Sunday, January 17, 2010

Senator Gillibrand Local Ocean Fundraiser a Big Success



Photos by Ernest Reis

If you were unable to make it to Local Ocean, please consider making a contribution to Senator Gillibrand's campaign at kirstengillibrand.com

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Press Release on Absentee Ballot Decision

COLUMBIA COUNTY, NY JUDGE ORDERS ALL ABSENTEE BALLOTS OPENED IN SECOND-HOME OWNERS’/DUAL RESIDENTS’ CASE—LANDMARK VICTORY FOR VOTERS AND DEMOCRATIC PARTY


HUDSON, NY:  The Columbia County Democratic Committee (CCDC), working along with Board of Elections (BOE) Commissioner Virginia Martin, the Town of Taghkanic Democratic Committee and 66 voters from the Town of Taghkanic whose constitutional right to vote had been challenged by the Columbia County Republican Committee and its counsel, John Ciampoli and Jim Walsh, scored a dramatic and decisive victory today when acting Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols ordered that all 49 remaining absentee ballots be opened immediately and counted, thereby paving the way for five town races from November to be concluded and the winners sworn in.

Joyce Thompson, a candidate for the Taghkanic Town Board and a party to these proceedings, expressed the feeling of many when she commented, “Congratulations to all of the stalwart challenged voters who stood tall, were not intimidated and kept faith in the judicial system to preserve their legal right to vote in Taghkanic."

Virginia Martin, BOE Commissioner and a defendant in the original action, stated “At last, a simple process that should have been concluded fully two months ago—the counting of county residents’ legitimately cast votes—is completed.  Taghkanic’s duly elected officials can finally take office and get to work doing the people’s business.  This delay has cost the taxpayers dearly and has brought an embarrassing and ill-deserved cloud over this county’s electoral process.  I’m enormously relieved that, at last, we can move on.  We have other work to do.”

Today’s ruling was the culmination of over two months of often contentious legal proceedings between the local Republican and Democratic parties, the BOE and the candidates of the Town of Taghkanic, which included a decision on December 18, 2009 by the Appellate Division, 3rd Dept., in favor of the Democrats.  That decision found, among other things, that 1) the law governing a voter’s right to choose where to vote is construed broadly in favor of the voter, and 2) the Republicans had no authority to challenge absentee ballot applications on the basis of residency once the ballots had been issued by the BOE to voters.  On December 30, acting Supreme Court Judge Nichols granted the Republicans one last opportunity to challenge these ballots on grounds other than residency.  At today’s hearing, the Judge reprimanded Mr. Walsh for failing to follow his specific instructions to note his objections in detail.  While he limited the nature of Mr. Walsh’s objections, the Judge did allow him one final opportunity to orally specify his objections voter by voter.  As it turned out, all but three of Mr. Walsh’s objections were for dual residency and the judge overruled each and every objection and ordered all of the ballots to be opened.

The result was very fortuitous for the Taghkanic Democrats as they came from behind to win all four contested races:  two Town Council seats, Town Justice and Highway Superintendent.

What rankled many residents (Democrats and Republicans) in this rural county is that only Democratic-registered dual residents were challenged by the Republicans—a clear attempt to intimidate and suppress their vote.

Chris Nolan, Chair of the CCDC and a respondent in these proceedings, stated “I am extremely gratified by this decision because it confirms what we have said all along—that dual residents have the perfect right to vote from the legitimate residence of their choice.  This decision has far-reaching implications for dual residents all around the state and puts a big dent in state Republicans’ plans to intimidate and disenfranchise Democratic voters this November.”

Kathleen O’Keefe, counsel for Chris Nolan, Chair of the CCDC, and the Taghkanic  Democratic slate of candidates, summarized the two-month-long ordeal:  “Once again, the Republican Party has decided that the way to win elections is to suppress the votes of people deemed unsupportive of their plans, in this case, in Columbia County.  Unfortunately for them, a brave contingent of local people rallied to defend the right of voters to vote in Columbia County.  Hopefully, this case will discourage similar efforts to illegally disenfranchise voters throughout New York State.  We can only hope that that is the case."

The respondents are indebted to their legal counsel, Kathleen O’Keefe, and Dan Burstein, of Willkie Farr & Gallagher, for conducting a brilliant legal campaign that resulted in this momentous decision.

