From GOP and Dems, accusations mount
GUILDERLAND – One week before the town election, the two major political parties are getting aggressive with their campaigning, each slinging accusations at the other.
A candidates’ forum, scheduled for Oct. 28, was cancelled, and both sides are making accusations about the other’s ads and campaign contributions. In the past year, the town’s Republican committee has raised four times as much as the Democrats’ committee, while campaign contributions to the Democratic incumbent supervisor are about half of those for the Republican challenger.
The League of Women Voters of Albany County extended invitations to six candidates from both parties to participate in a debate, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 28, at the Guilderland Public Library, according to Mary Anne Lettau, who assists the league with voter services.
The invitations were sent by e-mail, she said, based on addresses that were found online, to the two candidates for town supervisor, Democrat Kenneth Runion and Republican Mark Grimm, and the four candidates for town board, Democrats Patricia Slavick and Paul Pastore, and Republicans Lee Carman and Mark Livingston.
Lettau said she also contacted the chairman of the Guilderland Republican Committee, Matt Nelligan, but did not contact the chairman of the town’s Democratic Committee, David Bosworth, because she could not find a proper e-mail address.
The invitations went out in late September, she said, and by Oct. 4, all three Republicans had committed to the debate. The Democrats, she said, did not respond at all, until Oct. 23, when current councilwoman and candidate for town board, Slavick, notified the league that the date of the debate would not work for them.
“We really had no choice but to cancel,” said Lettau.
Supervisor Runion said he had barely even been aware of the proposed debate.
“They sent invitations out through e-mail, but there was never anything formal,” said Runion. “Normally, when you get into these forums, you get contacted personally, or the party chairmen handle it.”
Nelligan said he believed the Democrats had purposely avoided responding to the invitation until the last minute, when they knew it would be too late to reschedule.
“They have a history of refusing to debate,” said Nelligan.
Grimm, Runion’s opponent, agreed with his party’s chairman.
“It is a shame that the candidates were unwilling to debate,” said Grimm. “We would have been able to shed light on the transparency issues and lay out our ideas for fixing them.”
Runion contacted the League of Women Voters on Oct. 29 and said he would be willing to schedule a one-on-one debate with Grimm, but Lettau said there was no time before the Nov. 5 election.
“We’re interested in getting the voters to the debate,” she said. “It’s not a press event for the candidates, and there’s not enough time to notify residents about a debate at this point.”
All town offices, save for the highway superintendent, are currently held by Democrats.
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.
Nelligan also alleged, this week, that Runion received a campaign contribution, in the amount of $1,500, from Crossgates Mall, in exchange for the supervisor’s silence on a zoning issue between a Westmere neighborhood and the mall in 2011.
Actually, Runion received $500 from Crossgates in this election cycle; the other $1,000 from Crossgates was received in June 2011 before the prior town elections, according to the New York State Board of Elections.
Pyramid Companies, which owns Crossgates Mall, also owns 14 properties in the neighborhood fronting the mall, between the mall and Western Avenue, and two years ago, it began evicting tenants and boarded up some of the homes.
Residents of the neighborhood contacted the town about the issue, by writing a letter to Runion and asking to make a presentation to the town board, but Runion responded that the group of neighbors would not be scheduled to appear before the board, because the situation did not fall under town jurisdiction.
Grimm said that he visited houses in the neighborhood, in an attempt to get to the bottom of the issue, in October 2011, after which one resident, Stephen Cadalso, wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor, stating that Grimm, a councilman at the time, cared more about the constituents than the ruling majority board.
It was this visit, said Grimm, that prompted Runion to schedule a meeting between himself, the residents of the neighborhood, the mall manager, and a Pyramid Companies partner, for November. As a result of the meeting, the boards were taken off of the abandoned houses, and crews driving mall trucks went through the neighborhood removing debris and doing landscaping.
Runion — who, according to the New York State Board of Elections financial disclosures, collected $10,712 in contributions over the past year — told The Enterprise this week that he hadn’t even known that Crossgates Mall had made a campaign contribution, since he does not receive donation checks directly.
“I don’t pay attention to the individual contributors,” he said.
He also said the implication that he received a contribution for not taking action on the matter made no sense.
“I intervened a lot,” said Runion. “I scheduled a meeting and made complaints to the mall.”
He hadn’t scheduled the matter for a town board meeting, he said, because the town does not have control over what the mall does with its property unless it requires a permit or variance, but Runion had been able to act as a mediator, he said.
