118th Assembly District -- Robert Smullen, a candidate for the 118th Assembly District, has challenged his opponent, Patrick Vincent, to debate him "anytime and anywhere" in the district. The two Republicans will face off in a September primary for the GOP line that will appear on the ballot in November.
But Vincent, who told The Daily Gazette on July 18 that he wanted to debate Smullen one-on-one before the primary and that he was "available to do it any time in any place," now says he's too busy to debate Smullen.
"No, I don't have the time. We're booked solid," Vincent said. "That debate should have been set up months ago. I tentatively agreed to some things, but my wife had me double booked for some things. Today, we've got two parades. We're just too stressed out. We have a full schedule."
A prepared statement from Smullen's campaign about the debate issue asks: "What is Vincent afraid of?" It also references a proposed debate on radio station WENT in Gloversville.
"If he were to be elected, he can not hide in the Assembly chamber whenever there is a debate of the issues critical to the people of the 118th District," states the press release.
Vincent said he was contacted by WENT two weeks ago and that wasn't enough time for him to schedule the debate.
"We've got five and a half weeks left, and that's straight-out hard grinding," Vincent said. "I've got events almost every single day. I've got door-to-door campaigns going on every single day. I'm definitely not changing my door-to-door schedule, because I'll get more out of that with my volunteers than I'll get out of any debate, I believe."
The race between Smullen and Vincent to replace retiring Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, has included accusations of dirty politics, with geographic and legal dimensions.
Smullen has received the endorsement of the Fulton County Republican Committee, which represents the largest chunk of potential Republican voters in the 118th District, but Vincent has received endorsements from the Herkimer County Republican Committee, the Oneida County Republican Committee and former GOP Assembly candidate Philip Paige, from St. Lawrence County.
Butler, in a letter to a newspaper addressing what he feels were "mean-spirited attacks" in the GOP contest, called on Paige to make a public statement as to whether he has ever had any discussions with Vincent about taking a staff position with him in the Assembly if Vincent wins.
Paige issued a statement on Facebook denying that he'd ever been offered a job by Vincent.
"Per your request: Patrick Vincent did not offer me a job before I exited the campaign and endorsed him, nor has he done so since," Paige wrote, addressing Butler. "Sadly, in part, it is your conduct that has so turned me off to politics. To write a sanctimonious public statement bemoaning a mean-spirited campaign, while also making a new, baseless, “mean-spirited” accusation is exactly the political doublespeak voters are rightly sick of."
Vincent said he wouldn't rule out offering a staff job to Paige, but he said he hasn't discussed anything like that with him.
"When you are in this situation, you can't promise anybody any jobs. You just can't do it. You can't talk about it. What he said about Philip Paige is just blatantly untrue," Vincent said. "I can't discuss a job to anybody for any reason until after the election. It's illegal to do so, or at least it's very unethical."
Smullen has also been arrested by the New York State Police, charged with felony filing of a false instrument in the town of Niskayuna. Smullen was charged after it was revealed he received primary-residence-only military combat veterans tax exemptions for both his home in Niskayuna, where his wife and children live during the school year, and a home in Johnstown. Niskayuna is not in the 118th Assembly District.
Smullen admitted to taking the exemption in both places for two years and repaid the Niskayuna Central School District for the exemption, he said. He also committed to repaying the town and Schenectady County when the back taxes are levied on his next tax bill.
Smullen has fiercely denied allegations from political opponents that he doesn't really reside in the 118th Assembly District.
The criminal charge against Smullen affirms his true residence is in Johnstown but places his eligibility to serve in the Assembly in jeopardy. New York state law makes anyone convicted of a felony ineligible to serve in the state Legislature.
Smullen is due in Niskayuna Town Court at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
Smullen was arrested after two Johnstown Town Board members -- Don Vanduesen and Timothy Rizzo -- went to the state police with a complaint that they thought Smullen owed the town of Johnstown tax money for having the exemption in two places at the same time. Vanduesen and Rizzo presented documents Vincent obtained from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that showed Smullen claiming to be a resident of Niskayuna.
Rizzo said another issue has come to light regarding Smullen's property, which is that it may not have been properly subdivided after a second dwelling was built on it. He said the Johnstown Planning Board approved two subdivisions for Smullen's Johnstown parcel -- one to carve off a solar farm, which would have substantially increased his property tax liability had it not been subdivided, and another that would have removed the original home on the property.
Rizzo said the second subdivision was never filed with Fulton County, which he believes is the fault of Smullen. Rizzo said he believes there are 448 veterans in the town of Johnstown who have received military property tax exemptions, some of whom may have been granted subdivisions by the Johnstown Planning Board, which have not been filed properly with Fulton County.
"I'm not picking on Mr. Smullen over this, because if he did it, other people did it. Kathy Oare, our assessor, has also identified that there are multiple subdivisions that have not been completed at the county level, which is screwing up her taxation ... so he's not the only one," Rizzo said.
Smullen said he has filed all of the appropriate paperwork regarding his Johnstown subdivision and that Rizzo is incorrect. He said he does not owe Johnstown any money, and Rizzo and Vanduesen's investigation into his property may now negatively affect other veterans in the town of Johnstown.
"The Town Board in this case is now appearing to go after all of the veterans in the town of Johnstown, so that's what the town councilman said he was going to do, and that's straight from Tim Rizzo and Don Vanduesen and Patrick Vincent," Smullen said.
Vincent said he believes Smullen is responsible for the controversy regarding the veterans tax exemptions.
"I'm not the one who committed a felony against the veterans; he did," Vincent said. "He did it as a veteran; that makes it horrible."
Vincent said if he wins the GOP primary, he will agree to debate the Democratic Party candidate for the 118th Assembly District, Keith Rubino.