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Justice delayed, petitions denied

Whitelaw petition voided, but judicial candidate still has options

Frank Whitelaw is seen at his previous job as an Essex County coroner in the morgue at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh in 2018. He is running for St. Armand town justice in November. (Provided photo — Frank Whitelaw)

BLOOMINGDALE — Frank Whitelaw’s campaign for St. Armand town justice experienced a hiccup this week, but though the petition he submitted earlier this week has been voided, he has several other ways to appear on the ballot Nov. 3.

The former Essex County coroner and retired state trooper decided to run for the seat after Jay Niederbuhl resigned from the position last month and St. Armand town Supervisor Davina Winemiller asked him to run.

However, according to the county Board of Elections, a step in the process was missed — the result of a paperwork error — and the petitions Whitelaw turned in Monday are void.

Essex County Republican Election Commissioner Allison McGahey said the county did not receive the letter informing the board of Niederbuhl’s resignation. Winemiller said she mailed it last month.

This letter, McGahey said, would trigger a vacancy, which would then trigger the petition process. Since the county hadn’t received the letter by mail, it was faxed over to the county Wednesday, Winemiller said. However, since Whitelaw submitted his petitions before the county recognized a vacancy, they are not valid.

Other options

He will have another opportunity to file those petitions, though. McGahey said Election Law provides that if a vacancy is announced within 14 days of the last date to file petitions — which was yesterday — independent candidates have another 14 days to circulate petitions and gather signatures. Those signatures are now due on Aug. 13.

Whitelaw called this a “minor inconvenience” and plans to file again to run.

McGahey said Whitelaw’s first petition has been annulled, which means he can gather the same signatures again for his new petition, without breaking any rules.

“Most of these people I know,” Whitelaw said. “You just get them to sign, and we shoot the breeze in the meantime.”

He said he is required to gather 21 signatures, and that he had 30 on his last petition. He said he plans to get extra again so he’ll have a “buffer” just in case any are deemed not valid.

Parties can also choose to run a candidate by submitting a certificate of nomination in those two weeks.

Sue Abbott-Jones, who represents St. Armand on the Essex County Democratic Committee, said she was going to suggest the party endorse Whitelaw at its meeting yesterday.

“We feel that he is an excellent candidate,” Abbott-Jones said. “We didn’t want him not to be on the ballot.”

If the committee did endorse Whitelaw, he would not need to re-petition.

Whitelaw, who is registered as a Republican but running on his Individual Integrity party line, said he wanted to express his “sincere, deep appreciation” for the endorsement. He said he has not yet heard from the Republican Party and wondered if someone from that party was going to join the race.

“If there’s someone else who’s qualified and wants to run, God bless ’em, and if they win, God bless ’em still,” Whitelaw said. “We just need a town justice.”

Communication error

McGahey said she believes the county has done the right thing.

“It’s the right thing to do,” she said. “We have to follow the Election Law strictly. It’s our job. It’s unfortunate that he has to go out and circulate again.”

Winemiller said she believes the town has done everything it needed to do and that she is unhappy the process has been prolonged and complicated.

She sent the Enterprise copies of letters that were addressed to the board of elections and that she said were sent by “regular postage” last month. The package includes Niederbuhl’s resignation letter to Winemiller, dated June 4, stating his intent to step down June 18. He did not say why, beyond “personal reasons,” and could not be reached for comment by the Enterprise.

“It has been an honor to serve the people of the Town of St. Armand, and also a pleasure to work with such great people who try so hard every day to make our community the best that it can be!” Niederbuhl wrote in his resignation letter. “For personal reasons, I feel it is best for me to officially step down from my position permanently.”

Felix Catena, the administrative judge for New York’s Fourth Judicial District, signed an administrative order, dated June 11, saying that St. Armand “Will be without the services of a Town Justice due to the resignation of the Hon. Arthur Niederbuhl.” He assigned North Elba town Justice Dean Dietrich to fill in.

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