TICKET FLAP A FACTOR IN LOSS

Defeat in Democratic primary could end 18-year tenure of Albany city treasurer

JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST STAFF WRITER
Section: Capital Region,  Page: D1

Date: Friday, September 18, 2009

ALBANY -- Unless she opts to wage an uphill battle on the Conservative Party line, city Treasurer Betty Barnette has lost the Eagle Street office she's held for 18 years -- the most high-profile casualty of a controversy over the city's handling of parking tickets that simmered all spring and summer.


Barnette -- a close ally of Mayor Jerry Jennings who was first appointed to the treasurer's post by former Mayor Thomas M. Whalen III in 1991 -- was routed by former corporate attorney and political newcomer Kathy Sheehan in Tuesday's Democratic primary.


Sheehan, who assailed Barnette's oversight of her office, garnered nearly 63 percent of the Democratic vote, according to unofficial tallies -- a victory notable not just for its margin but because it came against the former leader of the Albany County Democratic Committee.


In addition to being the first woman elected to a citywide office, Barnette was the first woman to lead Albany's dominant political organization.


"I am proud of the service that I've given to the people in the city of Albany," Barnette told the Times Union, thanking voters for returning her to office in 1993, 1997, 2001 and 2005.


"It's over, the people have decided," Barnette said, "and I will always respect the voters because I have already accomplished more in my lifetime ... that could not have been accomplished without the voters demonstrating faith in my ability."


Asked whether she would try to stay in the race, Barnette replied that she "respected" the voters but would not say definitively, adding that her reply is "about as definitive as it's going to get."


Ultimately, the so-called "ghost ticket" scandal proved too much for the 59-year-old Democrat to weather, even though she said she believes she was scapegoated and never got a fair opportunity from the Times Union to defend herself.


The controversy surrounded two systems of exempting select people from parking fines in the city, which were revealed by the Times Union and prompted a Common Council investigation and an audit by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.


Both systems allowed parking enforcement officers to write tickets that carried no fines.


Under oath before council members in March, Barnette was adamant that she did not even know it was possible for a no-fine ticket to be written.


The Times Union later revealed at least seven of the warning tickets had been written to Barnette's city-issued Jeep, a fact the state comptroller's report confirmed.


Barnette, however, said she was vindicated by a section of the report that found it was plausible that City Hall did not know about one of the ticket systems -- decals handed out by the Albany Police Officers Union to serve as a coded message to parking enforcement officers to issue a no-fine ticket.


The state audit also highlighted gaps in oversight in the police department and treasurer's office that made it impossible to say with certainty how much revenue the city may have lost.


Barnette maintains she never received any no-fine tickets and criticized the newspaper's coverage of the investigation as clearly biased against her. From the beginning, she labeled the council's probe as politically motivated -- noting that some of the lawmakers behind it were allied with Sheehan.


Barnette said she has no doubt the no-fine ticket issue -- particularly how it was covered on the Times Union's editorial pages -- contributed to her defeat.


"I think it was huge, and I think the Times Union playing it as much as they did -- and I think it was not by accident that it was done the way it was done -- it was a very well-executed campaign to undermine my integrity and to try to put a doubt in the voters' minds," Barnette said. "I never was given that same barrel of ink to exonerate me."


Mary Ann McGinn is the Republican candidate in the Nov. 3 general election.


Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at jcarleo-evangelist@timesunion.com.


PULLOUT:


Asked whether she would try to stay in the race, Barnette replied that she "respected" the voters but would not say definitively, adding that her reply is "about as definitive as it's going to get."