September 15, 2007


Infighting ushers in Democratic primary

Incumbents defend seats as party endorses challengers in 2nd, 4th wards.


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Neighbors on Lincoln Avenue have differing views on who should be their next Common Council representative. The primary will be held Tuesday

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — On Tuesday, tensions between two sitting aldermen and some members of the Democratic Committee will see at least partial resolution.
Aldermen Shannon Terwilliger (D-2nd Ward) and Nick DeCarlo (D-4th Ward) face off against Clay Benedict and Brian Tobin, respectively, in a Democratic primary that has left the incumbents feeling abandoned after their party endorsed the challengers.
Terwilliger and DeCarlo, the only incumbents in the county facing primary challengers, announced their candidacy jointly after a Common Council meeting on March 20 — anticipating the contests with Benedict, who sent out a press release announcing his bid for the Ward 2 seat a week later, as well as Tobin.
On June 14, the Democratic Committee met to endorse its slate of candidates for this year’s elections. Committee secretary Sean Mack said approximately 40 to 50 people were in attendance and that a quorum was exceeded including both those present and those represented via proxy.
Each committee member’s vote — there are two committee members per district — is weighted based upon half of the number of people in the district, regardless of party affiliation, who voted for the Democratic candidate in the last gubernatorial election.
The 84 members of the Democratic Committee have a combined weighted vote total of 5,875, Mack said, and there were 4,118 weighted votes present at the meeting in the form of proxies and members in attendance. A quorum amounts to a majority of the total number of weighted votes.
According to Mack’s notes from the meeting, Benedict received the Ward 2 endorsement overwhelmingly — 3,942 votes for Benedict versus Terwilliger’s 199 votes. The Ward 4 endorsement tally was closer, with Tobin receiving 2,425 votes against DeCarlo’s 1,731 votes. Some committee members abstained from certain votes, Mack said.
Although Mack was unable to provide the exact number of committee members at the meeting, both he and Democratic Committee member Michelle Farron said it is not unusual for many of the votes to be cast via proxy.
Tom Terwilliger, Shannon Terwilliger’s husband and a member of the city Planning Commission, had asked Farron in advance of the meeting to attend personally and cast her own vote. Farron said she would not have it any other way, and endorsed, in person, Benedict and DeCarlo.
Terwilliger and others have alleged that many of the endorsements for Benedict had been proxy votes and that it did not adequately represent the wishes of the party; Farron said that of those present, those endorsing Benedict amounted to “quite a landslide.”
Tobin announced his candidacy publicly within the next few days, but Democratic Committee Chairman and county Election Commissioner Bill Wood would not confirm the endorsements for a June 20 Cortland Standard article.
Mayor Tom Gallagher, a Democrat, did not receive the party’s endorsement either although he is running unopposed for his third term. In May, he sent a letter to Wood and members of the Common Council — including Democratic Committee members DeCarlo, Terwilliger and Susan Feiszli (D-6th Ward) — announcing his candidacy and indicating he was interested in the party’s nomination.
“I think it’s very unfortunate that they’ve taken the position of not supporting an incumbent mayor, and at this point, I don’t understand why the party would not endorse two sitting council people,” Gallagher said.
Mack said that during the committee meeting, the committee likely “fully intended” to endorse Gallagher, but if no one was on hand to make the mayor’s case, it’s entirely possible that the endorsement, although important, “slipped through the cracks.”
“It’s kind of a flowing program,” Mack said. “The bottom line is, don’t take anything for granted.”
Since the endorsements, Terwilliger and DeCarlo have alleged that Wood and other high-ranking party officials orchestrated the primary challenges.
In an interview Friday morning, Tobin said he had approached the Democratic Party with his intention to run for a city office.
In a letter to the editor published in Thursday’s Cortland Standard, Benedict said “I am not running for office because anyone in any position in the party wants me to.”
Although he indicated a willingness to speak to a reporter earlier this week, Benedict has since declined to be interviewed.
His dissatisfaction with the Cortland Standard stems from controversy surrounding independent nominating petitions filed by Terwilliger and DeCarlo near the end of August.
Both incumbents filed petitions as members of the Crown Citizens Party (which they created) on Aug. 21, the deadline for filing. The independent nominating petitions would have allowed Terwilliger and DeCarlo to appear on the ballot no matter what the outcome of the primary.
But those challenges were rendered null and void after Wood researched state Election Law and found a section that requires candidates to accept the nomination of a party other than the party that they are registered as a member of.
Although the two aldermen had submitted a coversheet indicating their creation and acceptance of the Crown Citizens Party nomination, Wood said the law requires the candidates to fill out an official form, which they had not.
In his 10 years in the Board of Elections office, Republican Election Commissioner Bob Howe said he has never seen that point brought up.
Howe said Wood researched the law and found the provision after the five-day period for filing an official nomination acceptance form had passed. The form was due Aug. 24.
The candidates were informed about the final fate of their petitions on Sept. 5 at a hearing scheduled to review challenges filed against the petitions the week before.
Citing technical problems with the petitions, one resident of each ward filed the challenge to the respective petitions.
But 2nd Ward resident Ann Doyle later said Wood had presented her with a challenge with her name already on it, and misrepresented what the challenge meant — when she signed it, Doyle said she believed that it was a challenge to Terwilliger’s Democratic nominating petition.
Doyle claimed she would not have submitted the challenge if she had known it would potentially prohibit Terwilliger from appearing on the ballot in November’s election, should the incumbent lose the primary.
Wood said before Doyle’s admission that he had not seen the objection to Terwilliger’s petition, and held firm afterward.
Terwilliger said Wood had been actively seeking a reason to throw out the petitions she and DeCarlo submitted because the challengers had not filed independent nominating petitions of their own, leaving Benedict and Tobin off the ballot should they lose the primary.
Terwilliger said she had heard that independent nominating petitions for Benedict were being circulated.
Benedict has firmly stated that he neither circulated nor gave anyone permission to circulate an independent nominating petition on his behalf.
An Aug. 30 article in the Cortland Standard quoted an elections office employee as confirming that Democratic Committee member and former mayor Mary Leonard brought an independent party petition from the 2nd Ward to the office Aug. 21, two days after the deadline for filing such petitions.
That employee, Democratic elections clerk Sandra Harrington, has since clarified her remarks, saying she was not sure who the petition was for or what ward it came from. She said Wood was present in the office at the time and spoke with Leonard about the petition.
Wood would not clarify what petition or petitions had been brought in that day, nor would he confirm that such petitions ever existed.
Harrington said she is certain that Leonard brought in at least one independent petition, but that the petition was not filed because of the missed deadline.
On Friday, Leonard emphatically denied that she had attempted to file an independent nominating petition for Benedict, and was not clear on whether she had attempted to file anything that day after the deadline.
“I didn’t try to file anything,” Leonard said, and later added, “It’s none of your business.”



