TONKO SURVIVES INDEPENDENCE LINE CHALLENGE

JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST
Section: Capital Region,  Page: D3

Date: Friday, June 8, 2012

Congressman Paul Tonko's bid for the Independence Party line has survived a legal fight by Republican challenger Bob Dieterich.


Tonko, an Amsterdam Democrat running for re-election this fall in what's now the 20th Congressional District, has the backing of the state Independence Party, but Dieterich's campaign moved to block the two-term congressman from securing the third party's ballot line this fall by alleging Tonko's surrogates improperly collected the 871 signatures needed to land him there.


The seeds of this dispute first surfaced in Insider back in April, when we reported that Albany Councilman Anton Konev led the charge to block appointment of Tonko campaign volunteers as commissioners of deeds, which would have allowed them to collect Independence Party signatures even though they were not themselves members of the party.


Konev objected to their appointments, he said, because their home and work addresses were improperly listed on the applications -- something the Tonko campaign attributed to an oversight prompted by this year's accelerated primary schedule.


That some of the commissioners of deeds were appointed improperly and acted outside their jurisdiction was part of Dieterich campaign attorney James Walsh's argument.


Walsh also argued that Tonko's surrogates improperly administered required oaths of the voters signing the petitions.


But state Supreme Court Justice Barry Kramer -- a fellow Democrat, for what it's worth -- last week ruled in favor of Tonko and his attorney, Kathleen O'Keefe, finding no evidence of fraud and, in fact, restoring six of the 49 signatures that had previously been invalidated by the state Board of Election.


Tonko's staffers say they are confident more of the signatures could have been restored but said the point became moot once it was clear he would have well above the number he needed to remain on the ballot line, which Dieterich had also sought.


And in a heartwarming coda to this tale of truly inside politics, we're sure readers will be happy to learn that at least some of the hard feelings that welled up between Konev and Tonko's camp over the commissioners of deeds contretemps have apparently softened.


Konev, a Democrat who insisted from the beginning that his objections were procedural and not personal, publicly and effusively thanked Tonko on Facebook last month for assisting with his wife's immigration case.


Konev even specifically thanked Sean Shortell, Tonko's district director, whom he had accused of threatening him after blocking the appointments. (Tonko's camp denied any threats were made.)


"Seriously good constituent services -- prompt and complete!" Konev wrote. "Sean Shortell, thank you for all you do for the Congressman, although we don't always agree on substance or style!"


It was not immediately clear whether Dieterich, a First National Bank of Scotia senior vice president from Glenville, would appeal. The new 20th Congressional District covers all or parts of Fulton, Schenectady, Saratoga, Albany and Rensselaer counties.


Candidacy taking shape


Some pieces are falling into place for the state Senate candidacy of Cecilia Tkaczyk, a former staffer in that chamber and president of the Duanesburg School Board.


She is one of three people seeking the Democratic nomination in the state's newly minted 46th Senate District, which runs from Amsterdam to Kingston, cleaving Albany County in half. Republicans, who carved out the seat during redistricting this year, are backing Assemblyman George Amedore, a Rotterdam Republican.


Tkaczyk was endorsed by the Ulster County Democratic Committee last week and on Friday met with top officials of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee at its Albany headquarters. The meeting went "very well," a source familiar with it said. DSCC is officially neutral in primaries, but of course, it seeks to avoid primaries wherever possible.


That's especially the case in this district, which has no incumbent and gives Democrats a slight edge by enrollment.


The other candidates are Monica Arias Miranda, president of the Hispanic Coalition of New York, and Coeymans Town Board member and Democratic Chairman Thomas Dolan, who has the backing of Albany County Democrats.


These committee endorsements are important but not a legal hurdle to anyone's election: All candidates who gather the valid signatures of at least 1,000 enrolled Democrats get on the September primary ballot.


Inside Politics is compiled by Jordan Carleo-Evangelist. Jimmy Vielkind contributed. Reach the Insider via email at jcarleo-evangelist@timesunion.com, 454-5445 or on Twitter @JCEvangelist_TU