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Democratic lawsuit seeks to keep VanBrederode off of Independence line


Former Gates Police Chief Jim VanBrederode announcing his run for the State Senate in February. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Former Gates Police Chief Jim VanBrederode announcing his run for the State Senate in February.
A Democratic operative has filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent Republican state Senate candidate James VanBrederode from appearing on the Independence Party line on the November ballot.

Nicholas Coffee, leader of the Gates Democratic Committee, is challenging petitions that VanBrederode filed with the Monroe County Board of Elections to secure the Independence line. In his complaints filed in state Supreme Court, Coffee alleged that nearly half of the 3,839 signatures VanBrederode filed were not valid, leaving him well short of the 3,000 necessary to get the line.

VanBrederode is challenging Democrat Jeremy Cooney for the 56th District state Senate seat, which covers Greece, Gates, Henrietta, Brighton, and the western half of the city of Rochester. Vanbrederode will appear on the ballot with the Republican line regardless of this lawsuit’s outcome. Cooney was elected to the seat in 2019 and is seeking reelection.

“This is the Democratic Party and Jeremy Cooney trying to silence voters and take away their choices,” said VanBrederode, who was confident he’ll prevail in court.

In recent years, the Independence Party has struggled in New York, though its ballot line is still sought after by candidates looking for an edge at the polls and ostensibly to appeal to independent voters.

In 2019, the Independence Party’s billionaire co-founder, Tom Golisano, stated that he was “disgusted by what the New York State Independence Party has become” after the Monroe County party backed incumbent Republican Cheryl Dinolfo in that year’s county executive race while the state organization usurped its authority and backed her Democratic opponent, Adam Bello.

During the next year’s gubernatorial race, the party failed to meet new thresholds to keep its automatic ballot line. The higher threshold was ushered through by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was known for his animosity toward the state’s smaller third parties.

The change has meant that the party cannot endorse candidates to appear on the ballot with its line. Instead they must petition as small “I” independent candidates who specify they are seeking to appear on the ballot as Independence Party candidates.

If the Independence Party does not run a candidate for governor this election, it will not be able to regain ballot status and will have to wait until the next gubernatorial election to try again.

Coffee said he filed the lawsuit because he sees VanBrederode’s bid to appear on Independence Party line as misleading, especially since Monroe County’s Independence Party is defunct.

“You’re entitled to run for public office in whatever way you want, but be honest about who it is that you are,” Coffee said. “That’s always bothered me a little bit about this party, it’s trying to mislead voters that you’re in some way independent and that you just haven’t made up a name for a party.”

In his lawsuit complaint, which he filed July 18, Coffee alleged that VanBrederode’s candidacy petition was invalid for several reasons, including:
  • It lacks the minimum number of valid signatures;
  • Many of the people who signed it are not voters registered to the same address they used on the petitions;
  • Some people who signed it were not registered to vote;
  • Some sheets of the petition contained alterations and additions;
  • Parts of the petition contained untrue address for some signers, and missing or altered dates for signatures;
  • Signatures from people who lived outside the district or who had previously signed another candidate’s petition.
The 56th District has long been a political battleground on the county’s west side. For 18 years, Republican Joe Robach held its Senate seat for the GOP even though the district has substantially higher Democratic enrollment and Republican. Over the years he fended off several Democratic challengers.

State lawmakers redrew all Senate and Assembly districts this year based on new census data, though the 56th District’s lines didn’t change substantially. The district counts 88,286 registered Democrats, 43,174 Republicans, 3,068 Conservatives, 810 Working Families Party members, 47,667 registered voters unaffiliated with a party, and 7,768 voters enrolled in other parties, according to the state Board of Elections. In 2019, there were roughly 7,300

Candidates are allowed to seek and hold multiple ballot lines under New York state law, and many of them do. For example, it’s common for a Democrat to also carry the endorsement of the Working Families Party, or for a Republican candidate to carry the endorsement of the Conservative Party. Candidates and political activists believe extra lines can translate into additional votes.

When Cooney was elected in 2020, he was part of a group of freshman senators that solidified the state Senate’s Democratic majority. Samra Brouk, who represents an adjacent district to the east of the 56th, was another. This year, Democrats are trying to hold on to that majority and expand it if they can.

VanBrederode launched his campaign in February at Gates Town Hall, right next to the police department he was a member of for 37 years, the last eight of which he was chief. He’s part of a group of Republican candidates running on a law-and-order line and who have frequently assailed Democratic bail and parole reforms. La’Ron Singletary, the former Rochester police chief who is now challenging Democratic Rep. Joe Morelle for his House seat, is another.

The court has set an Aug. 2 hearing on the lawsuit.

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at [email protected].