Broome County district attorney reviewing Datta’s campaigning directions

Courtesy of Broome County Republicans
April 15, 2014

Over the weekend, the Press and Sun Bulletin in Binghamton reported that Deputy County Executive Bijoy Datta required public employees to campaign for the Republican County Executive Debbie Preston. The district attorney is now reviewing the case.

According to e-mails published by The Press and Sun Bulletin, Bijoy Datta sent out emails to 17 political appointees before the 2012 election saying it was mandatory to help with the upcoming campaign.

Scott Cole was one of the recipients. Cole has since moved to North Carolina but was the Public Works Office Assistant at the time the emails were sent.

“He said to all of us the reason you are in the jobs you are in are because of us. And that if you want to hold onto your jobs you’re going to do this,” says Cole.

Cole says it was obvious that he should help because if the Democrats won he would lose his job for sure, he just didn’t like that he was being forced to do it.

Bijoy Datta says he was careful not to step over any lines. Datta says his words didn’t come out the way he intended.

“But in practice, none of the work was mandatory. There were plenty of employees that came to me and said I can’t do this because I’ve got my kid’s soccer game," says Datta. "I’ve got this to do, that to do and nobody ever had any issues with any of that.”

Section 17-158 of the state Election Law says a public officer with authority over employment cannot influence the vote or political action of any public employee.

Robert Nielsen is the Republican Commissioner of the Broome County Board of Elections.  He says the law doesn’t apply to political appointees at high levels in an administration.

“Most folks in those positions have zero protection under state law from being discharged if they at some point no longer have the confidence of who ever appointed them,” says Nielsen.

Nielson says the law is meant to protect civil servants or the rank and file employees from being stuck doing political work.

But John Perticone, the Democratic commissioner on the election board, disagrees. Pericone says there is nothing in the law that suggests political appointees are exempt.

According to Perticone, the board of elections has no jurisdiction over this type of investigation that responsibility rests with the district attorney. District Attorney Gerald Mollen says his office is reviewing the issue.

It would be a felony if the law had been broken.