After weeks of uncertainty, there will not be a Republican primary for Putnam County Sheriff after GOP hopeful Andrew DeStefano couldn’t get his name back on the ballot.
DeStefano, a former NYPD captain and Patterson resident, intended to challenge longtime incumbent Sheriff Don Smith in a September showdown, but instead is vowing a write-in campaign going into the general election. The Democrats are represented by former sheriff’s investigator Robert Langley.
DeStefano’s journey to attempt to secure his name on the ballot included plenty of twist and turns. He and his campaign team collected more than the necessary 1,000 signatures to get on the ballot, but the county Board of Elections invalidated hundreds of signatures leaving him well short of the benchmark after Democratic Committee chairman Jim Borkowski challenged them.
DeStefano leveled a legal challenge against the board of elections and was successful when NYS Supreme Court Judge Paul Marx ordered him back on the ballot. But the board of elections appealed that decision and the appellate court ruled in the county’s favor, throwing DeStefano back off the ballot because he didn’t serve the county his legal action in a timely matter, which was affirmed by the state Court of Appeals last week when it refused to hear the case.
DeStefano said he was a “little surprised” the Court of Appeals declined to hear his case because he claimed it was the state supreme court’s fault he missed the three-day deadline to serve county officials. But now he’s looking to have voters write his name in for sheriff in November.
“There’s too much support out there to just walk away from it,” DeStefano said. “There’s a reason why they don’t want me on the ballot so we have to keep working and keep fighting.”
He said he hopes his write-in campaign shines a spotlight on the drug problem in Putnam and other issues within the sheriff’s department.
When pressed on whether he can actually be victorious through a write-in campaign, he said, “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think I could win.”
Tony Scannapieco, the GOP elections commissioner, said the board of elections could finally print ballots for primary day, which will feature four other races in three towns. Because the sheriff’s race would have been countywide, the county needed to wait.
When Scannapieco, who is also the county GOP committee chairman, was informed DeStefano now plans to mount a write-in campaign, Scannapieco replied, “That’s fine, let him do whatever he wants to do. That’s his prerogative.”
The two men have exchanged nasty comments either on social media or in newspaper interviews. DeStefano charged Scannapieco “backstabbed” him and the board of elections actively worked to keep him off the ballot. Meanwhile, Scannapieco said DeStefano’s petitions were the sloppiest he’s seen in 27 years and he correctly applied the law.
“I did my job,” Scannapieco said last week. “He’s the one that didn’t do his job. His lawyer didn’t do his job. That’s the problem, not me.”
Borkowski said now that the highest court in New York ruled DeStefano doesn’t belong on the ballot, voters can compare the record of Langley, the Democrat in the race, and Sheriff Smith.
“Voters should now compare Robert Langley’s lifetime of service to Putnam County with Don Smith’s admission of lies,” Borkowski, referring to the defamation lawsuit against Smith where the county agreed to settle for $125,000, stated. “Smith lied. We paid.”
Langley said his focus throughout DeStefano’s legal battle has been on Smith. Because of Smith’s “willful lapse in ethics and judgment,” Langley said the sheriff’s department lacks strong leadership. He referred to the Alexandru Hossu lawsuit that could cost taxpayers millions and “further degrade confidence in our top law enforcement official.”
“I can provide an experienced, hard working and ethical change at the top,” Langley said. “I’m pleased that the campaign can avoid the distraction of a mudslinging (Republican) primary. Fortunately our democracy gives Mr. DeStefano the ability to wage a write-in campaign and I welcome him back to the race.”
Smith, in a statement, said while the court has resolved the recent election law issues with DeStefano, his focus has been on his job as top law enforcement official. Smith was in cardiac intensive care several weeks, but is feeling better and was back to work a few weeks ago.
“During this time, I have remained focused and committed to performing my duties as the Sheriff of Putnam County and in working with all law enforcement and emergency services partners to keep the people of our county safe so that Putnam County remains a great place to live, work and raise a family,” Smith stated.