Grimm — who collected $20,483 over the past year, according to the disclosure reports — speculated that perhaps Crossgates hadn’t contributed to his campaign because he had been the first person to “take them to task” for the neighborhood problems.
“Crossgates is our biggest taxpayer and our biggest revenue generator,” said Grimm. “I’ve said that I will support them when they’re doing something right, but I will call them out when they are doing something wrong.”
The second-largest mall in Guilderland, Stuyvesant Plaza, made equal contributions to Runion and Grimm — $250 each.
Runion, for his part, said he did not think Grimm should have accepted contributions from two members of The Michaels Group, a home building and developing company, which received approval to build a townhouse development for seniors in Guilderland — Mill Hill — while Grimm was on the town board.
Two of the Michaels brothers donated $1,000 each to Grimm’s campaign.
Runion voted against the project, and said Grimm voted for it.
Grimm confirmed that he had voted for the project, but said two Democratic board members had voted in favor of it, too.
“The supervisor was the only one who voted against it,” said Grimm. “He’d be hard-pressed to make that argument stand.”
Runion also said there was a $5,000 contribution made by Verizon to the Guilderland Republican Committee, which was put into a housekeeping fund. He said the only connection between the committee and Verizon that he was aware of was Grimm’s push to bring Fios, a cable and Internet service owned by Verizon, into the town.
“That’s a real reach,” responded Nelligan. “I’m not aware of any other business that Verizon has in town, and the supervisor supported Fios too.”
Nelligan also said he saw nothing wrong with donations by large corporations, as long as they were properly disclosed.
Grimm said that, if Verizon were donating money because of his dedication to bringing a new service into town, the company would have donated it to him directly, rather than to the general committee.
“I don’t get any special-interest money,” said Grimm. “I’m not in a position of power.”
He said he “pretty much passed the hat” and managed to collect more than $20,000.
Grimm said most of his campaign money went to mailers, and some went to advertising.
Runion said his money also went to mailing out flyers, advertising, and lawn signs.
Runion said the Democrats’ advertisements and mailers have focused on the current administration’s record, highlighting things like financial management, SmartGrowth, the parks and recreation department, and transparency.
The Republicans, Runion said, focused on their negative perceptions of the Democrats, regularly asserting that the current administration lacks transparency.
An ad in The Altamont Enterprise this week, paid for by the Guilderland Republican Committee, states that taxes are not going down in 2014, though that is what Runion has said will happen, according to the proposed budget.
The ad says that taxes are actually up 34.1 percent from the 2011 budget, based on the town’s increased contributions to the state’s pension fund.
It is a point that Grimm has made in the recent past, both in letters to the Enterprise editor and in a story about the proposed budget earlier this month. (For the story, go online to www.altamontenterprise.com and click on “Back Issues,” page 4, Oct. 10, 2013.)
Grimm alleged that Runion broke the pension tax out into a separate line in order to avoid saying that the general town tax had increased, and to attempt to mislead Guilderland’s taxpayers. Runion said he broke the pension out into a separate tax line in an effort to be more transparent, not less, and that the town had no control over the state-required pension contributions.
Also in this week’s Enterprise, Gerard Houser, a Democrat who works in a part-time post for the town as the coordinator of its community garden, paid for an ad in support of the Democratic slate in which he makes accusations about Carman, a Republican candidate for Guilderland Town Board and a current Albany County legislator.
The ad alleges that the state comptroller “has issues” with Carman’s time sheets as a county legislator.
“There has never been anything filed against me by the New York State comptroller,” responded Carman last night. “There was never anything stated that I didn’t spend enough time on legislative duties…I have served my constituents.”
Carman went on about Houser, referring to a letter to the Enterprise editor Houser had written about the lack of action on reducing the size of the county legislature. “In 2012, through the Charter Commission, we requested that the bipartisan commission consider the downsizing of the legislature to save the taxpayers’ money while still providing fair representation,” said Carman.
Carman concluded of Houser, “It’s a smear tactic. He’s twisting things to smear me.”
“There’s been a lot of money spent on both sides,” concluded Nelligan, of campaign spending. “I’m glad that we have the ability to compete with the Democrats on an almost — but not quite — even level.”
According to the campaign finance disclosure reports, the Guilderland Republican Committee collected $28,030.94 from October 2012 to the current week, while the Guilderland Democratic Committee collected $6,545 over the same time period.
Editor’s note: Melissa Hale-Spencer contributed the comments from Lee Carman.