Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee chair Pat Tuz has gone to the press regarding a criminal complaint she has filed against Tracey LaBelle, the unsuccessful Republican candidate for Commissioner of Public Safety in last November’s election.
To be the subject of a criminal complaint is devastating. For a hardened politico, I guess it comes with the territory, but for ordinary people running for the first time for public office, reading about yourself as an alleged criminal in the media is more than humiliating. There is also the cost of a lawyer to respond no matter how innocent you may be and the potential problems it may cause regarding your employment.
Decent and humane people do not make frivolous complaints. Before resorting to public denunciations and submitting complaints to the police, they make sure that their charges fully merit the impact their action may have on someone’s life.
Ms. Tuz regrettably has previously shown herself to be capable of the worst kind of cynical spin. Last fall she filed a complaint with the New York State Board of Elections claiming that a flyer sent out in support of Republican-endorsed Mayoral candidate Heidi Owen West contained lies and that the labeling on the flyer indicating it was paid for by the Republican State Committee did not have enough contrast to stand out properly. Readers, there was no way the New York State Board of Elections was going to do anything with these frivolous allegations. Cynically and unethically, the allegations were made just before the election. Ms. Tuz had to know that nothing would come of her complaints but that the Times Union would give full-throated coverage to her accusations. This winter I “symbolically” wrote to Ms. Tuz asking if she had gotten a response from the NYSBOE about her complaint. I say “symbolically” because 1) I knew that they would simply ignore such dubious claims and 2) I knew she would not have the courtesy to respond to me.
If anyone out there wants to bet that the NYSBOE took her claim seriously and responded, I am willing to give good odds and accept the wager.
Now it appears she has made an even more cynical and vicious accusation.
The story in the Gazette regarding her recent accusations against LaBelle is full of odd contradictions.
Brian Lee is an excellent reporter so I will assume that the confusion in the article is rooted in the poverty of Ms. Tuz’s allegations.
According to the February 17, 2022, edition of the Daily Gazette (DG), “The complaint accuses LaBelle of submitting a dozen forged nomination petitions to the Board of Elections.”
In the same article, however, Tuz states, “The forgeries and filing of the false documents are the real crimes here and we’d like to know who’s responsible.” This is an odd statement to make. Ms. Tuz has just accused Ms. LaBelle of submitting the forged documents to the Board of Elections so why is she now wondering who did this?
In an odd admission Tuz told the Daily Gazette, “She wasn’t necessarily suggesting that either Republicans [LaBelle or Guerra] forged the documents themselves but ‘the question remains…who is doing the forging?’…”
In the article, Ms. Tuz randomly uses unspecific terms like “forged Documents,” “false documents,” and “forged signatures” without offering any concrete examples.
Does this have the feel of a political stunt at the expense of Ms. LaBelle?
There is also the issue of criminal intent. Normally criminal charges involve establishing that the perpetrator of a crime knew what they were doing was against the law and did so willfully. As we lack the details of the complaint, we have no idea how Ms. Tuz determined that Ms. LaBelle willfully did something illegal.
Here is a link to the Gazette story. I challenge the reader to determine exactly what criminal statute Ms. LaBelle allegedly violated based upon the story.
Where Are The Documents?
So, to clarify exactly what the nature of Ms. Tuz’s accusation is I contacted the police asking for a copy of the complaint. I was informed that it was not available to the public.
I then emailed Chairperson Tuz and asked if she would send me a copy of the complaint she filed and her supporting documents. I pointed out that, if she had proof that Ms. LaBelle had committed a crime, the documents would only add credibility to her allegations. Ms. Tuz never responded to my request.
I subsequently learned that Mike Brandi had made a similar request. Mr. Brandi will be replacing Chris Obstarczyk as the chair of the Saratoga Springs Republican Committee.
He received the following text from her:
I am sorry, but if you have time to make a criminal complaint against someone and then promote the story to the area newspapers, maybe you could find the time to provide the actual documents to the public supporting your claim.
Tuz’s unwillingness to provide her documents raises serious questions of credibility. Given the gravity of her complaint, her flippant attitude (she is taking a break) is particularly callous.
Some Thoughts On Signatures
In the DG article, Ms. Tuz is quoted as saying, “there is ‘clear evidence of forgeries in the in the allegations against LaBelle.'” She continues, “There are a number of signatures there that are sided (sic) and have the same type of block letters and they don’t match. It just doesn’t look good.”
It’s challenging to parse this statement out. I am not quite sure what she means by “sided.” Best I can figure, Ms. Tuz is referencing that some signatures on petitions were entered using block letters and do not match the script form of their signature that is registered at the Board of Elections.
