Schenectady County

Schenectady County judicial campaigns carried hefty pricetag

Total spending for the two races for countywide judgeships in Schenectady County topped a quarter-mi

Total spending for the two races for countywide judgeships in Schenectady County topped a quarter-million dollars this year, according to state financial disclosure filings.

That amount represents more than $150,000 spent by committees to elect the two candidates in the Schenectady County Court judge race and more than $130,000 spent by the committees to elect five candidates who sought the new Schenectady County Family Court judgeship.

Both numbers are expected to be highs for such races in the county. The County Court race was the first in the county in 10 years.

The Family Court race was the first contested into the general election in the county in 13 years. Last year’s Family Court race, which only featured two candidates in the Democratic primary and no general election race, saw about $86,000 in total spending.

The highest spending individual campaign was City Court Judge Matthew Sypniewski’s successful bid for County Court judge. The Democrat’s campaign committee spent more than $80,000 to capture the seat, according to filings.

Sypniewski’s Republican rival, Kenneth Litz, who serves as Rotterdam town justice, trailed closely behind, reporting expenditures of just under $70,000.

Sypniewski beat Litz by just over 200 votes out of more than 42,000 cast. Sypniewski’s win wasn’t confirmed until Nov. 20, when absentee and affidavit ballot counting concluded.

Sypniewski, 39, is to take office Jan. 1 for a 10-year term. His final campaign expense filing was filed Friday. Litz’ final report was filed Monday.

Spending for both campaign committees was bolstered by personal loans given to the committee by the candidates, the filings show. Sypniewski loaned his campaign committee $31,000, while Litz loaned his committee $25,000. Both amounts were listed as outstanding in the final reports.

In the Family Court race, the spending decidedly tilted to the Democrat side. Four Democrats ran in the September primary, where Jill Polk came out on top.

The candidate with the highest-spending committee was Polk. Her committee reported spending more than $56,600 over the length of the campaign. Polk’s numbers include her final report, which was filed last week.

Polk took the judgeship with more than 17,000 votes, about 43 percent. Republican Deanna Siegel was second with more than 13,000 votes and Ursula Hall — who took second in the Democratic primary but won all four minor party lines — finished third with about 9,500.

Hall’s committee reported spending more than $43,000 in her bid. Most of that was spent before the September primary.

By comparison, Siegel’s committee reported spending just $1,390 on her Republican bid overall through 11 days prior to the general election, the most recent numbers available. The final report from Siegel’s committee was not available Tuesday. Siegel ran unopposed for her party nod in September.

Polk won the Democratic line with 2,214 votes while Hall (1,717), Patricia Rodriguez (1,017) and Bruce Trachtenberg (547) trailed. Rodriguez’ campaign committee reported just over $27,600 in spending, while Trachtenberg’s committee reported about $9,400 in expenditures.

Each of the candidates except Siegel bolstered their committees with personal loans. Polk loaned her campaign just over $32,000, while Hall loaned her campaign $30,000 and recorded another $4,500 personal donation. Trachtenberg loaned his committee about $7,000, and Rodriguez loaned her committee $4,000.

There are rules aimed at insulating judges from campaign donors, including a $2,500 donation threshold that will result in cases being moved to a different judge. Also, no case where attorneys, firms or clients have collectively contributed more than $3,500 or more to the judge’s campaign can be heard by that judge.

One of the long-held rules for New York judicial races is that judges aren’t even supposed to know who is contributing to their campaigns, though some groups have argued it is difficult for them not to know.

Individual donations to the campaign committees generally appeared to be in the $100 to $400 range. Some gave more, but only one individual who wasn’t listed as family of a candidate appeared to top $1,000 in donations. Former Otsego County Family Court Judge Nettie Scarzafava, for whom Polk worked as court attorney from 1998 to 2000, donated $2,000 to Polk’s campaign, according to the filings.

In the County Court race, donations from attorneys who practice in that court, both prosecutors and defense attorneys, appeared to weigh heavily toward Sypniewski’s committee. Sypniewski himself practiced for six years in County Court as a prosecutor.

Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney donated $100 to Sypniewski’s committee. Sypniewski’s committee also recorded $150 in donations from Schenectady County Public Defender Mark Caruso.

On Litz’s side, attorney donors included Michael Brockbank, $200, and Michael Cuevas, $150, though neither generally appears in County Court. Joseph Litz, Kenneth Litz’s cousin and law firm partner, often has cases in County Court. He donated $1,000.

Defense attorney Steve Kouray is recorded as donating $150 to Litz’s committee. Kouray is also recorded as donating $225 to Sypniewski’s committee.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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