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Update: Candidates charge mayor stacks deck in runoff election

JO ANN KIRKLAND PHOTO | Dering Harbor Village Hall.

JO ANN KIRKLAND PHOTO | Dering Harbor Village Hall.

Update to a story posted earlier:

With 19 new voters added to the list of voters eligible to cast ballots in the Dering Harbor runoff election Tuesday, two candidates are charging Mayor Tim Hogue with last minute — and illegal — campaign shenanigans.

Patrick Parcells, who is running against the mayor after both captured 25 votes in the June election, and Robert Ferris, who tied with incumbent Trustee Mary Walker for that seat, said that names appearing on the list aren’t Dering Harbor residents.

Two families in Dering Harbor, the candidates say, have suddenly listed relatives at their residences, identifying Richard Smith and the Hunts as claiming their relatives are living with them and are village residents.

“There’s something very smelly here,” Mr. Parcells said.

Mayor Hogue said there was nothing improper about the newly registered voters and that his opponent and Mr. Ferris “only object when people are registered who won’t vote for them.”

When it comes to challenging voters, “It cuts both ways,” Mr. Hogue added.

Last week, when Mr. Parcells and Mr. Ferris tried to obtain absentee ballots for voters they said were legitimately registered, they were initially denied and told the names weren’t on the registration list provided by the Suffolk County Board of Elections.

But Mr. Hogue said that was because he had difficulty getting an updated list from the county. Late Thursday afternoon the men were given the ballots right at the deadline when they could receive the applications and get them to the voters  to fill  out and return to the village by the close of  business Monday .

Waiting for the ballots, the candidates said Mr. Hogue met them at Village Hall and told them they were “sleezeballs.”

The mayor said he wouldn’t dignify that statement with a comment.

The two challengers said they tried to read the mayor the election rules but the mayor refused to listen, responding that Dering Harbor has its own rules.

“There’s a pattern here of abuse,” Mr. Ferris said, noting that in the past few years, voters have been denied the right to have their ballots counted and never been given a reason for the action.

“By and large, most people want to have a fair election,” Mr. Parcells said. But village officials have been entrenched for so long and they have been able to run things as they please with no concern about being questioned until recently, he said.

“I’m not a conspiracy theorist,” Mr. Parcells said, but village elections should be conducted in an open, above board way. Dering Harbor “should be a friendly place and it’s not,” he said.

“The process of government in the village should be changed,” he said.

Under the New York State election law, the village clerk would be allowed to examine each application to determine whether the applicant was a qualified elector.

“If the application is completed properly, the clerk must provide a ballot,” according to state law. On election day, if the elector’s name is not on the registration list, then the ballot can be rejected, the men said. But that determination is made by the election inspectors, “not the clerk, not the mayor and not the village attorney,” they said.

When they were initially denied the right to pick up the absentee ballots, it was Betsy Colby who refused to issue them, in the absence of Village Clerk Laura Hildreth. She told the men she was acting as instructed by the mayor. And village attorney Joseph Prokop confirmed the mayor’s decision, they were told.

“Tim is the mayor and currently on the ballot,” Mr. Parcells wrote in an email to those for whom he was trying to get absentee ballots. “He has no authority under the election laws to make any decision regarding the election and absolutely no business determining who gets to vote,” Mr. Parcells said.

Charges of voting improprieties surfaced in May when Deybis Rodriguez first made her case public, charging that she was denied the right to vote in June 2013, despite being registered in the village at that time. And the way in which the denial was handled was not in line with state election laws, she said.

According to the state, her right to vote could be questioned when she first entered the polling place, but not after she was handed a ballot and then told it wouldn’t be counted.

That resulted in two others coming forward to argue that they hadn’t had their votes counted in 2012 and were never told why.

What action will the two current candidates take if there are election improprieties Tuesday?

That’s unclear, but Mr. Parcells said he’s opposed to taking legal action.

“That’s not the way I’m wired,” he said. “We hope that we can get a fair elections.”

And regardless, he predicted there would be changes going forward in the way Dering Harbor boards are constituted so people don’t have to fear bringing their cases before the ZBA and Planning Board.

The most compelling part of the June village election was that half of those casting ballots voted against the incumbents, Mr. Ferris said. With that many people voting for change, he predicted there would be a move away from what he sees as business as usual, controlled by a handful of people.

“This is a small place, a very special place,” Mr. Parcells said, determined whether or not he wins on Tuesday, to continue to try to change the way the Village Board governs going forward.

j.lane@sireporter.com

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