"We are pleased that the Supreme Court has joined the Appellate Division in reaffirming the established voting rights of dual residents and recognizing that these challenges were entirely frivolous," said Burstein, who represents Commissioner Martin.  "This is a victory for voting rights and a rejection of this attempt to do through misinformation, intimidation, and abusive litigation what could not be done through the law: disenfranchise dual residents."

This decision follows on the heels of another ground-breaking decision last Thursday by Supreme Court Judge Patrick McGrath in favor of a citizens’ group in Taghkanic (several of whom were involved in this lawsuit) which permanently enjoined 1) Taghkanic resident Alan Wilzig from paving or using his mile-long, 40-foot wide racetrack, and 2) the Town of Taghkanic, its various town, planning and zoning boards, and other local enforcement officials, from issuing any kind of permit, certificate or approval allowing the racetrack.

There, as here, ordinary citizens had to do the job that local town and county officials should have done on their behalf.

NOTE!  We still have legal bills to pay.  Please make a contribution to our Voter Protection Legal Defense Fund.  


Read More:
Absentee ballots sway Columbia County elections on WNYT-13

November Election Finally Decided in Taghkanic in The Columbia Paper

Voters Win, Republicans Lose

At the Hudson Elk's lodge today, Judge Nichols heard the final challenges to absentee ballots in the Town of Taghkanic by Greg Fingar and the Republican Party.  In the end the judge overruled every one of the Republican challenges and ordered the ballots opened and counted.

Once opened, the Democrats took every seat which was still in contention. Jeffrey Tallackson will be Taghkanic Town Justice, Larry Kadish and Joyce Thompson will be the new Town Board members and Thomas Youhas will be Superintendent of Highways.

Still to be decided: Kathleen O'Keefe, Democratic Party attorney and Dan Burstein, Democratic Commissioner Virginia Martin's attorney have requested sanctions and attorney fees. The attorneys will have until February 12th for briefs and responses. Judge Nichols will rule on their motions sometime in late February.


NOTE!  We still have legal bills to pay.  Please make a contribution to our Voter Protection Legal Defense Fund

Monday, January 11, 2010

Local Fundraiser for Senator Gillibrand at Local Ocean


Meet

Senator
Kirsten Gillibrand
in
Columbia County
at Local Ocean


Saturday
January 16th
5:30 p.m


Contributions: Per Individual: $100, Co-host: $500, Host: $1000
RSVP online by clicking here.

If you are interested in co-hosting or attending, 
please contact Val Delp or at 347-455-0845.

Local Ocean
is located at:
4269 Route 9, Hudson NY
Map

Friday, January 8, 2010

Republicans File New Brief - Nothing New

Attorneys for the Republican plaintiffs in the challenge to the voting rights of Columbia County voters have filed their latest brief with Judge Nichols court.

The brief filed by attorney James Walsh alleges nothing new. He continues to argue the issue of residency, which the Appellate Division has ruled he cannot do (as did Judge Nichols).

The court instructed Walsh to provide the court with a detailed list of his objections to the remaining outstanding absentee ballots.  Instead, he provided a spread sheet that was prepared by the private investigator which lists all the residential information about every voter—there is no specific objection.  However, it seems clear from this spreadsheet that all their claims relate to residency.
Walsh has again failed to provide what the judge asked for.
Read the brief.
Read the basis for their objections.

Greg Fingar, the Columbia County Republican Committee and their attorneys, James Walsh and John Ciampoli, have abused the court’s time, the taxpayers money, and just delayed everything further for no reason other than they could get away with it. Clearly hoping that it might frighten away voters from registering in Columbia County next year.

Court will reconvene on Wednesday, January 13th at 9 a.m. at the Elks Lodge in Hudson. (Map)

We are hopeful that the case will be resolved once and for all then.

Read more:
Taghkanic Still Waits for Election Outcome on ccScoop
First Votes, Now Ethics in The Columbia Paper
Holdovers Keep the Taghkanic Government Chugging in Register-Star

Republican Brief:
Memorandum of Law In Support of Objections to Absentee Ballots
Basis for Objections

Please contribute to our 
Voter Protection Legal Defense Fund onVoter Protection Legal Defense Fund

Virginia Martin Reappointed Democratic Elections Commissioner

In one of the very few bi-partisan actions taken by the Columbia County Board of Supervisors at its organizational meeting on Tuesday January 5th, Democratic Commissioner of Elections Virginia Martin was re-appointed to another two year term.

