Challengers withdrew their objections to petitions filed for candidates in the Herkimer County district attorney race in Herkimer County Court on Monday, following what one candidate and her supporters said was a questionable process of being served.
The petitions for Mary Iocovozzi on the Democratic and Working Families lines were challenged by her opponent, Jeff Carpenter, after she added her P.O. Box address on the forms after obtaining signatures. Carpenter, who is currently the county’s acting district attorney, said this is an issue because she added information to a document.
“[You cannot] change documents when they are signed and witnessed,” he said.
Carpenter, who showed the petitions to media at the county courthouse on Monday, said this questions the kind of district attorney Iocovozzi would be, if elected.
“I’m asking voters to consider this when they vote,” he said.
Attorney Carol Malz, of Oneonta, represented Iocovozzi in the court hearing. She said herself, the attorney for Carpenter and Charles Patterson, who was also listed on the court documents, met in the judge’s chamber to discuss the issue. She said both went back to talk with their clients and then went back to the judge’s chambers. “We all stipulated to withdraw the challenges,” she said.
Malz also represented Francesca Capelouto, who had general objections and specific objections to petitions on the Independence and Conservative party lines.
While Iocovozzi said she does not object to Monday’s outcome, she said she is upset about how her supporters were subpoenaed for the hearing and how the process server handled delivering the subpoenas. “People are very, very upset,” said Iocovozzi during a telephone interview Monday. “This hurts the democratic process. If people are getting signatures for candidates and they get hauled into court on baseless allegations, people are not going to get involved. This is a new low in Herkimer County politics.”
Iocovozzi said the issue was a legal argument and it was unnecessary to subpoena 26 people to appear in court regarding the issue. Several of those who were served said they were met with intimidating behavior, including one elderly woman who described in an affidavit she was frightened to let the man in when he reportedly banged on her doors and windows, and shouted “open this door.” She said she crouched down inside her house as she looked for the phone number for the police.
“I can take it. I’m the candidate, but don’t go picking on vulnerable people who are just trying to help with the democratic process,” said Iocovozzi. “What kind of message does it send to our youth?”
Carpenter said the process server was doing his job.
“That’s the process. People don’t like receiving process,” he said, noting the server was met with notes on the door to contact Iocovozzi, which he said is an attempt to “impede the process.”
Page 2 of 2 - Carpenter did say, too, he “hopes the process server didn’t engage in unethical or illegal behavior.”
Village of Ilion Trustee Barbara Collea was one of the individuals subpoenaed last week.
“Something like this just makes me more determined. I am convinced that a lot of people now do this for anybody running. But if people are aware of this, they’re going to be reluctant. I don’t think it’s good for the democratic process.”
Collea said while the process server she had was polite to her, he was also very insistent about her giving out personal information such as her age, weight and Social Security number.
“It was quite intimidating,” she said. “What bothers me is I didn’t know what my legal rights were when I was compelled to answer and gave out this information reluctantly. He lead me to believe he had to have this information.”
Carpenter noted, too, the process server needs to have a way to identify someone who is being served.
Collea said she has collected petitions in a few other races in the past, but this was the first time she’s been faced with something like this.
“My fear is that because of these shenanigans, people will be afraid to carry petitions for candidates, and not only Democratic candidates. All future candidates are at risk of not having the volunteer manpower to get signatures so people can exercise their right to have contested races and vote for whoever they want,” said Kathy Pumilio, of Frankfort, in a statement.
Pumilio also said, “People don’t want to be hauled into court because they helped someone get on the ballot. People don’t want to be accused of fraud and forgery when all they are trying to do is to do their civic duty.”
“Under election law you are allowed to change certain things and add certain things to petition,” said Iocovozzi. “People can sign and date a petition. You can fill in their address. They want to avoid fraud. They want you to know their address. He’s absolutely wrong on the law.”