Schenectady County

Activist hoping to oust party leaders

Longtime political activist and Conservative Kelly Rhinesmith is seeking to replace the Schenectady

Longtime political activist and Conservative Kelly Rhinesmith is seeking to replace the Schenectady County Conservative Party’s executive board through a primary challenge in September. It is her second attempt since 2004.

Rhinesmith is challenging from within the organization; she is recording secretary for the county Conservative Party. She said she and “a newly formed reform slate” of enrolled Conservatives will field 252 challengers for 126 committee districts in the Sept. 9 primary. Each district contains two seats.

She filed designating petitions with the Schenectady County Board of Elections Thursday. If her bid is successful, the challengers would be able to select a new executive board after the primary.

Rhinesmith over the years has charged that the county Conservative Party is not true to its roots and is controlled by Democrats.

“The Conservative endorsement carries significant weight in elections for local and state offices. Schenectady Democrats recognized this some time ago and began an organized, concerted effort to get their operatives involved in committee positions to gain control,” Rhinesmith said. “Ever since, our committee has taken a decidedly leftward tilt.”

Conservative Party Chairman Randy Pascarella said the party has filed petitions for committee races in all but about seven districts, triggering the primary.

Pascarella said the executive board is not concerned with Rhinesmith’s latest effort. “The real Conservatives will see right through her,” he said. “It is going to be a fun September and a whole lot of wasted money; it costs money to primary people.”

The party’s executive board consists of David F. Battaglia, vice chairman of legislative District 4; Michael Della Rocco Jr., assistant fire chief of the Schenectady Fire Department and party vice chairman of the city; Peter Rakvica, president of AFSCME Local 1130, which represents 28 workers in the Niskayuna highway and parks departments, and party vice chairman in Niskayuna; and Mark LaViolette, a detective with the Schenectady Police Department and vice chairman of the party in Glenville.

Robert Hamilton is Conservative Party club president; he also is president of the Schenectady City Police Department’s union, the Police Benevolent Association. Rosanna DeMarco is treasurer.

Rhinesmith said she launched the latest challenge because she believes “hundreds and hundreds of Conservatives are sick and tired of being exploited at the ballot line. They are standing up and saying enough, the Conservative Party is not for sale.”

As proof of her charge, she pointed to seven designating petitions the Conservative Party submitted Thursday to the county Board of Elections. Each page contained the names of A prominent Democrat, including County Attorney Chris Gardner, county Legislator Martin Finn and Niskayuna Supervisor Joe Landry.

Pascarella said Democrats do not control the Conservative Party. He said Democrats have witnessed petitions, however. He alleged Rhinesmith herself is getting support “from forces outside of the Conservative Party. It’s not the Democrats and it’s not the Independence Party. We know this based on fact.”

Rhinesmith denied Pascarella’s claim. “That is not true and he has no basis for that whatsoever,” she said. “We have been doing this for a long time and we have financed all of our efforts ourselves. Conservatives will dig into their own pockets to fund a cause.”

In 2004, she led a group of Conservatives in an attempt to win a majority of party committee seats. The issue was never decided in the polling booths, though. Schenectady County Surrogate Judge Barry Kramer ordered the county Board of Elections to remove most of the Rhinesmith’s candidates from the ballots, leaving only 11 to run. All were successful, Rhinesmith said.

In last year’s District 4 race for the Schenectady County Legislature, she helped Republican Angelo Santabarbara wage a successful write-in campaign to win the Conservative Party line. Santabarbara launched his campaign after the Conservative Party endorsed Democratic candidate Anthony W. Jasenski.

Categories: Schenectady County

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