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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Upstate upstart would crash Cuomo's party

An unusual round of ballot intrigue is building this election season.

Last fall, leaders of the state's major parties took the uniquely New York step of creating their own minor-party ballot lines. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the top Democrat, crafted the Women's Equality Party; his GOP opponent, Rob Astorino, ran on the Stop Common Core line, now renamed the Reform Party.

Created from the top down, both these sub-brands drew more than 50,000 votes. As a result, the operatives who control them can put candidates for all kinds of office on those minor lines in November without a cumbersome petition process. The nominations are due to be filed by the middle of this month.

Most of these nominations are expected to be cross-endorsements of major-party contenders -- Democrats on the WEP line, Republicans on Reform.

So far, the GOP's Reform concoction seems to be having a smoother time of it. Its chairwoman, Marie Smith, spouse of Westchester Legis. Michael Smith -- a GOP ally of Astorino -- reported Tuesday that 1,800 Reform Party nominations have been made for local offices statewide "after months of thoughtful consideration and diligence."

But the Women's Equality Party, caught in a crossfire of opposing voices within the Democratic Party, follows a very different story line. Cecilia Tkaczyk, a former Democratic state senator from Schenectady County, says she is changing her registration to Women's Equality -- and has filed an organization plan with the state Board of Elections that would put her and allies in control.

"I did it because I want to make sure, if there is a Women's Equality Party, it is run by women and that women are in control of the process at the grassroots level, and involved with choosing the leadership -- and that it is not a party run by Gov. Cuomo," Tkaczyk said Tuesday.

In July, Cuomo and company filed their own party documents with the board, designating Barbara Fiala, a registered Democrat and former motor vehicle commissioner under Cuomo, as chairwoman of a WEP executive committee. The treasurer is Rachel Demarest Gold, a former Cuomo aide in the state Labor Department and attorney general's office.

Another group of proclaimed WEP "leaders" then came forward, marking an attempted incursion by the GOP. Represented by the Nassau-based firm of Peter Bee, which represents Republicans in election cases, it filed papers at the election board and in court challenging the Cuomo group's control of WEP's nominating process. The court effort, focused in Niagara County, was recently tossed out.

At a state Board of Elections meeting Tuesday, Cuomo appointee Andrew Spano moved to have the rebel Tkaczyk and Bee filings declared void. Spano and the board's other Democrat, Douglas Kellner, voted in favor. But the board's two Republicans, Gregory Peterson and Peter Kosinski, effectively blocked the motion by abstaining.

Given that stalemate, it remains to be seen how this fight will play out, with all parties' nominations to be settled and certified after primary day, which falls on Sept. 10. Expect to see more maneuvering, nervous candidates and court action.

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