Let the campaigns begin: Potential candidates file petitions

Gwen Chamberlain
Yates County District Attorney Valerie Gardner.

This summer’s political season is just beginning and things are already heating up in the race for the Yates County District Attorney post. Incumbent Valerie Gardner is being challenged by Steuben County Assistant District Attorney Todd Casella, who has filed plenty of petitions and collected more than $10,000 in donations — most from individuals outside Yates County — for his war chest.

If both of their Republican petitions pass the scrutiny that’s going to occur over the next week, there will be a Republican primary. Both have filed Republican, Conservative, Independence, and Reform Party Designating Petitions.

Republican Election Commissioner Amy Daines says the Reform Party and the Independence Party have authorized Casella’s name to appear on their ballot lines. Gardner has been authorized to appear on the Conservative Party and Women’s Equality Party lines.

Both candidates have notified the Board of Elections they intend to challenge the other’s petitions. According to the timeline related to the date the petitions were filed, Gardner has until 5 p.m. July 19 to submit specific challenges to Casella’s petitions and he has until July 24 to submit specific challenges to her petitions.

Casella, who lives in Hammondsport, has wasted no time in taking off the gloves, aggressively attacking Gardner for the forged signatures that appeared on petitions passed for her unsuccessful 2016 Yates County Judge campaign. Conservative Party petitions for Gardner were ruled invalid due to the forgeries.

“My team and I were meticulous in collecting signatures with honesty and integrity – the same values that I’ll bring as the new D.A.,” added Casella. “We weren’t going to take the same unethical approach that Valerie Gardner did last year when several of her petitions were thrown out by the Board of Elections and someone got arrested and convicted for forgery.”

When asked if he has information indicating that Gardner directed or had knowledge of the actions that Patrick Galvin took with her petitions last year, Casella responded, “I believe that a candidate for office is ultimately responsible for everything that happens with their campaigns. I certainly take responsibility for mine.

“Valerie Gardner should have reviewed her petitions for signature integrity before submitting them. She’s one of the two top law enforcement officials in Yates County. If she didn’t identify the forgery, I’m not sure we want her as the one protecting us in the courtroom.

“However, even beyond the forged Conservative signatures, six more of Gardner’s petitions last year contained more than 350 other irregularities. These issues resulted it Gardner being thrown off the ballot on at least two other places for not following proper legal procedures. There wasn’t one isolated incident; there is a pattern of unethical behavior - which is the last thing we should expect from the District Attorney. Petitions for this year’s election have now been filed. We’ll see soon enough whether Gardner’s petitions are valid, or if her pattern of bad ethics continues.” he replied in an email.

Gardner says she has filed petitions containing over 900 signatures from registered Yates County voters. The Republican, Conservative, Independence and Reform party ballot lines sought by Gardner require a total number of signatures of 331, 12, 35 and 1, respectively. “I am honored that the good people of Yates County value my years of service and am proud to represent them as the only Yates County resident seeking the office.” said Gardner.

Gardner began her career as a Child Protective Caseworker. Since becoming an attorney in 1995, she has served as a county prosecutor for 21 years, in addition to being a local employer in private practice for 19 years.

Casella says as a prosecutor in Steuben County he has handled more than 4,000 cases (including more than 600 felonies) and taken more than 40 cases to trial in the courtroom.

“I take the great responsibility of being a prosecutor seriously, and it is one of the many reasons I truly love this important work,” added Casella. “If elected, I will bring an honest and sincere commitment to seek justice for the people of Yates County, without fear or favor.”

According to the campaign finance documents filed with the State Board of Elections, 71 of Casella’s 76 contributions originated from outside Yates County.