Primaries are good; they stimulate debate and provide voters choice. Bethlehem Democrats have benefited from a series of compelling primaries for town-wide offices over the past eight years: the three-way for Town Board in 2015 between VanLuven, Becker and Dawson; Kirby-Kelly for Town Judge and Merideth-Zeoli for Highway Superintendent in 2013; Reinhardt-Cunningham for Town Board in 2012; and Clarkson-Kotary for Supervisor in 2011.
2017 marks the first time since 2011 there wasn’t a Democratic Primary for a town-wide office. What happened? Let’s review the timeline.
On May 11, on the recommendation of its 11-member Executive Committee (EXCOM), the Bethlehem Democratic Committee (BDC) endorsed five candidates for town-wide offices. These included incumbents Giles Wagoner for Town Board and Brent Meredith for Highway Supervisor.
On June 27 Chairman Jeffery Kuhn notified the BDC membership Meredith “…accepted a job at UAlbany and will not be seeking the Democratic nomination.” Kuhn then convened a “Committee to Fill Vacancies” (CFV) consisted of himself, Daniel Coffey, and Pam Skripak.
On July 12, Kuhn, first addressing the Highway Supervisor vacancy, emailed BDC members to inform them “After an open and transparent interview process, we have selected Councilman Giles Wagoner to fill the vacancy in our Democratic slate of candidates.” Open and transparent? The BDC at-large only learned of the decision a posteriori via email. Moreover, in substituting Wagoner for Meredith as candidate for Highway Supervisor, the CFV created a second vacancy, which they filled by selecting Coffey to replace Wagoner as a candidate for Town Board. The CFV did not re-interview any of the five people the EXCOM previously interviewed for Town Board. That is puzzling.
The Harder/Morin lawsuit is not the principal reason why there wasn’t a primary this year as the BDC leadership asserts. The reasons lie elsewhere. The first is poor vetting. Led by Chairman Kuhn, the EXCOM interviewed Meredith and recommended the BDC endorse him for re-election. Apparently, no EXCOM member (including his sister-in-law Maureen Cunningham) asked Meredith the “employment interview 101” question– “Are you pursuing other employment opportunities?”
The second was a CFV—or perhaps more aptly—a “Committee to Create Vacancies” did things “on the fly.” It created a second vacancy by swapping Wagoner from Town Board to Wagoner for Highway Superintendent, selected Coffey (a CFV member) to fill the new vacancy for Town Board, and then bungled the “swap-in-candidate” paperwork work they submitted to the Albany County Board of Elections.
Finally, Meredith was a completely non-committed candidate. He and his wife Joanne Cunningham (BDC member and Albany County Legislator) collected zero petition signatures for the Meredith candidacy.
BDC leaders, who came to office in 2012 on a platform of openness and transparency, set this whole thing in motion with a series of backroom deals; they are solely responsible for this fiasco. They didn’t thoroughly vet candidates, and they used a provision of NYS election law, the spirit of which is to address medical incapacitation or death, to make dubious substitutions for two candidates.
Bethlehem Democratic Committee member