Party dispute spawns lawsuit
Guilderland Democrat who lost seat as county chairman seeks to overturn
By CAROL DeMARE, Staff writer
Hearst Times Union
First published: Friday, October 6, 2006
ALBANY -- The first-ever contest for leader of the Albany County
Democratic Committee in its 80-year history -- which pitted the city
against the suburbs -- is heading to court.
Guilderland Democratic Chairman David Bosworth, who lost the chairmanship
last week, filed a lawsuit Thursday in state Supreme Court seeking
to have the election of Frank Commisso, a city ward leader and majority
leader of the County Legislature, invalidated on grounds the vote
violated state election law.
Bosworth and members of his slate asked the court to order a new
election under the supervision of a court-appointed referee.
The Sept. 27 balloting failed to use a weighted vote as required
by state election law, according to the lawsuit, which had to be
filed within 10 days of the vote.
The challengers, however, are not asking that Commisso's election
to a two-year term be put on hold while the case is resolved -- which
could take months, if not a year or more. Therefore, Commisso will
continue to lead the 684-member party organization.
"It would appear to be a grab for power rather than accepting
their loss and joining with myself and others to build a stronger
united Democratic Party," said Commisso, 60, the 15th Ward leader
and a party loyalist. "They appear to have opted for the sour
grapes approach by litigation."
At an organization meeting at the Albany Polish Community Center,
Commisso beat the 58-year-old Bosworth by a "rising vote" of
253-216 during which those favoring the Commisso slate stood and
were counted and those favoring the Bosworth slate did the same.
It was done that way after a request for a roll-call vote was rejected
by nine votes, and that's the crux of the lawsuit. The legal papers
refer to a section of the Election Law requiring a weighted -- or
proportional -- vote.
Also, because there was no roll-call vote, proxies went uncounted.
Each committee member is allowed to carry one proxy to the meeting.
Filing the lawsuit on behalf of Bosworth and several petitioners
were attorneys L. Michael Mackey, the Democratic vice chairman of
the town of New Scotland, and Matthew J. Clyne, longtime Bethlehem
According to state law, "a vote of the members is how the membership
elects its officers, and that vote has to be proportional ... there's
a formula, and it is a weighted vote," Mackey said Thursday.
Supreme Court Justice William E. McCarthy, a Republican and formerly
on Gov. George Pataki's counsel's staff, signed a show-cause order
Thursday, setting arguments for Nov. 9 when Commisso and his supporters
must show why the election should not be thrown out and a new one
Also, the lawsuit asks the court to invalidate any provisions of
the Albany County Democratic Committee rules that are "inconsistent
with the requirements of the election law," Mackey said.
"We're asking for a court-appointed referee to oversee (a new)
meeting and make sure that it's done correctly this time," he
said. "We don't want to have to do this a third time."
Commisso took issue with the challenge of party rules. "They
are the same rules that these individuals voted on ... so what's
the problem today? Do they want the rules changed? Then amend the
Mackey expressed confidence the lawsuit would succeed because "this
section of Election Law has been litigated before and the Court of
Appeals has found it's constitutional and county party rules cannot
deviate from it."
Commisso's allies pointed to a 2001 decision by the Appellate Division,
First Department, in New York City, which found in a similar ruling
that the Suffolk County Conservative Party did not violate election
law by not holding a roll-call vote and instead relying on party
rules in the election of officers.
Dick Barrett, a 35-year committee member who lives in Colonie, was
angered by the vote last week. He and others believed it was rigged,
contending if it were weighted and the proxies counted, Bosworth
would have won.
"I couldn't be more pleased," he said of the lawsuit. "We
need an honest and fair election to bring the party together, and
it's got to be based on weighted voting, one person, one vote. I
think the election of Frank Commisso is illegal, illegitimate and
will be nullified by the courts. I would hope that a court-appointed
referee would conduct a fair election based on our Constitution and
the 14th Amendment."
Phillip G. Steck, Colonie Democratic chairman and one of those bringing
the suit, said, "It's a very simple issue. Why should Democrats
who are enrolled as Democrats in the town of Colonie have any less
say as to who is running the Albany County Democratic Committee than
any other municipality? That is the issue, and that's why the (state)
Legislature established the proportional vote."
"To assure that each committee person's vote is proportional
to the amount of voters he or she represents, the Legislature mandated
weighted voting in a county political committee," the lawsuit
The meeting was conducted by Betty Barnette, outgoing chairmwoman
who held the post for four years and did not seek re-election.
"To file a lawsuit because things did not go their way, that's
very disappointing," Barnette said. "That meeting was conducted
within the parameters of the rules, and I feel that it is unfortunate
that the vote did not turn out the way they would have liked to have
seen it, and therefore they are taking it to court."
"Whenever someone from the floor asks for a slow roll-call
vote in accordance with our rules, you have to have a one-third majority
of the county membership (to agree to the roll call) and that number
that they needed to achieve that was not there. It could not have
been done any more openly, and it could not have been done any more
in the light of day."
Commisso said, "They didn't challenge (the vote that night).
That was the time to really object if they thought something was
wrong. Betty followed those rules to a T. We knew this thing was
going to be close. I worked against an army. They had an army."
DeMare can be reached at 454-5431 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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