With one week to go until the primary vote, candidates for the Democratic nomination for Saugerties town justice are accusing one another of claiming endorsements that weren’t granted.
Incumbent Saugerties town justice Claudia Andreassen wrote in a social-media announcement and later told reporters that she was endorsed by the Ulster County Democratic Women. In fact, its members never formally voted to do so, and the group never had the power to grant an endorsement in the first place, according to its bylaws.
O’Dell said that he his campaign had been “irreparably harmed” by the misrepresentation.
“The damage [has been] done, the advantage, the weight of that endorsement may have already cost votes where people voted for her on false information,” said O’Dell. “The truth needed to get out to the public. My life and my career is about integrity and ethics, and certainly the job of a town justice should never be in doubt ever. That should just be the beginning of it. The rest should be your competence and compassion, but without ethics and integrity, there’s nothing.”
In political materials sent by Andreassen’s campaign during the campaigning process, the group’s logo is featured alongside the phrase “Claudia has our vote!” While members of the Ulster County Democratic Women maintain that they never issued an endorsement, Andreassen disagrees.
“I was called in February by Otea Lei [sic], a committee member of the Ulster County Democratic Women, to tell me that I had been endorsed by them. The following day, I was sent the committee logo by chairwoman Gladys Figueroa .… This should not be an article shedding doubt on my credibility,” said Andreassen in a pre-written statement addressing the controversy. “I accepted an endorsement in good faith. Ask the endorsing committee what went wrong …. This is about an opponent trying to discredit their adversary, plain and simple.”
The endorsement process varies based on the bylaws of the local committee. For the Ulster County Independence Party, according to chair Len Bernardo, an endorsement is decided by one person, the chair of the party. But, as stated in a press release issued by county Democratic Party chair Frank Cardinale, “It is the policy of the Ulster County Democratic Committee and its subcommittees not to grant endorsements in a primary election.” According to the bylaws of the Ulster County Democratic Women, an endorsement must be determined by a vote of the group’s membership.
In a press release dated June 6, committee secretary Patricia Dittus attested that a vote on the endorsement of Andreassen never took place.
“Claudia Andreassen attended the January 29, 2020 meeting of the Ulster County Democratic Women … [and] did not seek nor obtain the endorsement of the Ulster County Democratic Women,” wrote Dittus. “Judge Andreassen gave a brief speech about her candidacy for town judge, but no motion was made nor voted upon the membership to award her the endorsement of the organization.”
The group can endorse a candidate if there is no primary for the Democratic line, according to Otia Lee, campaign committee chair of the UCDW. The group was unaware that Stan O’Dell would be competing for the Democratic line at the time of their meeting.
“It’s unfortunate that the powers that be took this situation and spun it out control and called Claudia a liar,” said Lee. “She did not lie, she had the support. We did not officially endorse her because we were in the process of calling another meeting to do so, because we were not told there was another candidate. We only heard a rumor that there was a Republican candidate and it turned out to be [Stan O’Dell].”
The assertion is echoed by Gladys Figueroa, the chair of the group.
“When I spoke to Stan [O’Dell within the last week], because he called me to question me about this, he said he didn’t know he could get in touch with the Ulster Women. We didn’t know that there was someone running against her — she’s the incumbent, I didn’t have any reason to think that anyone was running against her …. I sent the logo to her without thinking, without questioning. I take full responsibility for that,” said Figueroa. ”Concentrate on your campaigns and leave it alone.”
Andreassen had never received an official endorsement.
“Why would Gladys and Otia not mention any discrepancies in the clear wording on the mailers which simply state ‘Claudia has our vote’ or any of the other media which states the same thing?” asked Andreassen. “Is my opponent that hung up on wording? Furthermore, one might ask, why would they bother to send me their logo four months ago? Were they looking for my aesthetic opinion?”
In her press release, Andreassen drew attention to a statement on one of O’Dell’s mailers that she felt was misleading: “In the meantime,” read the last line of a widely-distributed mailer, “find me on the Democratic, Working Families, Green, Libertarian, and Independence party lines as the endorsed candidate.” O’Dell is, in fact, only endorsed by the Independence Party.
“That was an interpretation of grammar that, the person who edited that,” said O’Dell of the wording. “I have never once claimed to have anything but the Independence Party …. That was meant to read as, I read it … you can find me on these lines, separated by the ‘and’, the Independence Party line as the endorsed candidate.”
The state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, a panel of eleven members tasked with investigating complaints of judicial misconduct, has disciplined candidates for misleading advertisements in recent history. For example, Oneida County Family Court candidate Dawn Catera Lupi was publicly admonished by the overseeing group in 2014 for, among other infractions, “convey[ing] the erroneous impression that [she] had been endorsed” by a particular newspaper.” The body can prescribe disciplinary actions ranging from privately warning the judge or judicial candidate to mandating the offender’s removal from office.
Neither candidate needs an endorsement from any party to run on a particular line of the June 23 ballot. In other races for other positions, candidates who want to be listed on a party line with which they are not registered as a member must get the endorsement of that political party and signatures from a certain percentage of the party members in that district. However, in judicial races, only the signatures are required — endorsements are not required and only carry clout.
According to Democratic commissioner of elections Ashley Dittus, any voter who would like to rescind their vote cast during the early voting period, or via absentee ballot, can invalidate the previous vote by voting again at the polls on June 23.