The Watertown City Council unwisely intends to insert itself into the controversy of how to proceed with the mayoral race slated for this November.

The state law pertaining to Watertown’s non-partisan primary instructs the Jefferson County Board of Elections to “certify under the hand of its secretary or commissioners the names of the persons who received the largest and next largest number of votes for mayor …” Mayoral candidates Jeffrey M. Smith (837 votes) as well as Allison I. Crossman and Cody J. Horbacz (597 votes apiece) meet this requirement based on the results of the June 25 contest.

But Jude R. Seymour, the county’s Republican election commissioner, wants to make this process more complicated than it actually is. He said the election law doesn’t stipulate how to deal with a tie, so he’s created an impasse that will likely take a court to resolve. He said the board really only has a mandate to certify Mr. Smith, while Democratic Commissioner Babette M. Hall said all three candidates should be placed on the November ballot.

To reiterate the argument we made on this page Friday, the election law doesn’t limit the number of mayoral primary winners to two candidates or worry at all about a tie. So from a legal standpoint, Mr. Seymour shouldn’t wring his hands over these issues. The Board of Elections needs to follow the law and certify the three winners of the mayoral primary.

The City Council has now decided to render its judgment on how to proceed. This began with comments by City Attorney Robert J. Slye that voters should be able to choose from all three candidates. Curiously, he also said “it should be up to City Council members to decide whether former Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith, Allison I. Crossman and Councilman Cody J. Horbacz will all be on the ballot for mayor,” according to a story published Wednesday in the Watertown Daily Times.

Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero said that she and her colleagues were developing a resolution to address the matter. According to the story, she “confirmed that a resolution is being drafted for Monday night that will direct the county election board that the three candidates should be on the ballot for November.”

Mr. Slye’s statement was very odd in that the council has no authority over the city’s election; it’s mandated by the state and carried out by the county. So for council members to direct the Board of Elections on how to proceed is inappropriate.

A 1920 state law outlined how elections would be conducted in Watertown. But the City Council in 1993 advised the state Legislature to revise this process. The Watertown Non-partisan Primaries and Elections Act repealed the 1920 law; the new act was signed into law on July 8, 1993, by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo.

If individual members of the council want to express their views on the issue, that’s their prerogative. But the council as a whole has no business directing another elected body on how to carry out its duties.

Mr. Horbacz, a member of the council himself, said he will recuse himself from voting on the resolution to avoid a conflict of interest. That’s all well and fine, but he supports having the names of all three candidates on the ballot.

Which one of his colleagues would be willing to publicly vote against a resolution calling for him to advance to the general election? They depend on each other as allies, and such a decision would likely not be made independently. This is a conflict of interest for the entire council, and members should resolve to butt out.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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