The race for the Republican nomination for Oneida County executive grew more bitter and personal Wednesday with incumbent Anthony J. Picente Jr. angrily calling challenger David Gordon “desperate” and “bordering on mental illness” over accusations Picente had an affair with a staff member then gave her a 20 percent pay raise.
Gordon held an afternoon press conference outside the county office building in Utica where he said he has evidence and has heard from witnesses afraid to come forward out of fear of retribution. He gave reporters a print-out of a text-message exchange between two county deputy sheriffs in which one said he saw Picente and the woman in the office building’s garage late at night.
The text message Gordon provided did not say Picente and the woman were seen engaged in sex or any physical contact. Gordon said it was from one deputy to a third party Gordon wouldn’t identify. When a reporter asked if the deputies would tell the media they witnessed such contact, Gordon said that’s a question they can answer.
He also provided copies of a 2008 newspaper article on pay raises for several county employees, including a 20 percent pay increase for the woman, who then was a Picente aide. Gordon accused Picente of giving the woman the job then the raise, then demanding she leave the state for more than a year after becoming pregnant.
She now works in a non-medical capacity at the Mohawk Valley Health System. Picente has backed the MVHS plan to build a new hospital merging its Faxton-St. Luke’s and St. Elizabeth hospitals in downtown Utica, and the county plans to build a parking garage in connection with the hospital.
Gordon had made the accusation days after he announced his candidacy Jan. 31 in Rome and said he would offer proof. Picente told local news organizations at the time he would not dignify the accusation with a response.
That was a non-denial, Gordon charged Wednesday. “This is neither a yes or a no and he knows it. In fact it is more of an admission of guilt,” Gordon said.
On Wednesday, Gordon challenged local news media to investigate the matter and said he’d reported the situation to federal authorities because state authorities are too corrupt, Gordon said.
He said he wouldn’t bother taking the matter to Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara, who, though a Democrat, has endorsed Picente and, along with fellow Democrat Sheriff Rob Maciol, attended Picente’s announcement event at the 72 Tavern & Grill in the Utica Adirondack Bank Auditorium. Gordon alluded to Picente saying he has a good relationship with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo at an event in Whitestown.
“It’s one party. It’s one party for themselves in Oneida County,” Gordon said.
Some 30 minutes after Gordon’s event, Picente invited news organizations to the conference room near the county executive and legislature suite on the ninth floor of the county office building. In terse, language, Picente said there is no truth to Gordon’s allegations, calling them “junk” and “nonsense.”
“These are made-up lies,” Picente said.
“It borders on mental illness that this man will say anything to get in front of a camera and to get his name in print. This is a digsuting display of what politics is not supposed to be like.”
Gordon served a term as a county legislator as a Democrat and briefly sought that party’s nomination for Congress. Last year, he lost a bid for county clerk in a close race decided by absentee and affidavit ballots. He said he has a Utica insurance agency and sends email with a signature for Partner’s Trust Ins. Agency.
Picente also referred to a case in which police were called to Gordon’s home to investigate a report of domestic violence. The matter surfaced after Gordon made the affair allegation in the winter, and Gordon said there was no violence, only that his fiancee called police over a broken iPhone and conflict when the couple learned she was pregnant. On Wednesday he said it was illegal to bring up a closed case.
“This man has no place in public office,” Picente said. “He literally has no place in this community.”
Picente said he would not address Gordon’s allegations again during the campaign. He left the conference room without taking reporters’ questions.
The back and forth came at about the same time that a state judge cleared the way for whoever wins the primary to face a Democrat in November. Former county legislator Michael Hennessey had enough signatures restored to his balloting petition to earn the party line in the general election. No other Democrat is seeking the party nomination.
Told of the Gordon-Picente conflict, Hennessy said: “Those kind of things don’t belong in this campaign. It’s too important to let rumors overcome the factual concerns of this community.”