Niskayuna Supervisor Yasmine Syed -- who last week was re-elected to her second term in office -- believes the late "October surprise" political maneuver conducted by the Schenectady County Democratic Committee affected the race for supervisor.
"And not in the way I think they expected," Syed said.
In late October, just days before Election Day, town residents received a mailed flyer from the "SCDC," the Schenectady County Democratic Committee. The flyer featured photos of a smiling Syed and a sunglasses-wearing Stanley Fiminski, the former town police officer whom Syed appointed deputy supervisor shortly after she took office in 2018.
The flyer criticized Fiminski's character. As people received the flyers, new signs began to appear around town: "Stop Syed --- Fire Fiminski," read the red and black printed signs.
Last Monday, the day before the election, Syed scheduled a press conference to criticize the Democrats' move and defend Fiminski. The conference, held outside in the town's gazebo, was attended by The Daily Gazette. No other media organizations were present.
"This flyer contained outrageous, defamatory and uncorroborated allegations pulled from deposition transcripts in a case involving the town and its police department from 2008," Syed said, reading from a statement at the conference. "The town was successful in defending against his action. The police department was exonerated from any wrong-doing.
"The flyer alleges that the deputy supervisor is guilty of domestic violence, harassment, misconduct, among other unfounded allegations," Syed continued.
Syed said the allegations were false. And she said members of the county Democratic Committee -- now chaired by former Niskayuna Town Supervisor Joe Landry, the incumbent she defeated in 2017 -- were on the Town Board when Fiminski was awarded promotions in the police department.
Fiminski, who stood next to Syed as she read her statement and took questions from a reporter, declined to talk about the situation.
"On the advice of my counsel, I'm not going to make any statements right now," he said.
On Wednesday, the day after receiving an unofficial total of 3,818 votes (58 percent) to defeat challenger Lisa J. Weber's 2,757 votes (42 percent), Syed said she heard about the mailings as she canvased neighborhoods last weekend.
"I heard from clergy members, residents of all stripes when I was walking door to door, former employees of the police department who served with Stan," Syed said. "All of them were just so disturbed, so saddened that politics had gotten that low."
"I don't think it worked against me," Syed added.
Shortly after the press conference, Councilman John Della Ratta issued a statement on behalf of the Schenectady County Democratic Committee.
"Supervisor Syed is attacking a recent mailing of the Schenectady County Democratic Committee that criticizes her for appointing Stan Fiminski as Deputy Supervisor," the statement read.
"I understand her concerns," Della Ratta said, adding he believes the accusations are "true and relevant."
Della Ratta also said Town Board members immediately notified Syed of their concerns regarding Fiminski. "But instead of releasing him, she gave him a $9,000 raise the following year," Della Ratta said.
Della Ratta also called for Fiminski's firing in his pre-Election Day statement.
Landry did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Weber and Councilman Bill McPartlon -- who was re-elected to another four-year term on the Town Board -- said they had no prior knowledge about the anti-Syed mailer.
"I learned about these mailings when they arrived in my mailbox, just like the rest of the residents in the town," McPartlon said Thursday night, after the board conducted a special meeting and public hearing on the proposed 2020 budget.
"I think we all in Niskayuna can do better on both sides," McPartlon said. "We have Republicans bringing in outside resources who came in to campaign, tried to start a third party. I don't think those things are necessary in our town and I don't think on the other side we need any negative campaigning and negative campaigning material.
"I'm hopeful in two years when we have another campaign, we won't see those things," McPartlon added.
Town residents spoke against the mailers during the budget hearing.
Linda Rizzo, who ran for a seat on the Town Board as a Republican candidate in both 2009 and 2011, said she was the victim of a "smear" campaign during her first bid for office. Rizzo said mailers distributed a few days before the election contained "lies and innuendos."
"I'm just asking how important it is to win a seat if you have to do this type of thing," Rizzo said "Nationally, it's disgusting, it lowers the bar of integrity on a national scale. What does it do on a town level?"
Rizzo also believes negative campaign tactics affect more than just candidates.
"When you smear someone, please keep in mind they have a family, they have children, they have neighbors," she said. "Do you realize the pain you cause when those things happen?"
John Lemelin also criticized the late October flyers.
"I'm personally disgusted with them," he said. "We all, I think, feel the mailers are just an insult to our town and to our ethics and to our political process."
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]