Accusations of “faux” candidates surface in contentious races

60th Senate District Candidate Amber Small
60th Senate District candidate Amber Small (Joed Viera)

For a time it appeared that the state Senate’s 60th District would come down to two candidates, a notable development given the recent history of third-party candidates splitting the ticket.

But this year, a third-party candidate is again in the mix in the Western New York seat – and it’s prompting the Democratic candidate to accuse Republicans of foul play.

James DePasquale was disqualified by the Green Party but fought successfully to have his name put back on the ballot for the general election. This month, a state Supreme Court judge ruled that the Green Party procedure used to expel him from the party was flawed.

But Democratic nominee Amber Small has cried foul, claiming DePasquale is running at the will of her GOP rival, Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs.

“The people behind this were very clearly Republican operatives and board members of the Bison Fund founded by Chris Jacobs,” Matt Tighe, a Small spokesman, said in an email. “It is an outrage and a blatant effort to manipulate the electorate in favor of Chris Jacobs.”

Some Republicans did help DePasquale get on the Green Party line. Longtime Republican Senate staffer Todd Aldinger, three employees of Republican state Sen. Richard Funke and two people with ties to the Bison Fund, a charity founded by Jacobs, helped collect signatures from Greens to nominate DePasquale, who registered with the third party early this summer.

Jacobs pleaded ignorance. “I worked hard to get the lines on the ballot that I’ve earned, and I’m pleased to have the support of the Republican, Conservative, Independence and Reform parties in November,” Jacobs told City & State in a statement. “I don’t think I ever had a shot at the Green Party line, so I haven’t paid much attention to the politics happening behind the scenes.”

John Duke, a DePasquale spokesman, said the candidate got on the ticket to spur discussion about pollution in Hoyt Lake, a small but iconic fixture in Buffalo’s Delaware Park. Duke, who has worked as a staffer for both Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature, said the new Green Party leadership has ties to Small, noting that Amanda Huber, a Green Party member who sought to remove DePasquale, was paid $750 in wages by the Small campaign, as noted in her campaign finance reports.

“Jim DePasquale didn’t need to win an election to be successful,” Duke said. “All he wanted to do was bring the focus on Hoyt Lake. He couldn’t even do that because he was in court.”

Of course, fights over minor-party lines are nothing new. In any number of races, petitions are collected for minor-party candidates who don’t spend a dime on their campaign, never schedule an event and never show up to a debate – sometimes referred to as “stalking horses.”

One unnamed Republican put it bluntly: “It’s just part of the game.”

Here are a few examples of candidates who were accused of being “stalking horses.”

1. Timothy Moriarty, Working Families Party. In 2012, Moriarty’s petitions were carried by a who’s who of Niagara County Republicans, including Glenn Aronow, a longtime aide to then-state Sen. George Maziarz, in a WFP primary against Maziarz’s opponent, Amy Hope Witryol. Witryol, who also ran as a Democrat, went to court to prove that Moriarty – who never showed up to an event or returned calls from reporters – was a GOP stooge meant to suck resources from her campaign. Maziarz was represented by John Ciampoli, an ally of then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, an election law expert and Senate Republican loyalist. The merits of the case were never heard as Ciampoli got the case dropped on procedural grounds.

2. Anthony D’Orazio Jr., Independence Party. D’Orazio had no active campaign, but was on the ballot as an Independence Party candidate in the 2013 race for Erie County comptroller. His petitions were carried by Democrats, including the mother of Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner, some Erie County Board of Elections employees, and employees in the office of Democratic Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. Republicans grumbled but did not pursue any legal remedies, and their candidate, Stefan Mychajliw, won re-election.

3. Paul Brown, Working Families Party. The 2014 candidacy of Brown, the president of the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council, was criticized as an attempt to siphon votes from Democrat Johnny Destino, who fell short in his bid for the 62nd state Senate District seat. Destino accused Brown, who did not campaign or show up to debates, of shilling for North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt, the GOP nominee, who went on to win the race. In the week before the election, Brown sent out a letter bashing Destino, highlighting his recent departure from the Republican Party and describing himself as the contest’s only “true progressive.”