I checked with the Board of Elections and was told that if such block-lettered signatures were challenged after they were submitted to the Board, they would be considered invalid if the signature registered at the Board of Elections was done in script.
Let’s be clear what the definition of forgery is: “the act of falsely making, altering, or imitating (as a document or signature) with intent to defraud.”[www.merriam-webster.com]
Because someone registered at the Board of Elections using script as their signature and then signed a petition using block letters, does not mean they are guilty of forgery nor that the person circulating the petition committed a crime by signing that they witnessed the signature.
To give the reader some idea of just how dubious Ms. Tuz’s claims are, consider this post from the Saratoga Democrats’ website last year before the election. Here Ms. Tuz claims that somehow this block lettered signature imperiled the integrity of the local election.
The signature on the left is the one registered with the Saratoga County Board of Elections while the one on the right is the signature that the Democrats alleged to be a forgery.
Ms. Tuz never checked with the signatory to find out if he had actually signed the petition using block letters rather than script which is exactly what he did. Instead, she simply exploited the difference to smear Ms. LaBelle by accusing her of somehow forging the signature.
What’s With the Timing of Tuz’s Complaint?
Ms. Tuz says she made the complaint about LaBelle back in November. Why one might inquire, did she wait until now to go to the press? After all, LaBelle lost the election. The petitions had been submitted to the Board of Elections back in March of 2021, almost a full year ago. Tuz didn’t make an issue about it during last fall’s campaigns. Why now?
I can only speculate that the self-inflicted wounds that Mayor Kim has visited upon himself, combined with the collateral damage he is doing to his Democratic colleagues on the Council, is taking a toll. So to change the narrative, Ms. Tuz has cynically victimized Tracey LaBelle. It just doesn’t get much uglier.
What I continue to fail to understand is how little Ms. Tuz apparently values her reputation. Granted, many people will read the articles she spawns and be manipulated but there are many thoughtful people out there who will share my condemnation of her behavior. Apparently, she just doesn’t care.
Addendum: Some Background on Petitioning and Challenges
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the candidate petitioning process, a little background information might be helpful in evaluating the claims the Democrats have been making.
In New York State campaign workers must collect a certain number of signatures of registered voters on a petition in order to get a candidate on a ballot for an election. There is a rule of thumb among political operatives that it is best to gather twice as many signatures as the minimum required on a petition to make sure the candidate has enough valid signatures to get on the ballot.
This is because most people circulating petitions are well-meaning volunteers and there are so many ways that signatures can be declared invalid.
Among the reasons are:
- The signatory has signed another petition for the same office (and maybe even for the same candidate).
- The signatory put down the wrong address. Yup, people get confused and sometimes mailing addresses are different from their actual residence address.
- The signatory does not reside in the correct district.
- The signatory is in the wrong party. For instance, a registered Democrat cannot sign a Republican petition.
- The signatory is not registered to vote.
- The signatory allowed someone else to sign their name. There are many reasons why this might happen such as they were out of town and asked their spouse to sign for them. This is actually an example of forgery.
I am sure there are others but these are some of the major ones. Most of these are innocent mistakes stemming from confusion on the part of the signer. It is amazing how many people think they are registered to vote or think they are registered to vote in a particular party and aren’t or have already signed another petition but have forgotten and sign again.
The fact is that inexperienced people (and even experienced people) going out to petition don’t catch all these mistakes.
There is a difference between the errors of a novice circulating petitions and someone who knowingly forges names.
On the other hand, the petitioner must sign the form affirming that they have observed the signing of every signature. Too many inexperienced people carrying petitions fail to take this requirement with the seriousness that it deserves and allow someone to sign for another, usually a spouse or partner living at the same address. In the past, these kinds of errors have usually been isolated and committed without malice. No one pursued the issue with a criminal complaint. We are living in different times.
Traditionally, the opposing party would look at the petitions of the other party to see if they could disqualify enough signatures to knock a candidate off the ballot. They would first check how many signatures the candidate had. If the petitions had a huge margin above the requirement, the opposing party might randomly go through the petitions just to see if there were any glaring patterns of problems. If not, even though there might be some errors, they would not see the point of taking any further action.
Ms. Tuz is breaking new ground. Instead of challenging signatures following their delivery to the Board of Elections as tradition has dictated in order to disqualify an opponent, Ms. Tuz has weaponized the process. Her new goal is to file complaints months after the petitions have been filed, not to have any material impact on who gets on the ballot, but to use any errors to cynically file complaints during the heat of the campaign that she knows will never be answered.