But while both commissioners were to be appointed at the meeting, the Republican controlled Board brought only Martin's appointment to a roll call vote.
Usually the appointments of each party's commissioner are approved by both parties pro-forma.

Commissioner Martin has been at the center of the Republican challenges to the voting rights of Columbia County voters.  She was even named personally in Republican Chair Greg Fingar's court challenge of Democratic voters right to vote.
She has steadfastly stood up for the rights of Columbia County voters and is determined to have every vote count.

The majority of the board voted to approve Martin's appointment.
The following supervisors voted against:
Reggie Crowley (R-Copake), Elizabeth Young (R-Taghkanic), Valerie Bertram (R-Stuyvesant), Kevin McDonald (R-Livingston), Bart Delaney (R-Hudson-5) and John Musall (D-Hudson-1).

Supervisor Musall, the only Democrat to vote against Ms. Martin is the husband of Geeta Cheddie (former Deputy Commissioner of Elections) who was terminated shortly after Commissioner Martin first took the Commissioner position last term.

The new Republican Commissioner of Elections is Jason Nastke, a former mayor of Valatie, who served his last term in 2003. Nastke replaces Donald Kline as commissioner.
As has been protocol for many years, no Democrat objected to Mr. Nastke's appointment.

Read more: Register-Star

You may have missed:
Virginia Martin Unanimously Endorsed for Democratic Elections Commissioner

Taghkanic Residents Finally Win Fight Against Wilzig Racetrack

After years spent fighting the construction of a motocycle racetrack in residential Taghkanic, civic groups in the Town of Taghkanic and throughout Columbia County are rejoicing.

Supreme Court Justice Patrick McGrath has issued a permanent injuction against Alan Wilzig and the Town of Taghkanic forbidding the completion and voiding the permits issued for Wilzig's race track.

From Judge McGrath's decision:
"Petitioners request for a permanent injunction is granted enjoining the Town of Taghkanic, Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Taghkanic, Town of Taghkanic Planning Board, Dennis Callahan as Code Enforcement Officer and Building Inspector for the Town of Taghkanic or any other employee or agent of the Town of Taghkanic from issuing a Building Permit, Certificate of Compliance and/or a Certificate of Occupancy or Site Plan approval for the sporting course or track located on the Wilzig property and Alan Wilzig and Karin Wilzig are permanently enjoined from using, constructing, or completing the sporting course or track in any way or manner as well as any agent, guest, or invitee of Alan or Karin Wilzig."
Read the complete decision and the Granger Group's press release.

Read more:
Judge Rules Against Wilzig "Sporting Course" on ccScoop
Court: Wilzig Can’t Pave, Use Track
in Register-Star
The Grangers Win! Judge Stops Wilzig Racetrack 
Group is ‘cautiously celebrating’ decision
See also:
The Granger Group
Taghkanic Neighbors
Taghkanic Democrats
Read more about Wilzig:
Plans for a Private Racetrack Fuel a Public Battle
Questions for Alan Wilzig in the NY Times
Gimme Shelter in NY Post

County Board of Supervisors Plan for 2010? More Partisanship and Division

Board of Supervisors Assembles for Organizational Meeting.

Republicans End 
Bi-Partisan Board.   

Republicans gave the board chair, both deputy chairs and every committee chair and vice-chair position to themselves.

On Tuesday January 5th 2010, Roy Brown (R-Germantown) was officially named the new Chairman of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors.
All Supervisors present voted yes on the appointment of Supervisor Brown as Chair except William Hughes (D-Hudson-4) and Edward Cross (D-Hudson-2), both of whom abstained. Supervisor Margaret Robertson (D-New Lebanon) was absent.
Supervisor Hughes accused the Republicans of deciding who would to be the new chair without consulting any of the Democrats on the Board of Supervisors.
Regarding his abstention, Supervisor Cross said, "[m]y opinion wasn't solicited...nobody asked me anything about who should be anything. All of a sudden that’s just dumped on us."
Following his official election, Chairman Brown then announced his choices for the two Deputy Chair positions. The new Deputy Chairs would be Supervisors Bart Delaney (R-Hudson-5) and Larry Andrews (R-Ghent), both Republicans.
Last term there was one Republican and one Democratic Deputy Chair.

Democratic Supervisors had previously been notified of their committee assignments, with most of the Democratic Supervisors complaining about being removed from their favored committees. Unlike last term when Democrats held the chair or vice-chair of several committees, this year no Democrat will sit in the Chair or Vice-Chair positions on ANY committee.

