Former Oneida County legislator Mike Hennessy is going to court to get on the Democratic line in November for county executive after challenges to petition signatures he says was orchestrated by incumbent Republican incumbent Anthony Picente Jr. put him below the required number to get on the ballot.
Hennessy said the challenges, upheld by the county Board of Elections, were mostly based on minor or misapplied issues, such as signatures printed instead of written in cursive handwriting, or were wrongly deemed illegible.
But as Hennessy met with local media representatives outside the county office building in Utica Thursday afternoon, he said there is “good news” for his campaign. He said he believes he’ll get on the November ballot even if his court case fails: Through the write-in box of the Conservative Party primary ballot, which Picente is on after getting its endorsement, and by getting an independent line in the general election.
Hennessy said he submitted 996 signatures in his attempt to get on the general-election ballot’s Democratic line, well more than the 750 required. After challenges, he had 728.
So he is going to court to have enough signatures restored. He said he and supporters will present affidavits from registered Democrats verifying they signed his designating petition.
“We’re going to take this all the way to the state appeals court if we have to,” he said.
“We can prove that these people are registered Democrats, and that their intent was to get me on the ballot.”
The cold weather during late-winter petitioning didn’t help, Hennessy said, echoing a complaint some veteran campaigners have made about the change made this year to a combined state and federal primary in June. The former September date for state and local primaries meant petitioning for ballot access was typically done in the summer, but now, cold weather meant people hurried and may not have signed legibly or made other mistakes, he said.
Hennessy said he will also ask Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara to investigate whether county employees worked on the signature challenges. He also questioned whether he received proper notice of the challenge, saying he found an envelope containing a letter at his home a day after it was left despite a requirement it be signed for or affixed to his front door.
Picente is seeking a fourth term. He ran unopposed four years ago.
Picente’s campaign largely dismissed the allegations.
“Mike Hennessy’s failure to get enough proper and valid signatures to obtain ballot access is what got him thrown off the Democratic Party line,” Picente said in an email after the campaign was asked for a response. “A candidate for county executive needs 750 valid signatures. He failed to obtain the prerequisite number.
“Meanwhile, I was proud and humbled by our campaign’s effort where over 200 volunteers gathered over 4,000 signatures, securing the Republican, Conservative and Independence ballot lines.” Hennessy said he’d expected signature challenges but expressed confidence he will prevail in getting on the Democratic line. “We change 2 and a half percent and we’re on the ballot.”
David Gordon, who served a term on the county Board of Legislators from a New Hartford-based district, is also seeking the Republican nomination via a primary against Picente. He obtained sufficient petitions to have the primary, Republican Elections Commissioner Rosemarie Grimaldi said.
Hennessy and Gordon also want to get on the November ballot via independent lines. New York law requires candidates adopt a party name and symbol. Gordon said he would may choose the Second Amendment Party name. Hennessy prefers the Patriot Party. In either case, however, independents have to get double the number of signatures of a party candidate, 1,500 in counties the size of Oneida County.