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Binghamton mayor files lawsuit over disputed city council seat

Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo
During the Binghamton City Council business meeting Wednesday, city council members said they had secured legal representation in the suit. Democrat Rebecca Rathmell abstained from all council votes while legal proceedings continue.

Binghamton City Council has secured legal representation in a lawsuit filed by Mayor Jared Kraham, which requests an injunction against the city council’s appointment of Democrat Rebecca Rathmell.

Just a day before the city council’s appointment, Kraham appointed the incumbent Republican council member, Phillip Strawn, to the seat after the two candidates tied in the November election.

The lawsuit, filed on Monday, names the Binghamton City Council, City Clerk Sarah Dinhoffer, and Council President Hadassah Mativetsky as defendants.

The lawsuit argues the council’s appointment of Rathmell was unlawful.

It requests an injunction against city council taking any actions that “interfere with or restrict Councilman Strawn’s ability to sit and perform his duties as a lawfully appointed member of the City Council.” The petition also requests that the court annul Rathmell’s appointment.

“The City Council incongruously refused to allow Councilman Strawn to take his seat at the Council's dais during a hastily scheduled special meeting on the evening of January 5, refused to allow him to cast a vote, and deprived him of any opportunity to speak,” the filing reads.

On Wednesday, Binghamton City Council said they had secured legal representation. Council member Nate Hotchkiss said city council members are looking forward to leaving the decision up to the courts.

“It's in the lawyer's hands now, and they're going to move forward with the case and get this resolved as quickly as possible,” Hotchkiss said. “So it's definitely on better footing, but it has been a turbulent couple first weeks.”

During the city council’s business meeting, Rathmell abstained from all council votes. She said while legal proceedings continue, she does not want to risk the invalidation of any votes.

“My vote being on record has the potential of invalidating any efforts, and I just don't want to risk it,” Rathmell said. “I continue to submit questions, engage in caucus conversations, get answers to questions that constituents are asking. But until this is resolved, I will not be submitting a formal vote.”

During the city council’s work session on Monday, department heads presenting legislation said they had been directed by the mayor to not answer any questions posed by Rathmell.

Broome County Supreme Court Justice Oliver Blaise filed a notice officially recusing himself from the proceedings Thursday, citing “personal familiarity with the parties.” Justice Joseph McBride is listed as the lawsuit’s assigned judge. A hearing will be held Wednesday morning.