PBA criticizes Stephenson's claims
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Keith Stephenson’s bid for the Sheriff’s seat has gotten a lot more complicated.
The 14-year Sheriff’s deputy already faces a competitive race with his own boss, Sheriff Michael Schiff, who is running for re-election on the Republican ticket.
Now he’s got issues to resolve with his union and political party.
This week, the Sullivan County Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) issued a press release questioning claims Stephenson made in an interview with the Democrat published on April 7.
“Mr. Stephenson has made statements to the press, on his website, and in person that would lead one to believe he has support of many of his co-workers,” wrote PBA President Ed Clouse and Treasurer Tom O’Connor. “These statements are very misleading. The PBA Executive Board and many of its members do not consider Keith Stephenson to be a viable candidate.
“The so-called problems that Stephenson claims to exist within the Sheriff’s Office come as a big surprise to the PBA’s executive board and have never been mentioned by him or anyone else prior,” the officers continued. “The PBA has reviewed his claims, and the allegations are simply without merit.”
Clouse and O’Connor pointed out that Stephenson only registered with the Democratic Party in January, not last year, as he had claimed in the Democrat article. In fact, as confirmed by the Sullivan County Board of Elections, Stephenson is not yet an official Democrat, since his party registration will not go into effect until the day after November’s general election.
“The Sullivan County PBA Executive Board is cautioning members of the public that statements made by Mr. Stephenson have so far been unreliable and have not stood up to scrutiny,” Clouse and O’Connor concluded in the press release. “In light of the public office that Mr. Stephenson is seeking, the PBA Executive Board feels that his conduct should be a cause for concern.”
Stephenson, however, feels that the PBA’s conduct is the real cause for concern.
“Our PBA is almost as political as the Democratic and Republican parties,” he remarked this week. “It’s this clique and that clique.”
He added that “I have never claimed to have the support of every member of the PBA. However, I have been told by several colleagues I do, in fact, have support of members in the PBA.”
Noting the fact that the PBA represents just the 42 unionized employees of the patrol division and not all 114 Sheriff’s Office workers, Stephenson stands by his claims that the culture of the office is not good.
“They definitely don’t represent what the people in the jail [division] feel,” he argued of PBA leaders. “Nobody in the jail would have a problem with me running.”
But several other statements have caused him trouble and may yet still:
• He told the Democrat that he registered as a Democrat sometime last year, even though he actually registered on January 6 of this year.
(The Democrat mistakenly printed that Stephenson had been a Democrat for “the past year.”)
When asked this week, Stephenson acknowledged his error, explaining it as a misunderstanding of how the registration process worked and when it took effect.
Plus, “when I answered that question, I honestly didn't remember off the top of my head if I did so before the new year or after,” he remarked.
• His registration application was dated by him as January 6, 2008, rather than the correct date of 2009.
“My mistake it was the first week of January,” Stephenson replied, explaining that the newness of writing “2009” tripped him up while dating the form.
He thought it had been corrected, but upon taking it out of his files, he found that it had not been.
While Democratic Elections Commissioner Faith Kaplan said her office should have required Stephenson to correct the error, she explained that the office’s accurate date stamp on the document supersedes Stephenson’s handwritten date. Thus, the form is considered legal and proper.
• Stephenson alleges that O’Connor and Clouse are in Schiff’s pocket and released this statement to advance the incumbent’s campaign and their own careers.
“It’s ridiculously political,” he said, adding that text taken from his website was recently twisted and reprinted in a flyer aimed at discrediting him. “... Somebody doesn’t want to see the Sheriff have competition from one of his own guys.”
Clouse admitted in an interview this week that the five members of the PBA Executive Board “fully stand behind Mike Schiff and his candidacy,” even though the union members have yet to vote on who they want to endorse.
He and O’Connor, however, maintain that the PBA has taken this action independent of the sheriff and for good reason.
“I believe and I know he [Stephenson] lied,” Clouse remarked, adding that Stephenson never brought his concerns about the office’s operations to union leaders.
“This is done solely by the PBA,” explained O’Connor, who was hired by Schiff but not as Stephenson claimed appointed by him. “... I’m Civil Service-protected.”
O’Connor said no one’s come to the PBA asking them to support Stephenson’s bid, either.
As for the Sheriff, Schiff said he’s not pulling the PBA’s strings (in fact, the PBA has grieved concerns with him before).
Offended by Stephenson’s accusations, Schiff felt his deputy and challenger has some credibility lessons to learn.
In particular, Stephenson’s argument that PBA leaders are schilling for Schiff to protect their jobs “is a statement that is totally irresponsible and with no credibility,” the sheriff said.
Besides, he added, PBA members “are protected by Civil Service, and they’re not going anywhere” no matter who becomes sheriff.
• But it’s the Democrat Party’s support, not the PBA’s, that Stephenson is most seeking right now.
Since he’s not a fully registered Democrat yet, he must wait until the May 20 Sullivan County Democratic Committee convention to determine his fate.
And he’ll be competing for the nomination with Legislator Frank Armstrong, who just yesterday announced his intention to make another run for the Sheriff’s seat.
If Stephenson wins the party’s support at the convention, leaders will fill out what’s known as a Wilson-Pakula form allowing him to participate in a primary against Armstrong.
If he doesn’t win at the convention, however, he will not be entitled to a primary. Thus, in that situation Stephenson would only be able to run in November on an independent line (he’s also seeking the Conservative endorsement).
Stephenson, who professed a lack of awareness of this issue until notified by the Democrat, said that he’ll likely stay in the race even if he doesn’t get the Democratic nomination. In the meantime, he plans to officially announce his candidacy as a Democratic hopeful this Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. at the Government Center in Monticello.
to run again
By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY County Legislator Frank Armstrong is ready to try for the Sheriff’s seat once again.
The Democratic representative of District 5 yesterday told the Democrat that he has submitted his paperwork to be considered as the Democratic nominee for the post currently occupied by Republican Sheriff Michael Schiff.
Armstrong, a veteran and former Monticello police officer, unsuccessfully ran for the position against Schiff in 2005, losing by several hundred votes in an extremely expensive race.
He faces a challenge from Sheriff’s Deputy Keith Stephenson at the May 20 Democratic convention, though Stephenson is not yet officially a member of the Democrat Party (see related story this page).
An official announcement is tentatively scheduled for April 26.