August 16, 2013

The Independence Party trap

Local politicians have long gone astray chasing the Independence Party endorsement. But in a town as small as Bedford, where elections can frequently be settled by two-digit margins, the 500 or so Independence Party voters can swing an election one way or another.

In July, the Independence Party endorsed Bedford’s Democratic candidates. Last week, Bedford town board candidate Mary Beth Kass, a registered Independence Party member who is also running on the Republican Party line, lost her bid to run in the Independence Party primary. Her application to run on the Independence Party line was challenged by her Democratic opponent, Meredith Black, who said that Ms. Kass had missed a deadline to file for the Independence Party primary. Judge J. Emmett Murphy agreed. A motion by Ms. Kass to reargue the case was also denied by Judge Murphy.

Other town Republicans, including supervisor candidate Don Scott and clerk candidate Lisbeth “Boo” Fumagalli, have petitioned successfully to have their names accepted as write-ins on the Independence Party primary ballot. Because he is a judge and the rules are different for judges, candidate Erik Jacobsen will automatically be included on the Independence Party line.

Ms. Kass won’t have that chance. Despite her intent to join the party, she is the only candidate on the Democratic or Republican side who will not have an opportunity to appear on their ballot.

In almost every local election for the last several years, Independence Party politics have dominated primary season and the election in Bedford.

Few will forget the bitter legal wrangling over the Independence Party line in the David Menken/Erik Jacobsen election for town justice in 2010. The primaries between Mr. Menken and Mr. Jacobsen on the Conservative and Independence lines weren’t officially decided until weeks after the polls closed on Sept. 15.

In the race for county legislature in 2011, County Legislator Peter Harckham won a victory in court in his bid for re-election to the Westchester County Legislature when Judge Gregory LaCava ruled in favor of Mr. Harckham’s challenge to signatures on petitions by Peter Michaelis. Mr. Michaelis, like candidates in this year’s election, was seeking to run for the 2nd District legislative seat on the Independence Party line.

Ms. Kass is the latest politician to get mired in this quicksand. When the Independence Party surprised even members of Bedford’s Democratic Party and endorsed its slate, Ms. Kass probably still believed she would be able to run in the Independence Party primary. But the court said otherwise.

Yet another Independence Party kerfluffle is brewing, as the party challenges the enrollment of a number of Republicans said to be aligned with Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino. That too will ultimately be decided in the courts.

Is the Independence Party line really that vital in local elections? By the level of fervor with which it is pursued, the answer is “you betcha.”

After endorsing Bedford’s Dems, Independence Party leader Dr. Luigi Cavallo said his party usually endorses a mix of Republicans and Democrats for Bedford’s local elections. According to their stated principles, they hope to “foster a non-ideological ‘big tent’ party of ideas which serves as a think tank for the solutions to the problems we face.” The party first rose to prominence back in 1992 with their support of presidential candidate H. Ross Perot.

To understand the significance of the Independence Party nod, look at the voting enrollment. In 2012, according to the New York State Board of Elections, Bedford had 3,976 registered Democrats, 3,413 registered Republicans, 2,443 nonaffiliated voters, eight Working Family party members, 18 Green Party members, eight Libertarian Party members, and 84 Conservative Party members.

The difference between the number of Democrat and Republican voters is 563, about 100 more than the number of Independence Party voters. Their votes can swing an election, especially in a town where a tight race is sometimes decided by the number of fingers on two hands.

Funny nobody makes such a fuss about the Working Families endorsement.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

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