October 6, 2011

Mayoral Candidate Decries Alleged Voter Badgering

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Alderperson J.R. Clairborne (D-2nd Ward), an Independence Party candidate for Mayor of Ithaca, held a press conference on Thursday to assail what he identified as the increasing incidence of voter badgering and sign tampering in the race.While not directly attacking any candidate, Clairborne identified characteristics of campaigns that he said had frustrated city residents by incessantly attempting to obtain their votes.“Marshaling an army of students to invade the city does not make a mayor,” Clairborne said. “There’s no problem with having young people help; it’s another thing when you have people who are just at such a point of saturation in the community [the residents] feel like they’re being pushed.”The campaign of Alderperson Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward), who defeated Clairborne in the Democratic primary, has drawn on support from students and recent graduates who do not live in the city full-time. Clairborne, however, refused to say to whom his statement was directed.“My statement speaks for itself,” Clairborne said. “It’s easy enough to find out which campaigns [are engaging in misconduct] if you ask around — those campaigns know who they are.”Fil Eden ’10, Myrick’s campaign manager, agreed with Clairborne that such behavior would be “concerning” and said he had “never talked to anyone who’s had anyone from our campaign mistreat them.”Republican candidate Janis Kelly ’71 was even more explicit than Clairborne in tying Myrick’s campaign to “instances of ugliness that have happened this year around the Democratic primary.”“I think that some of the overly aggressive door-to-door campaigning that Myrick’s student volunteers have been doing is a little beyond the pale,” Kelly said. “[Myrick] ran a very good ground game in the primary — what I’m talking about is when somebody goes to your house and … wants to argue with you and get in your face.”Like Clairborne, Wade Wykstra, a commissioner of the Board of Public Works and an independent candidate for mayor, said he did not believe any individuals on the candidates’ campaigns would remove signs.Still, Wykstra drew distinctions between the candidates’ ability to prevent their supporters from foul play.“I think [Clairborne] and I have the experience and maturity to keep our troops in line,” Wykstra said.Eden, Myrick’s campaign manager, said that the campaign has not received any specific complaints about voter pestering or misbehavior by supporters. “Any allegations of voter intimidation are very serious — we hope they’re not true, whoever that is,” Eden said. “We’ve always asked our volunteers to act courtly and politely.”Myrick’s door-to-door efforts have been a centerpiece of his mayoral bid. On Sept. 13, the day before the Democratic primary, Myrick’s Field Director, Karen Schillinger ’12, told The Sun that the campaign had knocked on approximately 14,000 doors, sometimes visiting the same home multiple times.Eden emphasized, however, that volunteers do not knock on doors more than once if they are told not to by the residents.Clairborne said many city residents had voiced complaints to him about overly “aggressive door-knocking.”“We’ve had people come to us saying that they’ve had people coming to their doors repeatedly — two, three, four times — and it’s not enough to say, ‘I don’t support your candidate’ or, ‘thank you,’” Clairborne said. “People are feeling like they’re being coerced … In some cases I think that some people are saying, ‘ok, whatever you need I’ll say it — go away.’”Clairborne added that while repeated door knocking and sign displacement were not illegal, “it’s definitely not something that will pass a sniff test.”Clairborne estimated that he has had to replace at least a dozen of his own signs this season, and presumed they had been tampered with by members of opponent campaigns, though not by their staffs.“I’m not saying that all signs are being stolen, but when we keep replacing signs, you’ve got to wonder,” Clairborne said. “Sometimes the sign is gone but the stake is up, sometimes everything is missing — it’s frustrating.”

Original Author: Liz Camuti