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After court ruling, Binghamton City Council appoints Republican to contested council seat

Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo
The Democrat-led city council and Republican Mayor Jared Kraham have been feuding for months over the contested seat after a tied race in November.

The Binghamton City Council has appointed Republican Mike Kosty to fill its contested 6th District council seat. It is the latest development in an ongoing feud over the seat, ever since a tied race in November.

Republican Mayor Jared Kraham and the Democrat-led council each argued for months that they had the authority to fill the vacancy. Each appointed a council member to the same seat. Kraham appointed Republican Phillip Strawn, the incumbent in the race, while the council appointed Democratic challenger Rebecca Rathmell.

Last month, a Broome County Supreme Court judge ruled that although the Democrat-led city council does have the right to fill the seat, it is required under city charter law to appoint a Republican to the seat.

Under city law, a vacant seat must be filled by a member of the same party as the elected official who previously held the position, until a special election is held.

In his decision, Judge Joseph McBride wrote that the council should work with the Broome County Republican Committee to appoint the new member. The Republican committee nominated Strawn for the position. Kraham also signaled that Strawn should be appointed.

But during a tense special meeting Friday, the council voted to appoint Kosty instead.

‘I don't think any party is going to be satisfied’

Council members said they wanted to appoint someone with no involvement in the prolonged battle over the seat, in the hopes of improving bipartisan cooperation in the future.

“I don't think any party is going to be satisfied with who's sitting in the seat, because no one won,” Council Member Nate Hotchkiss said. “And by having someone running again [in a special election], sitting in the seat, I think that creates an unfair advantage.”

Strawn was present at the meeting, seated alongside the other city council members. Strawn has acted as a voting member during city council business meetings since the judge’s ruling, which determined he should hold the seat until the council made its appointment.

Strawn objected to Kosty’s appointment and argued the council had hoped to keep Rathmell in the seat, despite the fact that she was also involved in the dispute.

“Why would you put yourself in a position to violate a court order?” Strawn said. “I’m not a bad guy. I'm a decent guy, you guys have all been decent to me. I think I've been decent to you. So I don't know what the practical side of this is, this doesn't make any sense at all.”

Strawn’s objections led to a heated exchange with Council Member Mike Dundon during the meeting.

“It was a failure to elect, so neither you nor [Rathmell] should sit at the seat,” Dundon said. “The judge made it very clear that we had to try to work with the Republican committee. And we asked the chair, we asked the mayor, we have the records to show we asked for more than one name, and we did not receive one.”

‘Unprecedented and alarming’

In a statement, Republican Mayor Jared Kraham called the meeting a “clear and willful violation of a court order” and indicated he may pursue legal action.

“I’m reviewing this matter with counsel, and will take any legal actions necessary to ensure the law is followed,” Kraham wrote. “Council’s action is unprecedented and alarming, and calls into question whether they are fulfilling their oath of office.”

Broome County Republican Committee Chair Benji Federman called the appointment “illegal” in a statement Friday.

“We look forward to City Council being held accountable for this unlawful act and a judge reversing tonight’s action,” Federman said.

Though the vote to appoint Kosty was unanimous, City Council President Hadassah Mativetsky said she would have voted to appoint Strawn if any other council member had brought a motion to nominate him. Council Member Kinya Middleton expressed frustration with the ongoing dispute.

“This is not national politics. Honestly, the city is too small for us not to work together,” Middleton said. “And to me, all of this, even this here today is very upsetting, because it should not be. So I just hope after this, that we can really move on whatever the repercussions may be, or whatever may happen. I really hope that we really can move on.”

A special election for the 6th District will be held in November.