Democrats win legal round in effort to remake political map in Rensselaer County

Section: Capital Region,  Page: D1

Date: Friday, February 26, 2010

ALBANY -- A state appeals court unanimously upheld a lower court ruling Thursday that Rensselaer County legislators may not serve simultaneously on town boards.

The Appellate Division affirmed state Supreme Court Justice Michael Lynch's Jan. 25 ruling that found the county charter and local laws do not allow county legislators to hold dual offices.

Democrats filed the lawsuit to knock three Conservatives aligned with the Republicans off town boards, citing the county law preventing lawmakers from holding county and town posts at the same time.

The Appellate Division decision noted the Rensselaer County Legislature never enacted a local law overriding the state statute to allow holding both offices.

County Legislators Michael P. Cristo Jr. and Philip J. Danaher were on the East Greenbush Town Board and County Legislator Louis Desso was on the North Greenbush Town Board when they won their legislature seats in 2009.

"The Democrats want to retain control so badly, they laughed in the face of the voters,'' Cristo said.

East Greenbush Democratic Chairwoman Kim Halloran said the case is about doing a good job for the voters.

"You need to spend time and attention to what's going on. It's difficult to do both jobs. There could be conflicts,'' Halloran said.

Democrats have served in the past on both the County Legislature and town boards. While on the County Legislature, Keith Hammond served as a Poestenkill councilman and Ginny O'Brien as an East Greenbush councilwoman.

James E. Long, the Democrats' attorney, said that "two wrongs don't make it right" and that the courts pointed out the remedy for holding both offices.

"The courts have said there's a way to do it. They haven't done it,'' Long said.

"They didn't seem to have a problem with the legislature when their own members, Ginny O'Brien and Keith Hammond, were holding two offices,'' Desso said.

"Hopefully, everybody can move on to governing and stop the political fighting,'' Long said.

The East Greenbush Town Board is down to three members. The Democrats hold two seats and the Republicans the other.

The North Greenbush Town Board is left with two Democrats, a Republican and a Conservative.

In each town, a majority of the five-member town board can appoint a replacement to fill vacant office until an election is held.