Democrats in Lloyd approved an uncontested slate of candidates for town office during a caucus held July 13. While the event featured no voting or other evidence of political theater which can be the hallmark of this political process, its organizers opted for a process that sidelined not only non-party members, but other local candidates and members of the press, as well.
Fred Pizzuto, a Town of Lloyd Planning Board member who served on the town council in the 1970s and ‘80s before moving to Dutchess County for 15 or more years, will headline the ticket by challenging Paul Hansut for the job of town supervisor. He will be joined by Rosaria Peplow, Terry Elia and Richard Klotz who seek new terms as town clerk, justice and highway superintendent, respectively, as well as Scott McCarthy and Claire Winslow vying to unseat Jeffrey Paladino and Kevin Brennie from the town council. Winslow ran against Hansut in 2015, losing by just 31 votes.
Caucuses are a common method for selecting party candidates, because they are funded through the parties and less expensive to administer than primary elections. There are challenges to expecting local party members to show up for an evening event, such as if and how to provide child care; there’s also no absentee voting in caucuses, thus anyone who can’t show up is disenfranchised. An issue that’s more common is how to handle curious onlookers who aren’t registered with the party, and therefore aren’t allowed to vote.
A number of strategies to defend the integrity of caucus votes have been tried around the county. Democrats in New Paltz, for example, seat non-members in the back row of the high school auditorium where they meet, and hand out ballots to party members as they arrive. Conservatives in Rochester allow non-members access unless and until voting occurs, then they are asked to leave town hall for the duration, after which the slate is announced. In those cases, members of the press are ensured means to follow the action: the auditorium in New Paltz High School has a sound system, for example.
This year’s Lloyd Democratic caucus featured a markedly different approach than the aforementioned New Paltz and Rochester events, and the change from the same committee’s 2015 caucus was stark. Two years ago, attendees were provided with bottles of water and home-baked cupcakes as they sat through a litany of nomination speeches; no refreshment was offered this time around. The previous caucus coverage included remarks from each nominator because this reporter was seated in the front row, but that was not the case this time around. Instead, volunteers checking in party members directed all others to a cluster of chairs set up at the far back of the gymnasium, some 50 to 100 feet from the lectern. With multiple fans running to keep the space cool, only the rarest of snippets could be heard from that distant corner, despite specific assurances by Lloyd Democrat chairman Bob Haskins that they would be audible.
Additionally, the restrictive policy wasn’t consistently enforced. Terry Elia, who is running unchallenged for another term as town justice, is a registered Republican, yet he was seated among those who could have voted, if anyone had been nominated to run against him.
Democrats also failed to include a common courtesy, allowing other local candidates to speak to those in attendance. County legislature races do use the primary system, and in 2015 the candidates for districts 9 and 10, each of which includes a portion of the town, made remarks and asked for support. This year, that opportunity was not offered, despite at least one of the candidates — Pamela Krimsky, running for the seat in district 9 currently held by Herbert Litts III — was present and expecting to speak.
Despite organizational bumps that bulldozed over the First Amendment, party members again showed a sense of unity by having exactly as many candidates as there are town positions, meaning that no potentially contentious votes were needed at all.