waited, before making public his opinion on the very popular stimulus bill; and the Republican National Committee’s attack ads were excessive, in some ways transparently untrue, and only helped increase Murphy’s name recognition.

However, according to Tom Wade, the Rensselaer County Democratic Party chairman, the real reason for Murphy’s good showing in the 20th is the candidate himself: a successful businessman married to the daughter of a prominent upstate family who, though taking a progressive stance on some issues, such as the death penalty, abortion, and unions, has also been able to resonate with conservative voters on the issue of the economy, the most pressing issue of the day.

Of course, some people would point to the personal wealth that Murphy was able to bring to the table. Murphy personally provided a quarter-million dollars to his campaign in a special election that has drawn in more than $2 million in contributions. Saratoga County Democratic Party Chairman Larry Bulman dismissed the idea that Murphy’s money has given him an edge over Tedisco, pointing out that the assemblyman loaned his own campaign $200,000 as well.

Later Tuesday evening, Murphy had drawn into the lead. At 92 percent reporting, he held a 1,600 vote lead, but by the time 99 percent of precincts had been counted, that lead had dropped to near 100. Bulman held the business card of his lawyer up to a friend and joked, “I’ll be needing this tonight!” The conversation changed from poll results to possible legal disputes and the thousands of absentee ballots—roughly 10,000 in all—that had been mailed out, and which would now determine the outcome of the race. According to the Times Union, nearly 6,000 ballots have been returned. The deadline to receive the absentee ballots is April 7 for the average citizen and April 13 for the military.

By the time that Murphy took the stage, standing beside Sen. Gillibrand, his lead had dropped to 59 votes and it was clear that it was going to be at least mid-April before the voters in the 20th district would know who their next congressman would be.

—Chet Hardin

What a Week


We’ve Been Served—Oh Wait

$65 million lawsuit filed over 2008 Metroland article

Capital Region-based company NXIVM has filed a $65 million lawsuit against Metroland. NXIVM, an international company that offers personal and professional training programs, has been accused by detractors of being cultlike. The company was founded by Keith Raniere, and has previously gone by the name Executive Success Programs. Prior to forming ESP, Raniere ran a company called Consumers’ Buyline, Inc., which was under investigation by regulators in 20 states when, in 1993, the New York attorney general filed a civil suit alleging CBI was a pyramid scheme. Without admitting wrongdoing, Raniere settled for $40,000.

The lawsuit against Metroland was filed on March 12 with the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Niagara County. It includes 10 separate counts, including product disparagement, prima facia tort (intending to and succeeding in causing harm), defamation, interference with prospective business advantage, and conspiracy. The lawsuit references a March 13, 2008, Metroland article by news editor Chet Hardin that contains the line, “Raniere, according to Ross, is not allowed, by law, to be involved in a discount buyer’s club, due to the collapse of CBI,” a statement the suit claims is false.

The conspiracy charge involves Rick Ross, an interventionist and writer dealing with groups that have been called cults or cultlike, as well as Morris and Rochelle Sutton. According to Ross, the Suttons hired Ross in 2002 to attempt to persuade their son Michael Sutton to leave NXIVM. The lawsuit claims that Ross, the Suttons, and Metroland conspired to republish false information.

According to Hardin, Ross is a source but he has never met him in person. In reference to the Suttons, Hardin said, “I’ve never spoken to them.” Leon said that he has also never spoken to Ross or the Suttons.

A similar lawsuit was filed against Ross, the Suttons, and Lollytogs (the apparel company owned by the Suttons) on March 5, 2009. According to Ross, they also have yet to be served with a lawsuit.

“It’s a virtually identical lawsuit,” Ross said. “I assume, and my lawyers assume, that the reason for filing is to maintain the ability to pursue a claim over an article that the statute of limitations was about to expire on.” The lawsuit against Metroland was filed one day before the statute of limitations for defamation would have expired.

“It’s kind of like they’re parking and reserving their right,” Ross said.

Ross also defended his statement in the article over which Metroland is being sued.

“I recall that that was part of some kind of an agreement,” Ross said. “Raniere may be splitting hairs.”

Hardin was notified of the lawsuit by a blogger.

“Ben Arnold, the blogger at (dis)Utopia [of Saratoga Springs], e-mailed me on March 27 and asked for a comment on NXIVM’s latest suit,” Hardin said.

Past coverage of NXIVM in Metroland includes the previously mentioned article, as well as a small blurb in the 2007 Year in Review issue, and a feature by Hardin titled “Stress in the Family” published in August 2006 that included information from previous members of NXIVM/ESP. Hardin also made blog posts about NXIVM and the inaugural event of the World Ethical Foundations Consortium, conceptually founded by Raniere, featuring the Dalai Lama.

Metroland has not sought legal counsel in response to the lawsuit.

“We have access to legal counsel, but as far as we’re concerned right now, it’s almost as if there’s not a lawsuit because it has not been served to us,” Leon said. “They may never serve the lawsuit for all we know.”

In an e-mail, Nancy Salzman, the president of NXIVM, stated: “Nxivm filed this suit . . . because of statutory considerations. We have not yet served Metroland or the other parties because it is always our position to attempt a more amicable resolution of differences and damages. We believe Metroland will engage in a meaningful dialogue with us relating to these issues.”

Leon said that Metroland’s coverage of NXIVM in Metroland has been fair and accurate, and that the lawsuit should not have any effect on future coverage of NXIVM.

—Cecelia Martinez

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