Multiple candidates say they are not on Greenport’s election ballot; blame village official

Seven of the nine declared candidates for next month’s Greenport Village election learned this week that their names are not on the ballot for failing to file required paperwork that they say they were never made aware of — until it was too late.

That leaves only two incumbent candidates — Greenport Village Mayor George Hubbard and Trustee Jack Martilotta  — on the ballot for the March 21 election for mayor and village trustees. The mayoralty and two trustee seats are up for grabs. 

The seven candidates, none of whom have previously served in Greenport Village elected office, are accusing the village clerk and the village attorney of intentionally misleading them about the requirements to get on the ballot — and demanding the clerk’s resignation.  

“This is either gross incompetence or malfeasance,” said trustee candidate Patrick Brennan. “The lack of respect being shown to the candidates by the village is outrageous.” 

Richard Vanderburgh, who is running for mayor, agreed. “Right now, I am quivering with frustration and anger,” he said in an email to The Suffolk Times.

Mr. Vandenburgh, Kevin Stuessi and Mr. Hubbard are running for mayor. Alison Tuthill, Lily Dougherty-Johnson, Monique Gohorel, Patrick Brennan, William Swiskey and Mr. Martilotta are running for the two open trustee positions.

At the heart of the dispute is a pair of letters sent to the presumptive candidates by village officials over the past week. 

In the first letter, dated Feb. 14, Village Clerk Sylvia Pirillo informed the candidates that they had been nominated and that their “name and party shall appear on the ballot as such. Kindly note that the last day to file a certificate of declination is Feb. 17, 2023.” 

However, in a subsequent letter from Town Attorney Joseph Prokop, dated Feb. 22, the seven non-incumbant candidates were informed that they “did not … comply with the requirements of Election Law Section 6-144, which required you to file a proper certificate of acceptance with the Village Clerk by Feb. 17. I am therefore writing to inform you that pursuant to State Law your name cannot appear on the ballot as a candidate for office in the 2023 election.” 

The election law provision cited by Mr. Prokop makes no mention of a requirement to file a letter of acceptance, and only states that the candidate must be notified of the last day to file a certificate of declination. 

Greenport Village Mayor George Hubbard Jr. told the Suffolk Times that he had, in fact, filed a letter of acceptance after being notified that he was on the ballot. Asked to specify where he learned of the requirement to file a letter of acceptance, since it is not specified in the election law, Mr. Hubbard cited a letter from the New York State Conference of Mayors. 

“That’s what the village clerk told us to do — consult NYCOM. If you look it up on their website, it’s in there,” Hubbard said.

Page 208 of NYCOM’s Handbook for Village Mayors states, under the subhead Filing Deadlines, that “all candidates, whether designated by a political party or nominated by an independent nominating petition, must file a certificate of acceptance or declination to appear on the ballot.” 

NYCOM, however, is a non-profit advocacy group with no lawmaking authority.

Mr. Stuessi said he was aware of the NYCOM guidance and tried, without success, to consult with the organization.

“If you call NYCOM as an individual, who is not elected in a village, they will not help you. I called and asked for this information and was told that they only assist elected officials.” 

The Suffolk Times has requested a copy of Mayor Hubbard’s previous letters of acceptance from earlier village elections, as well as filing a Freedom of Information Act request. Incumbent trustee Martilotta also told the Suffolk Times that he had filed previous letters of acceptance to get on the ballot in past elections. 

In an email to Ms. Pirrillo dated Feb. 14 and shared with the Suffolk Times, Mr. Stuessi asks Ms. Pirrillo several specific questions, including: 

“How long do you anticipate this process to take and how will I be notified certification has been completed and I am on the ballot? If there is any issue, will I be made aware and able to correct it if needed?” 

Ms. Pirrillo responded the following day, according to Mr. Stuessi’s forwarded email chain, writing that “[t]he questions you are asking are generally legal questions that I am unable to advise you on except that a candidate will be informed by the Clerk’s Office if there is a challenge to their petition.”

Neither Ms. Pirrillo nor Mr. Prokup responded to emails and voicemails requesting comment, and an official at Village Hall told a reporter that Ms. Pirrillo was not available on Thursday. 

At an impromptu meeting Thursday morning in Greenport attended by The Suffolk Times, the seven barred candidates expressed extreme frustration. They said it was too close to the election to expect any judicial relief in the courts, and that they would band together as a group of write-in candidates. 

Candidate William “Billy” Swiskey said he went to the Village Hall every day for “five or six days in a row” recently, seeking information about the election from Ms. Pirrillo, to no avail. 

“I don’t really give a damn about being elected anymore,” Mr. Swiskey said. “This is about principle, and the disenfranchisement of 900 voters in the Village of Greenport.” 

Mr. Swiskey said that he had already reported the issue to the New York State Attorney General and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. 

The seven candidates said they had collectively accrued roughly 900 ballot petition signatures in a village with a year-round population of about 2,500 residents.   

“The write-in ballot is really a tough row to hoe in terms of probability of success,” said Mr. Vanderburgh, who wondered aloud “how motivated is the electoral base going to be to turn out” with only two candidates on the ballot?

“This is about the ugliest thing I’ve ever witnessed.”

Mr. Vanderburgh said that he had provided the village clerk’s office with three ways to contact him — his physical address, a post office box and his email. 

He said he followed up in person last week with the village clerk. 

“I went in on Tuesday and asked Sylvia [Pirrillo] ‘is everything okay with my ballot?’ I was told by one of the other office workers in Village Hall that she could not speak to me at this point and if I had any specific questions, I had to email them to her. I emailed her and said “Why can’t you speak to me? Is it because you’re too busy or because the election is too close?” He said he hadn’t received a reply.

At another point, he said he went to see Ms. Pirrillo and was told by a staffer that she wasn’t able to speak with him “even though I could see her through the window of her office.”