Steve Williams says he's a candidate for Congress. U.S. Rep. John Katko's campaign thinks there's a scheme afoot.
Williams, who sought the Democratic nomination to challenge Katko, R-Camillus, in 2016, filed petitions last week to be the Working Families Party's candidate in the 24th Congressional District. He told The Citizen Monday that he was asked by the party to run for Congress.
"I know those folks well from my run four years ago and they know where I stand on the issues," Williams said. "They said they needed a candidate and I said I would do it."
But Katko's campaign views Williams' candidacy as "apparent fraudulent activity." They believe that Williams is a placeholder candidate for the Working Families Party and that he will be replaced on the line by the winner of the Democratic primary.
Dana Balter and Francis Conole are vying for the Democratic nomination. The primary is Tuesday, June 23.
State election law allows a party to replace a candidate on the ballot under limited circumstances: If the candidate dies, gets convicted, leaves the state or is nominating for another office.
The Working Families Party has used that provision in the past to replace candidates on the ballot in the 24th district race. In 2016, the year Williams ran for Congress, there was a three-way primary for the Democratic nomination. Instead of cross-endorsing the Democratic candidate, which is allowed under the state's fusion voting law, Mimi Satter filed petitions to run on the Working Families Party line. Satter was later replaced by Colleen Deacon, who won the Democratic nod.
Katko's campaign believes the effort goes beyond Williams filing petitions to run on the Working Families Party line. They argue there is "clear coordination" between Williams, Conole's campaign and the Onondaga County Democratic Committee.
The Working Families Party designating petition, which was provided to The Citizen, lists Stephanie Garvey as the "contact person to correct deficiencies." Garvey is Conole's finance director. Some of the signatures on the petition were collected by Diane Dwire, a member of the Onondaga County Democratic Committee and one of Conole's supporters.
Tom Haag, Katko's campaign manager, said in a statement that the tactics "jeopardize the integrity of our election." He said the campaign will support the filing of a general objection with the state Board of Elections — the first step in a process to prevent Williams from qualifying for the ballot.
"In the middle of a public health crisis, Steve Williams is purposely manipulating state election law by purporting to run for office," Haag said. "This is a slap in the face to our strained election system, which is struggling to simply execute upcoming elections."
Conole's campaign manager, Will Van Nuys, also used the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in his rebuttal. He blasted Katko for attacking the Working Families Party "instead of standing up and protecting central New York's working families."
"It's inexcusable and the people of central New York deserve better," he said.
Before filing the petitions to run as the Working Families Party candidate, Williams supported Conole's congressional campaign. Federal Election Commission records show he donated $1,250 to Conole for Congress in 2019.
Three weeks ago, he attended the opening of Conole's campaign office in Syracuse.
"I was supporting Fran, but I never had any conversations with him about this at all," Williams said. "It was with the Working Families Party."
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.
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