Tenney memo on Brindisi family roils 22nd District race

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Congressional candidate incumbent Claudia Tenney’s re-election campaign is tying Democratic challenger assemblyman Anthony Brindisi to his father representing organized crime defendants as an attorney years ago, and linking Brindisi backers to reported intimidation tactics against her staff.

Brindisi backers cited language in the memo as playing to stereotypes of Italian-Americans, which Tenney denied but which prompted statements of condemnation from other politicians.

It’s only the latest conflict in a highly contentious contest for the seat in Congress representing a toss-up district.

In the memo to staffers, a top adviser to the campaign warned that they should avoid going out alone at night and be on the lookout for strange cars. “Brindisi’s family has used their political connections to get away with violence, intimidation and thuggish behavior for years,” reads the memo, which was first reported by The New York Post Tuesday.

Brindisi termed it a desperate smear tactic, and other politicians spoke out Wednesday against engaging in stereotypes of Italian-Americans. Tenney’s campaign manager said it’s Brindisi backers who are making the ethnic link.

Brindisi’s father is an attorney who decades ago represented individuals linked to organized crime in Utica.

“Claudia Tenney’s conspiracy-theory-laced personal rhetoric is a warning to voters worried about their healthcare, Social Security, Medicare and corporate money in politics,” Brindisi said in a statement. “My family will weather this attempt to distract from these critical issues while the voters of this district turn away from these personal and false attacks that improve the lives of no one.”

Tenney’s campaign defended its discussion of Brindisi’s family, noting that the candidate has accepted political contributions from his father and cited him as a mentor.

Wednesday afternoon, Tenney campaign manager Raychel Renna sent out a statement defending linking Brindisi’s father to the candidate and taking issue with making the matter about Italian-Americans.

“Anthony Brindisi wants to talk about every donor of Claudia Tenney’s, but now that the tables have turned, he doesn’t want to talk about his father—a man who has given him $5,400, a man who Brindisi is business partners with, and a man who Brindisi has called his ‘mentor’,” Renna said. “Brindisi’s father’s behavior is a matter of public record. As an Italian American, I find Brindisi’s attempts to drag the Italian community into this to distract from his family’s well documented criminal past shameful. Given the family history, the corruption we’ve seen in New York, and Brindisi’s close ties to Silver and Cuomo, voters deserve answers from Anthony Brindisi.” 

Brindisi backers took the memo as a negative allusion to people of Italian descent. It also prompted some other Oneida County politicians to speak out. Among them was state Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, who issued a statement in response to media inquiries.

“Italian Americans are honorable, hardworking people who have made, and continue to make, meaningful contributions to America’s greatness. Disparaging stereotypes are disappointing and unnecessary,” Griffo said. “The Tenney campaign should refrain from ethnic smear tactics. Elections should focus on policy positions and the philosophical differences between the candidates and not on personal attacks.”

The 22nd District includes all of Oneida, Madison, Chenango and Cortland counties and extends from Oswego to Binghamton. Tenney and Brindisi were essentially tied in a late-August poll among likely 22nd District voters conducted by Siena College and Spectrum News. Brindisi was supported by 46 percent of those polled to Tenney’s 44 percent, but that was less than the 4.8 percent margin of error in the poll, according to Siena College pollsters.

Utica College politics and government chair Luke Perry noted that in the Siena poll Brindisi was supported by 24 percent of the Republicans polled while Brindisi was backed by 80 percent of Democrats. Perry said on the blog of the college’s Center of Public Affairs and Election Research Wednesday that a key for Tenney would be to regain disaffected Republicans and noted negative tactics are common in such close campaigns.

“Personally attacking Brindisi’s family likely appeals more to Tenney’s diehard supporters than moderate Republicans,” Perry wrote.

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