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Legislative Petitions Challenged in Several Key Races

KINGSTON – Author and essayist George Orwell once wrote that, "all issues are political issues and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia."

These words, scribed by the 1984 author known for adding the concept of "big brother" to the English lexicon, seem to resonate in Ulster County, where this year's political season, rife with allegations of fraud and criminality, is as hot as the summer's sweltering temperatures.

Legislators from Wallkill to Ellenville are facing challenges to their petitions and will head to State Supreme Court to be decided by week's end. Any appeals will then quickly be heard by the Appellate Court before the September 13 primary.

In newly-drawn District 12, petitions submitted by incumbent legislator Kevin Roberts, R-Wallkill, for the Republican, Conservative and Independence lines are being challenged by his opponent, Joseph Eriole.

Two-term Legislator Laura Petit, R-Port Ewen, lost her bid for the GOP line in District 8 after her petitions were deemed "improperly altered" when a PO Box was added as a handwritten change on each petition. Board of Election Commissioner Victor Work said that legal precedent shows that the Courts frown on alterations to sworn statements without proper notification. "In this case," Work said, "initials of the witness and first signer would have indicated that it was altered before anyone signed."

In New Paltz's new 20th District, Democratic incumbent and Minority Whip Hector Rodriguez is challenging the Democratic pick, Thomas Cotton, in the September primary. Rodriguez secured the Working Families Party line, but Shawangunk Journal reporter and Republican challenger Terence Ward has requested an opportunity to ballot on that line as a write-in candidate.

The Board of Elections also met last week to hear objections filed by Jon Dogar-Marinesco on petitions filed in newly-formed District 21 by one-term incumbent Legislator Terry Bernardo, R-Accord.

Dogar-Marinesco, husband of Bernardo's challenger, Manuela Mihailescu, charged Bernardo with fraudulently obtaining signatures on her petitions for the Republican, Conservative and Independence lines. The Board denied 52 of Bernardo's 364 petitions, several of which were signed at a "Free Lunch" offered by the candidate on June 12, where petitions were made available.

According to NYS election law, "Any person who pays, lends, contributes or promises to pay, lend, or contribute any money or other valuable consideration" to any voter to sign a petition for the designation of a candidate for party nomination or for election for public office "is guilty of a misdemeanor."

Mihailescu said that though it is a criminal matter for the district attorney to handle, she will not be taking it to court because she lacks the funds to fight a protracted court battle. Bernardo needed 77 valid signatures to keep the Republican line; the board determined 312 were legitimate. As such, she keeps the line, but will face write-in candidate Mihailescu in the September primary.

Mihailescu's challenge did cost Bernardo the Conservative line after her petitions were invalidated for technical flaws.

In addition, Mihailescu, a town of Rochester councilwoman, is further challenging Bernardo's Independence line for including petitioner's signatures that were not registered party members. The Board of Elections invalidated seven of the 20 Independence Party signatures, leaving Bernardo with only the 13 signatures necessary to secure that line in her town; however, Mihailescu is challenging in Ulster County Supreme Court the one signature that was a split decision between the two election commissioners. Mihailescu said that if she wins in court, Bernardo will be bumped from the Independence line, as well. Bernardo's husband chairs the Ulster County Independence Party.

Election Commissioner Thomas Turco told Mihailescu that her deadline to challenge the Independence decision was on Friday, July 29 at 5 p.m., giving her less than 24 hours after her BOE hearing to prepare her case. However, citing NYS election law, "that a proceeding with respect to a petition shall be instituted within fourteen days after the last day to file the petition," or within three business days after an election board's determination, Mihailescu filed her challenge with the Supreme Court on Monday.

Meanwhile, the Court will also hear a suit filed by Town of Rochester's Conservative Chair, Gerald Fornino, against the two election commissioners, Work and Tom Turco, and Conservative Party leaders, Ed Gaddy, John Crispell and Alan Hartman. The suit requests that the Opportunity to Ballot, filed by Mihailescu, be "stricken as fraud" because the "members of the Committee to Receive Notices did not approve having their names listed on the Opportunity to Ballot, OTB, Petition."

Dogar-Marinesco disagrees that his wife needed permission to list the party leaders on her OTB. He said all that was required was for Mihailescu to appoint three people of the Conservative Party to serve as a committee to fill vacancies within the provisions of the election law.

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