GLOVERSVILLE — Political newcomer and Black Lives Matter activist Lashawn Hawkins has been shut out of the June 22 Democratic Party primary because she’s not a registered Democrat, but she could still run on the Democratic Party line in November for City Council-person-at-large if no other Democrat steps forward to run for the office.
Hawkins said she was surprised to learn this after her campaign manager Nia Person attempted to obtain a Democratic Party petition for signatures for her to run in the June 22 primary.
“I was called and informed that my registration is blank,” Hawkins said. She said she will run as an independent whether she gets the Democratic designation or not.
Hawkins said she was previously registered to vote as a Democrat in Florida in 2008, but when she returned to living in New York state she did not register to vote until 2020, the year she began her silent protest campaign for law enforcement reforms. When she registered to vote in Fulton County she did not indicate she wished to be registered as a Democrat.
“I remember being very confused, as far as political parties were concerned, so I very well could have left it blank. I’m not saying it’s not right,” she said. “I just strongly believed that I did put Democrat down, so I guess it was my mistake.”
In 2019 New York state changed the deadline for political party affiliation. Previously, to change party affiliation in time to vote in the political primaries a voter had to make the change by Oct. 11 of the previous year. The 2019 reform changed the enrollment deadline to Feb. 14, with the change taking effect immediately. The Feb. 14 deadline was then extended by an executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Feb. 16 due to the coronavirus pandemic and Feb. 14 having been a “Sunday followed by a holiday.”
Thinking she was already a Democrat, Hawkins missed the original deadline and its extension.
“I’m kicking myself, because I actually was in a Zoom meeting with the Democratic Party earlier [in February] and [a County Board of Elections official] went over these dates as far as picking party and all of that stuff, but I ignored all of that stuff because I assumed I was already affiliated with a party,” she said.
Tuesday was the first day candidates could begin collecting signatures, with petitions due back to the county Board of Elections between March 22 and March 29, but that process has also been changed for the 2021 elections in two important ways by laws passed by the New York state legislature in February:
• For 2021 elections, the number of signatures required to run for office has been reduced by 50 percent. This reverts back to the normal requirement in 2022.
• For the 2021 election the state has eliminated the “Opportunity to Ballot” provision in state election law that previously allowed voters not-registered within a political party to gain entry into a political party’s party with a petition with the required number of valid signatures from members of that party — but only as a write-in candidate without the candidate’s name on the primary ballot. This change will revert back in 2022.
Hawkins said she thought the elimination of the “Opportunity to Ballot” for the 2021 elections meant she would have no chance to run as Democrat, until she learned about New York State’s Wilson Pakula Act of 1947.
Known simply as receiving a “Wilson Pakula”, New York state allows political parties to place non-party members on the party’s ballot lines in November, but only if the political party has no other candidate.
In the case of Hawkins’ bid to run for city council-person-at-large, if any registered Democrat circulates a petition to run in the June 22 primary, and gains enough signatures to get into the primary, that person will win the Democratic line for the November election.
Last year in Montgomery County incumbent Republican District Attorney Kelli McCoski was authorized by the Montgomery County Democratic Party to run as a Democrat in the November election, where she was ultimately defeated by Republican challenger Lorraine Diamond, who had previously beaten her in the Republican Party primary. In 2019 Michael Cinquanti, who had been registered as an independent, was authorized to run on the Democratic Party line for Mayor via the Wilson Pakula Act, and ultimately won the mayoral election.
Hawkins said Fulton County Democratic Committee Chairman Ed Jacewicz Friday told her she would be considered for a Wilson Pakula designation, but only after the primary petition filing deadline of March 29, to make sure no Democrats choose to run.
Jacewicz did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story.
In 2019 the Fulton County Democratic Committee chose not to endorse any Democratic candidates for city office in Gloversville, including Mayor Vince DeSantis, former Councilman-at-large Steve Smith and 4th Ward Councilwoman Brenda Leitt. Smith and Leitt were defeated in November 2019, but DeSantis won the special election to fill out the remainder of former Mayor Dayton King’s third term. DeSantis is running for a full four-year term in November.
Jacewicz in October 2019 said the County Committee had met in September of that year to decide endorsements for the November election, but there weren’t enough of its 22 members to hold a meeting.
“For a quorum, you have to have at least 60 percent, no different from any other type of meeting,” Jacewicz said.
However, when asked for a copy of the Fulton County Democratic Party bylaws, Jacewicz refused. The Daily Gazette obtained a copy of the Fulton County Democratic Committee bylaws, which showed a quorum consisting of 25 percent of the members must be present for a meeting to be held.
The endorsements for the Fulton County Democratic Committee in 2019 were determined by a mail-in vote. For 2021 New York state is allowing political parties to make endorsement votes via virtual meetings.
Gloversville 5th Ward Supervisor Greg Young, a member of the Fulton County Democratic Committee, said the committee has a meeting planned for Thursday, which will be conducted via the video conferencing program Zoom.
According to the Fulton County Democratic Committee’s bylaws’ Rule No. 17: Democratic Party candidates seeking the committee’s endorsement shall offer reasons that they should be endorsed either in person or in writing.
Hawkins said she will circulate a petition to run as an independent regardless of whether she is authorized to run on the Democratic Party line. She said she intends to get “at least 300 signatures” in order to make certain her name is on the November ballot.
“I plan to triple whatever amount of signatures they say I do need,” she said.
To run as an independent in New York state a candidate needs a petition with signatures from registered voters who have not already signed a petition for someone running for the same office. Independent petitions can be circulated April 13 and must be returned to the county Board of Elections between May 18 and May 25.
Hawkins said she’d still like to run as a Democrat, but she’s committed to running for office regardless of party affiliation. She said part of her campaign strategy will be to get new voters registered, just as she did prior to the November 2020 elections.
“For the last week I’ve been reaching out to a lot of the young people I met over the summer and just making sure they are registered, and those that are not registered, getting them registered and making sure they know what’s going on in their city,” she said. “As for the Democrats, I think the Democrats need to learn how to stick together and support each other the way the Republicans do.”