Town Board candidates file, but are they running?
Democrats and Working Families Party officials say they believe two “ghost candidates” are running for the Fishkill Town Board in a scheme to aid Republicans seeking election to the five-member panel.
If true, it would be another example of a ploy that’s gained steam this year in which right-leaning candidates, after changing party affiliation, vie for office on the progressive Working Families Party (WFP) line to siphon votes from Democrats. In addition to Dutchess, similar scenarios have played out in Rockland, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties.
Sandy Oxford, the secretary of the New York State WFP, says the party has “seen a flurry” of candidates seeking “to dilute the vote and confuse voters” since New York State cut the Green, Libertarian and Independence parties from ballots when they failed to receive 130,000 votes, or 2 percent of those cast, in the most recent presidential election. That left just the Republican, Conservative, Democratic and Working Families lines. “It’s not an original move,” she said.
The Fishkill candidates, Justin Golon and Robert Brian Reynolds Jr., are running for Town Board seats held by Democrats Jacqueline Bardini and Kenya Gadsden, who are both seeking reelection. John Forman, a former Dutchess County legislator, and Carmine Istvan will appear on the Republican and Conservative lines on the Nov. 2 ballot.
(A third seat on the board was vacated by Ori Brachfeld earlier this year. Joseph Buono, a Democrat who was appointed to replace Brachfeld, is running to keep the seat against Brian Wrye, who appears on the Republican and Conservative lines. No candidate will appear on the WFP line for that seat.)
Golon and Reynolds earned their spots on the ballot by defeating Bardini and Gadsden in a Working Families Party primary in June.
According to Dutchess County records, Golon and Reynolds were among the 97 county voters (14 of them in Fishkill) who changed their affiliation to the Working Families Party between Jan. 1, 2020, and Feb. 14, 2021 — the deadline for doing so before the primary. Reynolds had previously been a Republican and Golon was unaffiliated.
The switch allowed them to collect the nominating signatures necessary (seven each) to force a WFP primary against Bardini and Gadsden. Golon and Reynolds prevailed, winning 23 and 22 votes to Gadsden’s 10 and Bardini’s 8.
The result is that two candidates, perhaps with questionable allegiance to the Working Families Party, will appear on the ballot, where they could conceivably “split the vote” by luring progressive voters away from Bardini and Gadsden, who are endorsed by the WFP.
“Everything [Golon and Reynolds] did was legal, but it was not the will of the Working Families Party,” Oxford said, noting that neither came for an endorsement interview or completed party questionnaires. “We’re very clear with who we vet and who we endorse. We don’t even know who the heck these people are.”
While the WFP may not be familiar with Golon and Reynolds, there’s evidence that local Republicans are.
The Golon and Reynolds nominating petitions were notarized by Andrew Forman, John Forman’s brother. Both candidates 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.)
According to his LinkedIn profile, Golon has also worked at Eastern View Landscape Management, a Wappingers Falls lawn and yard work firm, as a project director since 2009. The company’s CEO? Carmine Istvan.
Istvan and Forman did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did Golon. Reynolds did not list any contact information on his petition.
Greg Totino, the chair of the Fishkill Democratic Committee, says Golon and Reynolds are “placeholder,” rather than legitimate, candidates.
“It’s highly frustrating because our Democratic candidates are trying to run on a level playing field, abiding by the letter and the spirit of the laws that govern elections,” he said, calling the shift to the WFP “premeditated. What our local Republicans did is exactly what you do when your intention is to subvert the principles of democracy.”
The residents who run a Facebook page called Keep Fishkill Beautiful have been sending questions about local issues to Town Board candidates over the last two months. Eileen McManus, one of the volunteers running the page, said they’ve been unable to locate Golon or Reynolds. Neither has any significant presence online, either personal or related to the election.
In addition, Republican candidates who had agreed to answer questions that would be posted on the page stopped responding after Keep Fishkill Beautiful asked if they have any connection to the WFP candidates. “All of the sudden, they’ve gotten very quiet,” McManus said.
Oxford, the Working Families secretary, said the party has pushed for reforms to New York State’s “antiquated” election laws.
For instance, candidates for New York’s Supreme Court are chosen indirectly through delegates. Voters elect party convention delegates in the primary election, and those delegates choose the Supreme Court candidates that will appear on the November ballot.
But other judges and non-judicial candidates are chosen through partisan primaries, which a candidate can force — in some cases, such as Fishkill — by collecting only a handful of signatures.
Oxford calls the delegate system a “much more orderly way” of earning a party’s endorsement.
“It’s not easy getting consensus on these panels for endorsements,” she said. “There should be some respect for that, and there isn’t.”
Another issue is that the WFP in New York state does not have county committees, as Democrats and Republicans do, to challenge and remove a candidate from the party’s line “that is not in sympathy with the values of the political party,” Oxford said.
“This cannot be done summarily; there must be proof or evidence to remove a candidate from a line,” she said. “County committees have expanded power to exercise key party functions, like keeping recently enrolled imposters from stealing our line.”