Incumbent refutes challenger mailing

Staff Reporter

The Democratic 2nd Ward incumbent facing a primary has taken issue with a mailing sent by her challenger the week before the primary.
Incumbent Shannon Terwilliger (D-2nd Ward) is running for her third two-year term against primary challenger Clay Benedict.
The winner of Tuesday’s primary will appear on November’s ballot as a Democrat.
Terwilliger objected to a mailing sent by Benedict over the second half of the week. The blue card lists a variety of issues, with one column under Benedict’s name indicating his support of an issue and a column under Terwilliger’s indicating her lack of support.
Benedict, who declined to be interviewed for this article, says on the card that he circulated petitions supporting a study to stop the flooding; Terwilliger pointed out that she voted to allocate the $10,000 for half of the study, which would be split with the county.
Benedict says that he worked to elect Oneida County Democrat Mike Arcuri to Congress; Terwilliger said she also carried petitions and worked on Arcuri’s campaign and that Benedict should have remembered that fact.
Benedict says that he worked to prevent the former home of industrialist George Brockway on West Court Street from being converted into a multi-family apartment complex and that he “fights for enforceable codes and stronger enforcement.”
Terwilliger said that she does not think “anyone wants a multi-family apartment complex behind the Brockway House, but it’s in the hands of the Planning Commission.”
Benedict promises, in the mailing, to support the winner of the Democratic primary.
Terwilliger said she would pursue a write-in candidacy if she does not win the primary because she believes “it’s important to hear from all of the voters.”
Terwilliger and her husband, city Planning Commission member Tom Terwilliger, are the owners of The Local Bookstore, Mando Books on Main Street in Cortland and in Vestal, as well as the Red Jug Pub on Central Avenue. They have two children and live on Grace Street.
Benedict is a retired Homer Elementary School teacher. He and his wife, Gail, live on Homer Avenue. They also have two children.



