PLATTSBURGH — A decision has finally been reached in the Plattsburgh Town Council election, yet one seat remains unfilled.
After 15 of 21 remaining absentee ballots from the Nov. 5, 2013, election were opened and counted this week, Democrat Michael Cashman finished on top with 1,244 votes.
Republicans Tom Metz and William Brudvig tied for second with 1,240, and incumbent Democrat Paul Lamoy finished with 1,153.
Cashman welcomed the result.
“I’m looking forward to getting to work,” he said by phone Tuesday afternoon.
Town Supervisor Bernie Bassett said he is pleased the vote count is finally complete. It marks the end of a long and protracted process, he said.
“Congratulations to Michael Cashman. We believe he will be a good councilor for the residents of the Town of Plattsburgh,” Bassett said.
Bassett said it is his understanding that since there is a tie for second, neither candidate is deemed to have won that seat.
Bassett said that under New York State Town Law, the new Town Council can decide to leave the seat vacant or appoint someone to fill the seat for the rest of this year, with a special election in the fall to fill the final three years of the term.
Bassett said he had yet to talk with the other councilors about which course of action they would take.
“We aren’t going to make a quick decision or a hasty decision,” Bassett said.
Cashman later said by email that he was humbled by the awesome responsibilities that his neighbors and the taxpayers entrusted to him as a newly elected councilor.
He said he plans to seek common ground to realize the town’s potential.
“Our best resource is the people who live, work and learn right here in the North Country,” he said.
Cashman urged people to visit his website, michaelcashmanforplattsburgh.com to share their vision for the town.
The outcome of the election has rested on a challenge to 36 absentee ballots filed in New York State Supreme Court on Nov. 21 by attorney Richard Cantwell on behalf of Metz.
The lawsuit later grew to include both Metz and Brudvig as plaintiffs and Cashman, Lamoy, the Clinton County Board of Election and Election Commissioners Susan Castine and Gregory Campbell as respondents.
After several court appearances, Supreme Court Justice John T. Ellis ruled on Dec. 12 that nine ballots would be opened and six would not be opened.
After that happened, Metz had 1,240 votes; Brudvig, 1,239; Cashman, 1,229; and Lamoy, 1,142, with 21 ballots still under review.
On Dec. 20, Ellis reserved decision on the remaining 21 ballots, including nine people who failed to appear in court to testify.
The plaintiff’s attorney, James Walsh, argued their failure to appear should create an “adverse inference” that those ballots were improper and should not be counted.
The respondent’s attorney, Kathleen O’Keefe, argued that the voters should have been again notified by the plaintiff’s attorney that they were to appear on Dec. 20.
On Jan. 2, Ellis ruled that 15 of the remaining 21 ballots would be allowed and six would not. Those ballots were opened Tuesday morning, with Cashman named on all 15, Lamoy on 11 and Brudvig on one.
NO FRAUD, COURT SAYS
Clinton County Democratic Chairman Martin Mannix has stated he believes many of the challenges targeted people of lower economic status.
Brudvig said Wednesday that wasn’t the case, that the issue was one of absentee ballots collected by members of the Working Families Party for voters who didn’t meet the criteria to vote by absentee ballot.
In addition, the judge should not have allowed the nine ballots of those who didn’t appear in court to be opened, he said.
Mannix said there has been no evidence of fraud found during the proceedings, which is echoed in Ellis’s decision on the matter of “adverse inference.”
“Furthermore, there is no evidence before this court of fraudulent activities committed by any of the respondents in this matter,” the decision states.
“Similarly, there is no evidence to suggest that any of the subpoenaed witnesses were under the control of the respondents.”
Metz did not respond to two calls for comment.
Brudvig said that moving forward, the proper thing to do would be to appoint him or Metz to the Town Council.
“I think they are compelled to choose one of the two second-place finishers,” he said.
Mannix said he would like to see the rules on absentee ballots relaxed to allow more people to use them.
“In my opinion, I think justice was served,” Mannix said.
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