Chairman Brown then proceeded to give a speech in which he criticized "the partisan politics of Albany" 

After what had just taken place, the sentiment was completely laughable.
At the end of the meeting, Supervisor Hughes expressed his disappointment that the "partisan politics of Albany" had spread to Columbia County, noting that Democrats had not been given any leadership positions and Brown had not continued the bipartisan spirit of his predecessor, Art Baer, by appointing a deputy chair from each party.
Hughes also said he was also disappointed that few Democrats stood to give their opinions on the appointments. "It blind-sided us and it was a shot at the Democrats.
Yet another pathetic embarrassment for the Republican majority.
A sad day for Democrats and an even sadder day for the people of Columbia County.

After the wasteful court challenge over the voting rights of Columbia County residents which was not based on law, many were hoping that the new Chair and the Republican caucus would reach out in a bi-partisan way and attempt to put the past behind them.

That was not to be.

Instead they chose to dig themselves further in and have attempted to further isolate, marginalize and disenfranchise their fellow Supervisors in the minority.

Majority and Minority Leaders Also Chosen:
Elizabeth Young (R-Taghkanic) was re-elected Republican majority leader; the Democrats chose Jesse DeGroodt (D-Chatham) as Democratic minority leader.

Special Note: Even with an ethics charge pending against him, former Deputy County Attorney, Robert Fitzsimmons was appointed to be County Attorney at this same meeting by the Republican majority.
Complete story on ColumbiaDems.net
Read the full ethics complaint

Read more on the Board of Supervisors meeting in:  
Register-Star and ccScoop

You may have missed 

Clermont Stands with 2nd Home Owners

At its meeting Dec. 29, Clermont’s Town Board passed a resolution supporting the rights of second homeowners to vote in the town, joining the swelling ranks of municipalities who have passed similar resolutions.

The Town Boards of Copake and Chatham as well as Hudson's Common Council. have passed similar resolutions.

The Clermont resolution read: 
Whereas several of the residences in the town of Clermont are owned and occupied by second homeowners, and whereas a large portion of the town and school taxes collected from properties in the town of Clermont are paid by other than full time residents ... the town board supports the right of second home owners to choose to vote in the count where they maintain a residence. The town board opposes the attempt to disqualify voters on the basis that their second home is not a residence.

Clermont Supervisor, Democrat Raymond Staats, said in the Register-Star that he was proud of the resolution passing.

“It’s costing a lot of money. It’s tying up the courts, which is a waste of their time. I think they have better things to do,” he said. “It’s based on mostly second homeowners. I think it’s ridiculous. It’s been decided in the Scott Murphy race that second homeowners have the right to choose. They’re challenging on the same basis and I don’t think it’s right.”

Read more: Register-Star

See also: Clermont Democrats

Democrats File Ethics Charge Against County Attorney

Officials of the Columbia County and Taghkanic Democratic Committees and other Democratic candidates and officials have filed an ethics complaint against Robert Fitzsimmons with the Columbia County Board of Ethics.

Fitzsimmons was Deputy County Attorney and is now County Attorney. He is also the Town Attorney for the Town of Taghkanic. 

The complaint alleges that Fitzsimmons, who as Deputy County Attorney represents the Board of Elections in the lawsuit initiated by the Republican County Chair Greg Fingar, violated provisions of the County Ethics Code when, as attorney for the Town of Taghkanic, when he involved himself in the drafting of a resolution criticizing his own client, the Columbia County Board of Elections (BOE). In addition that he has not exercised good professional judgment solely for the benefit of his client (BOE), and that he has been overly influenced by members of the Republican Party which has compromised his loyalty and his judgment to the BOE.

The complaint calls for “a full ethics investigation into the events that let up to this situation and the conduct of Attorney Fitzsimmons. We also request a more broad inquiry into the propriety of county attorneys representing both county agencies and individual towns and villages."

On Tuesday January 5th, Fitzsimmons was appointed Columbia County Attorney over the objections of Hudson Supervisor William Hughes. Before casting his vote, Hughes said that “given the gravity of the accusations against Fitzsimmons,” Daniel Tuczinski should continue in the position of County Attorney “until things are resolved.”

For more info:
The Full Complaint and the Columbia County Ethics Policy
See also: Taghkanic Democrats

Read more: The Columbia Paper and Register-Star