It's a race as Democrats reject a judgeship deal

Convention says no to cross-endorsement as Troy's McGrath wins his party's backing

CAROL DeMARE Staff Writer
Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Saturday, September 20, 2008

ALBANY - With the candidates watching, and in a departure from the norm, delegates at the Democratic Judicial Convention on Friday nominated Rensselaer County Judge Patrick McGrath for Supreme Court in a 41-39 squeaker.


McGrath, a 55-year-old Troy Democrat, edged out Appellate Division Associate Justice Anthony Carpinello, a Republican seeking re-election to the 14-year term in the 3rd Judicial District. The action sets the stage for a rare partisan judgeship race in November.


Carpinello, 60, of East Greenbush had banked on what many believed was a cross-endorsement deal brokered last year among political bosses in the district's seven counties.


Had he received the Democratic nomination, his name would have appeared on both major party lines in November for the seat. The office pays $136,700 annually.


Supreme Court races involve multiple counties, so Democratic and Republican leaders seek cross-endorsements to avoid costly campaigns and ensure equal representation on the bench.


But Jack McNulty of Green Island, the Democrats' elder statesman, and Tom Wade, Rensselaer County Democratic leader, argued that as Democrats the delegates had an obligation to back one of their own.


After the vote, delegates, at the urging of Doug McGivney of Columbia County, made it unanimous for McGrath by acclamation.


McGrath, who has been on the county court bench for 15 years, thanked the delegates, saying his nomination came on his 27th wedding anniversary.


He called the process "healthy," and pledged an "active, never-let-up campaign."


Later in the day, Carpinello said, it was "critically important in this campaign" that "I am the only judge in the race to have been found qualified" by the taxpayer-funded New York State Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commission, a 15-member body of lawyers and non-lawyers from throughout the seven counties.


Never in recent history have the candidates been present in the convention room - Democrats meet in the Albany County Legislature chambers on the second floor of the County Courthouse, a room also used for grand jury.


This year, McGrath and Carpinello worked the room as delegates gathered, and at times they were within a few feet of each other.


Their presence created a buzz among delegates who quickly noticed how unusual it was.


Charles Diamond, convention chairman for the last 15 years, said convention secretary, attorney William Conboy, noted that it was a public meeting and candidates can't be barred. In past years, candidates waited elsewhere in the courthouse - believing it bad form to show up until after the voting was over.


From the moment convener Frank Commisso of Albany called the gathering to order, tension mounted among the 80 delegates representing Assembly districts in the seven counties - Albany, Rensselaer, Ulster, Columbia, Greene, Schoharie and Sullivan.


Delegates supporting Carpinello were allowed to substitute individuals in cases where there weren't enough alternates.


"In the 20 years since I've been coming to these conventions, I've never seen substitutions," Wade said. Other McGrath supporters opposed the substitutions.


Eli Basch of Kingston, Ulster County, placed Carpinello's name in nomination, saying, he's been a Democrat his whole life and is "as blue as blue can be," yet, "I'm going to be nominating a Republican, George Carpinello."


Carpinello was elected in 1994, and two years later was appointed to the Appellate Division, Third Department. He must run for his Supreme Court seat to retain the appointment.


From the time he took the bench in the trial court, Carpinello presided primarily in Ulster County, where Basch came to know him. As Carpinello listened from the back of the room, Basch attested to the judge's courteousness, fairness, honesty, integrity and friendliness.


Carpinello should be returned, Basch said. Of McGrath, he said, "When his time comes, I'll be his number-one supporter."


Matthew Clyne, chairman of the Bethlehem Democratic Party and an Albany County elections commissioner, seconded the Carpinello nomination. Also voting for Carpinello was Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings.


"We're here today as delegates and alternates of the Democratic Party to nominate a candidate for the office of state Supreme Court, and that's what we're supposed to do - nominate a Democrat," McNulty said.


"You can talk all you want about cross-endorsements," but he urged delegates to back the Democrat "win, lose or draw."


Last year, Republican delegates cross-endorsed Democratic incumbents - Justices Joseph Teresi of Albany County, George Ceresia of Rensselaer County and Christopher Cahill of Ulster County.


Wade contended there was "never a deal to cross-endorse Tony Carpinello this year. The bottom line is the Republicans didn't have candidates to run against them last year and that's why the cross-endorsement."


Carpinello took issue. "I am extremely honored by those Democrats who supported me recognizing what happened last year," he said. "I take strong exception to Wade's characterization of what happened." There were Republicans interested in a nomination last year, he said.


Carol DeMare can be reached at 454-5431 or by e-mail at cdemare@timesunion.com.