Democrats say GOP trying to deceive voters
A candidate running for Beacon City Court judge is facing June primaries to get onto the Democratic and Working Families lines on the fall ballot — despite being endorsed by the local chapters of both parties.
Greg Johnston, a public defender and Democrat, is challenging Timothy Pagones, who is seeking a second 10-year term on the court, which handles misdemeanors, traffic infractions and other small claims. Beacon has one full-time justice who serves for 10 years and one part-time justice who serves for six years. As a Republican, Pagones won six-year terms in 1999 and 2005 and in 2011 he ran unopposed for a 10-year term.
This year, Pagones filed nominating petitions with the county Board of Elections to appear on the Republican, Conservative, Democratic and Working Families lines — the only four that remain after New York State cut the Green, Libertarian and Independence parties from ballots when they failed to receive 130,000 votes, or 2 percent of the votes cast, in the most recent presidential election.
Unlike most elected offices, judges do not have to be registered as a member of a party or get the party’s authorization to file to appear on its line in a primary.
By forcing Democratic and Working Families primaries against Johnston, who filed for both lines as well, Pagones could dispense with the first-time candidate’s challenge before the general election. Pagones dropped his Republican Party registration in 2019 to become an independent.
Pagones says his four nominating petitions reflect that independence. “Not only should a judge be impartial, but a judge should appear impartial, and that is why I am not affiliated with any political party,” he said on Thursday (April 29). “This position should go to the person who is most qualified. That is why I am giving the Democratic and Working Families party the chance to vote and have me represent them in November.”
Another variation on the theme is taking place in Fishkill, where Town Board incumbents Kenya Gadsden and Jacqueline Bardini, both Democrats, are being challenged by John Forman and Carmine Istvan, both Republicans.
Gadsden and Bardini filed nominating petitions to appear on the Democratic and Working Families lines, while Forman and Istvan filed for the Republican and Conservative lines. At the same time, Justin Golon and Robert Reynolds Jr., who, unlike the incumbents, are not endorsed by the Working Families Party, filed petitions to run on that line.
Golon’s and Reynolds’ petitions were notarized by Andrew Forman, the brother of Republican candidate John Forman, who is a former Dutchess County legislator. Both candidates also list Ronald Davis, the chair of the Fishkill Republican Committee, as a contact on their petitions. Davis is running against Yvette Valdes Smith to fill the 16th District seat in the Dutchess Legislature, which includes Ward 4 in Beacon.
What’s the overall strategy? If Golon and Reynolds win the primary and appear on the Working Families line on the November ballot, they could siphon votes from the incumbents, aiding the Republican candidates.
“The Republicans know they can’t win [the general election] on the Republican line,” said Lisa Jessup, the chair of the Beacon Democratic Committee. After running often on the now-removed Independence Party line, Republican candidates “are making a desperate attempt to disqualify candidates who received Working Families endorsements,” she said, calling it “a coordinated attempt to deprive voters of the choice to vote for these legitimate candidates on the Working Families line.”
A lawsuit filed this month on behalf of Republican candidates also asks the Dutchess Board of Elections to disqualify the Working Families petitions filed by Gadsden, Bardini, Valdes Smith and a number of other candidates in the Highlands because the signatures of party officials and notaries were not “wet,” or originals, but submitted digitally.
(Five of the six Democratic candidates for the Beacon City Council, along with Dutchess Legislator Nick Page, who is from Beacon, are named in the suit because they filed petitions for the Working Families line, but the outcome will not affect them because all are running unopposed and will not have primaries.)
Working Families officials have said the petition filings are legal, citing an executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year that allowed for electronic notarization and witnessing of nominating petitions because of the pandemic.
A judge on Wednesday heard arguments for lawsuits that have been filed in at least eight counties around the state, including Putnam, where the plaintiffs include Legislators Joseph Castellano and Ginny Nacerino, both Republicans who are running for re-election. A decision in the cases, which are being consolidated except for a Saratoga County lawsuit that has already been dismissed, may come as early as today (April 30).