Student housing is key 4th Ward issue

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Mirroring concerns throughout the city, the 4th Ward Democrats facing off in Tuesday’s primary election identified student housing as one of the issues that has been and would continue to dominate the political landscape.
Brian Tobin, a relative newcomer who believes his ties to SUNY Cortland will facilitate productive discussions on the issue, has challenged incumbent Alderman Nick DeCarlo, who wants to finish some of the projects that he has worked on over the course of his first two-year term on the Common Council.
Tobin is the head swimming and diving coach at SUNY Cortland. He is single and lives on Pearl Street.
DeCarlo, who lives on Park Street, is also single and has two daughters. He works in sales for Brown’s Feed in Frankfort.
DeCarlo proposed a rental permit program in May that would allow the city to regularly inspect rental properties that wish to voluntarily participate in the program. Although this would help the city get a handle on what kind of rental housing stock is out there, DeCarlo pointed out Friday morning that ongoing revisions to the city’s code of ordinances would improve the ability of the code department to enforce its laws.
He said he is confident that recent discussion between the Common Council and landlords would help hammer out a solution.
“The situation of student housing in the residential area is not new,” DeCarlo said. “Student housing is going to continue to be an issue — it’s not a problem, it’s an _issue.”
Tobin said that he also supports a rental permit program, but believes that the although the city should be responsible for inspecting the properties, the college should generate a list of “approved” housing to distribute to those interested in renting.
“The landlords would be encouraged to participate,” Tobin said midday Friday.
Perhaps most importantly, Tobin contends that his direct link with both the college and its students would allow him to bridge any town-gown gap in communications.
“When you sit down and have a discussion between the interested parties, you find out what their needs are,” Tobin said.




Lawsuit topic of special legislative session

Legislature will meet Thursday to plan response to ruling in Moose Lodge lawsuit

Staff Reporter

The Cortland County Legislature will meet at a special session Thursday to discuss how the county will proceed following a judge’s ruling last week that the county breached a contract by backing out of a deal to purchase property on south Main Street.
The meeting will also include discussion of potential sites for the county’s motor vehicles office, which will be presented by the special committee that has been looking at the county’s various space needs.
Judge Phillip Rumsey ruled that the county breached a contract to purchase the Moose Lodge property at 158 Main St. when, after initially voting to purchase the property for $250,000 in December of 2006, it voted to back out of that decision a month later.
Rumsey did not award the Moose Lodge a specific amount of money, but the attorney for the Moose Lodge has said his client would accept the county either going through with the purchase for $250,000, or paying $50,000, the difference between the county’s agreed-upon price and a $200,000 offer the owners received after the county backed out of the deal.
Thursday’s special meeting will include discussion of how the county responds to Rumsey’s decision, Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward) said, and how it intends to handle a similar case being brought forth by other property owners involved in the land deal.
Charles and Michael Wood, owners of Robbins Vending, have sued the county for backing out of its agreement to purchase two parcels at 159 Main St. for $300,000, and are asking for the county to go through with the purchase, or pay $120,000 in damages.
That case has yet to be argued in front of Rumsey.
“No. 1, I think the legislators need to address the issue of Mr. Van Donsel wanting to appeal Judge Rumsey’s decision, and while we’re discussing one, we ought to discuss the other one, because they’re clearly the same issue,” Brown said.
County Attorney Ric Van Donsel sent a memo to legislators after the ruling was handed down recommending that the county appeal Rumsey’s decision.
Van Donsel has declined comment on the matter, saying he wanted to discuss it first with legislators.