A new “political party” in Niskayuna may help one Republican candidate for office this autumn.
Signatures were collected two weekends ago for an independent nominating petition to form the “Pro Nisky” party.
Niskayuna Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed — who is running for re-election against current Town Councilwoman Lisa Weber — and other candidates for office devised the new party line.
“It was a collective effort, on behalf of our entire team, as in the candidates,” Syed said on May 20. “It really was born out of our four candidates and it’s something we wanted to do just to provide another non-partisan ballot line for people to vote on.”
About 400 signatures were collected.
Commissioners from the Schenectady County Board of Elections said for Niskayuna, an independent nominating petition must contain 538 signatures to make the Election Day ballot.
“The signature quantity is based on the number of votes in the past gubernatorial election,” said Democratic Commissioner Amy Hild. “So for the town of Niskayuna, it’s 538 signatures.”
There is another rule: “If a candidate has at least two party lines, at least two endorsements, they do not get an additional line on the ballot,” Hild said.
Syed said she has won endorsements from the town’s Republican, Conservative and Independent committees. So even if the “Pro Nisky” line makes the ballot, she will not appear on it.
The same thing goes for two other candidates. Syed said Anthony Simone and Diane O’Donnell have won both Republican and Conservative endorsements as they bid for positions of town councilman and town clerk, respectively. Political newcomer Jerome Chao, running for a council seat, has Republican endorsement and would be the sole beneficiary of a “Pro Nisky” line.
The signature collections have sparked controversy. Young people visited Niskayuna the weekend of May 18 and 19 and were on the petition detail – and became part of a process that has annoyed town Democrats.
About eight college-aged men and women from the western part of New York state, accompanied by members of the town’s Republican Committee, knocked on doors and rang doorbells in Old Niskayuna that Saturday and Sunday.
Syed said the petitioners did not receive any money for their services.
“To my knowledge, I think they are all college students perhaps, but they’re not paid,” she said. “They’re volunteers and they were helping us out with a new effort to establish a ‘Pro Nisky’ line.
“It’s just part of the petition process, it’s completely allowable under Board of Election rules,” Syed added. “There are various rules and regulations and everyone’s following everything to the ‘T.'”
Democratic Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw said she and others began receiving calls about the “Pro Nisky” visitors on Saturday, during the town’s annual “Niska-Day” celebration.
“We have a rich diversity of smart and talented people in Niskayuna, we don’t need people from outside our small town trying to bamboozle residents into signing on to a fake political party,” McGraw said.
“I doubt those out-of-towners can even spell Niskayuna, let alone speak factually about our town,” she added, “This feels like a desperate move by a team of candidates that will do anything to get elected. Even if it’s legal, it doesn’t feel right and it doesn’t feel like Niskayuna.”
Syed is for the new party; she believes it will help candidates cross party lines.
“We feel that this offers the residents an avenue for greater access to a party that’s really not a party,” she said. “It’s a non-political ‘Pro Nisky,’ that’s our ethos, everything we do is for the town, for the benefit of the residents.”
Syed also said she did not believe the signature drive would affect the town’s political process.
“That’s not the intention at all,” Syed said. “These are kids who are volunteers, they’re not paid operatives, they were also going along with our local committee people as well, so it’s not that it’s an outside force coming in, it’s our local team too.”
Chris Koetzle, Glenville’s town supervisor and the chairman of the Schenectady County Republican Party, said the western New York connection came through his relationship with Nick Langworthy, the Erie County Republican Chairman who is poised to become the new leader of the New York State Republican Party.
Koetzle endorsed Langworthy for the position in April.
“I think he saw the value in Niskayuna and helping us here in Schenectady County,” Koetzle said.
He added that assistance is a function of a state party. “That’s what they’re there for, the state parties are supposed to help the county parties,” he said.
McGraw challenged the statement of non-payment for the visitors.
“Some college kids just suddenly thought they should come to Niskayuna and volunteer for the weekend, knock on peoples’ doors in Old Niskayuna because they had nothing else to do that weekend and they thought, ‘I know what we’ll do, we’ll support four strangers for free,'” McGraw said.
A statement issued by the Niskayuna Democratic Committee, in part, read the committee “believes it’s important for residents to know that the people knocking on their doors seeking to create this fake ballot line are not their neighbors but paid staff of the Republican Party so they are not misled.”
Some of the petitioners were identified in photos emailed to The Daily Gazette. One woman worked on Langworthy’s campaign for state chairman.
A man identified himself as an economics student at the University at Buffalo and a Republican committeeman in the Buffalo suburb of Tonawanda. He tweeted, “Had a blast this weekend helping out Niskayuna Supervisor Yasmine Syed with the crew from @EriecountyGOP. A lot more NYers are gonna know who she is in the not too distant future.”
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]