The 2013 election season is already shaping up to be the most exciting in recent memory. In Saugerties, a lot of interest in local races has often translated into rough campaigns, with personal attacks in the press, on the web and the always lively rumor mill, increasing in ferocity as November approaches.
Conservative Party Chair George Heidcamp said he hopes that won’t happen this year. To that end, he crafted a pledge and asked fellow chairmen Mike Harkavy of the Democratic Party and Joe Roberti Jr. of the Republican Party to sign.
The pledge states:
“Now that the town’s political parties have held their respective caucuses and endorsed their candidates of choice, we call upon the political leaders (candidates and their supporters, of course) to join together and agree to conduct a peaceful, positive, civil and respectful issue-based campaign. Let’s all agree to stick to the issues and facts during this campaign and not engage in the mud-slinging, finger-pointing and candidate-bashing of prior elections.”
Heidcamp and Harkavy signed it. Roberti did not.
“George Heidcamp and Mike Harkavy are obviously in cahoots to elect Greg Helsmoortel,” said Roberti. “Coming from George Heidcamp, this pledge has about as much credibility as Anthony Weiner advocating a ‘no sexting’ pledge. This is nothing but a cheap campaign stunt and amateurish at best.”
Roberti said his decision not to sign the pledge doesn’t suggest he plans to run a negative campaign.
“Republican campaigns in the past have been fact-based and will continue to be so this year,” he said. “Heidcamp and Harkavy may not like this because the facts are against their candidates. As has been done in the past when they can’t refute a fact, they will likely call Republicans liars.”
Harkavy said when Heidcamp reached out to him he was in full agreement.
“I’ve been on record many times calling for this,” he said. “That’s the way we play the game. The candidates we’re supporting understand the rules. Actually, this went out to all the candidates and I got positive feedback. Greg Helsmoortel said it was a breath of fresh air. God knows he’s been attacked personally.”
When asked for examples of previous uncivil attacks, Harkavy declined to cite specifics, saying only that Democratically endorsed candidates were called “pejorative” names. “It was totally personal. It had nothing to do with an issue. A personal attack, demeaning words; I don’t think there’s any place for that.”
Harkavy acknowledges that he and Heidcamp have very different styles. He said they’ve found themselves working together because they’re endorsing the same candidates, which is unusual. He said Heidcamp is a “straight-shooter” and a “tenacious” campaigner, a guy “you want to have on your side.”
He denies Roberti’s claim that the two are in cahoots to get Helsmoortel elected, as does Heidcamp.
Roberti said Heidcamp doesn’t believe Gaetana Ciarlante can win and is championing her candidacy to block Myers because of a personal grudge. “George told me he thinks [Greg] Helsmoortel is going to win,” said Roberti, adding that he believes Myers will still win without the Conservative nomination.
Heidcamp denies this.
“I never told him Helsmoortel will win,” he said. “I think our candidate will win.”
There seems to be bad blood following the Conservative Caucus results, which nominated Ciarlante and Doug Myer instead of Republican picks Kelly Myers and Ray Mayone as many Republicans would have hoped. When asked if Republicans will blame him if their candidate loses because his party helped split the vote, Heidcamp said, “Some probably will. Remember, however, the Republicans and Democrats each held a caucus and they endorsed their candidates of choice. The Conservatives did the same: Seventy-two registered Conservatives voted and out of that 72, 54 voted for Ciarlante—I think people feel that she is a good candidate. If the Republicans want to blame me personally for those 54 votes, so be it.”
Often, the most bruising attacks have come not from the chairmen or candidates, but from supporters. Harkavy and Heidcamp both said they’d try to pass the civility message down to party members.
“My signature as chairman carries the same message to the membership but I’m not a dictator and cannot control what people say,” said Heidcamp. “I can only ask them to be civil and hope (and expect) that they will respect me enough to comply.”