MAYFIELD — The recently formed Fulton County Conservative Party Committee made its first formal endorsement Thursday night, selecting incumbent Sheriff Richard Giardino.
Giardino gave a speech and answered questions during the monthly meeting of the newly formed Fulton County Conservative Party Committee, which had its first organizational meeting in September 2022.
Mayfield resident Anne Desiderio, who chairs the 17-member Conservative Party committee, explained the endorsement of Giardino.
“We support our [constitutional] amendments, including our first amendment freedom of speech, and he speaks up for us,” she said. “And he’s a great sheriff.”
Following the 2022 New York State gubernatorial election the Conservative Party was one of only four political party ballot lines that met the minimum 2% of the votes cast threshold for automatic ballot access, meaning the party can nominate candidates to the ballot without the petitioning process required for candidates running for parties that didn’t meet the threshold, like the Green or Libertarian parties. The other three parties with automatic ballot status are the Republicans, Democrats and the Working Families parties.
Fulton County had 703 voters registered as members of the Conservative Party, as of the Nov. 1, 2022 party affiliation enrollment report filed with the New York state Board of Elections. The report showed Fulton County has 16,996 registered Republicans, 7,787 registered Democrats and 162 registered Working Families Party members, but also 1,749 voters registered to smaller parties and 7,906 “blank” voters, making voters with no party affiliation the second largest category of voters in the county after the Republicans.
Prior to last year, Fulton County political candidates seeking the ability to run on the Conservative Party ballot line during November general elections were required to obtain the needed number of petition signatures from Conservative Party members and then submit their petitions to the New York state Conservative Party Committee located in Albany.
Now that Fulton County has its own locally-chartered Conservative Party committee it can make its own endorsements, although candidates are still required to obtain the required number of Conservative Party member petition signatures.
In neighboring Montgomery County, and other counties in the state, the Conservative Party line is often sought by both Republicans and fiscally- and/or socially-conservative Democrats, enabling the minor party to play a significant role in local elections.
“I hope we’re going to be important, because we’re going to put up a lot of lawn signs, we’re going to put out a lot of petitions, and we’re going to do phone calling, and we work really hard,” Desiderio said. “You can tell we’re a very energetic group, and we’re very motivated.”
The Fulton County Conservative Party Committee holds its monthly meetings in Desiderio’s office, located off Route 30 in the Town of Mayfield. She said the meetings usually draw approximately 30 people.
Thursday night state Assemblyman Robert Smullen, R-Johnstown, attended the meeting. Smullen is the Republican Party whip in the Assembly, a party leadership position that includes the responsibility of persuading party members to support positions taken by the leadership of the conference.
Desiderio said the Fulton County Conservative Party will allow candidates from any political party to make their pitch for why the Conservatives should endorse or support them.
“And they just drop by, like I didn’t know Mr. Smullen was going to drop by, so we’re very honored to have so many politicians who just enjoy our meetings,” she said.
Desiderio said the county Conservative Committee’s endorsement includes the commitment of volunteers to help Giradino obtain the conservative party member petition signatures he needs to file with the Fulton County Board of Elections.
Anne’s husband, Ralph Desiderio, is a Republican member of the Mayfield Town Board and he announced his intention to run for Town Supervisor during the meeting Thursday night.
Anne and Ralph Desiderio are both retired accountants who spent their careers in New York City. Anne said she mostly worked in the garment district in accounting and payroll, and Ralph mostly worked for investment banks.
“Always numbers,” Anne said of their careers, “and we always working like two blocks from home.”
During the question-and-answer segment with Giardino, which included anyone attending the meeting, not just the Conservative Party members, Ralph Desiderio focused on the numbers, asking Giardino about the costs associated with the plan he released to the public in October 2021 to shorten the number of years sheriff’s deputies are required to work before they can retire with a full pension from 25 down to 20, which would be the same as the police officers in Johnstown and Gloversville.
Giardino’s plan when he released it in 2021 included estimates he obtained from the New York State Retirement Office that converting from a 25 year pension for deputies to a 20 year pension would cost a lump sum “catch-up” payment of $880,000.
“I thought it was in the millions?” Ralph Desiderio asked.
Giardino said two of the alternative payment structures he proposed included the county paying $200,000 annual payments for five years, at a cost of $1 million, or $116,000 payments every year for 10 years, at a total cost of $1.2 million.
According to his 2021 plan those payments would be in addition to a 20 year pension program for deputies costing $180,000 more every year than what Fulton County is currently paying for its deputies pension plans.
Giardino said another factor in the cost structure of his plan was not every Fulton County sheriff’s deputy in 2021 was yet eligible for a pension when he proposed it.
“Here is the reason, we had so many young people who had less than two years of experience, they weren’t into the pension plan,” he said. “So, I thought that was the big seller. Now Saratoga [County Sheriffs] are going to the 20-year, but I’ve now shifted to try to get the state to take a look at it.”
The Fulton County Board of Supervisors has never voted on Giardino’s proposal.
Sticking with the topic of law enforcement compensation Giardino said he thinks the state should create a minimum median salary for law enforcement officials whereby different local police salaries would be within a few thousand dollars of each other “so, there’s no reason to go to another agency.” He said all local law enforcement agencies and police departments around the country are having problems with recruitment and retention issues.
Q&A WITH GIARDINO
Giardino fielded other questions that ranged toward national and local law enforcement topics.
“Are we being affected at all by the border crisis?” one person asked.
“We’re not being affected by the border crisis that much, but what we are affected by are the drugs that probably come through the open border,” Giardino said. “Some [illegal drugs] also come through Route 30, through the border with Canada, and through in Indian reservation, the drugs — we get notices all the time.”
Fulton County resident Brian Sydow, a registered Republican, attended the meeting. Sydow asked Giardino about the death of Tyre Nichols, who was killed on Jan. 7 by five black police officers of the Memphis Police Department: Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith, each of whom has been fired and charged with multiple crimes, the top charge being 2nd Degree murder.
“I don’t know if you want to answer these two questions, but there’s a part one and a part two,” he said. “Watching the Memphis video, I couldn’t help but sit there and think to myself what if I was a bystander, watching what was going on. … if I intercede, am I going to be beaten too? Or charged with obstructing the government, or whatever you want to call it?”
For part two of his question, Sydow asked what his rights would be if he was being beaten by the police.
“If I’m the suspect and I’m really getting kicked and beaten around, do I have a right to stand up?” he said. “Say I know martial arts or something, do I have a right to stand up and defend myself?”
“You have a right to defend yourself from unlawful police conduct,” Giardino said.
Giardino said he made social media posts the day after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020 and the day after Nichols was killed.
“I say in them, since I always defend police and I always commend police, then I have the same obligation to condemn it when they’re wrong,” Giardino said.
Giardino said one aspect of the death of Nichols is that both he and the officers involved were Black.
“Thank kind of reinforces what I’ve been saying — it’s not racist cops, it’s good police and bad police,” he said. “In this case, it was bad police. That kid had no criminal record, unlike some of these other incidents where people have had long criminal histories or warrants … and anyone watching [the video] hearing the kid call for his mom.”
“Yeah,” said a woman at the meeting.
“All of you mothers and all you fathers in the room when the kid’s calling for his mom, and you’re saying ‘why don’t they stop?’, and they’re using tasers,” Giardino said.
“That’s what I’m saying, so if I’m standing there,” Sydow said
“You should stay out of it, because you won’t win,” Giardino told him. “I would tell you this, with five police officers who were beating on him — in my opinion, unlawfully, illegally and with no justification — you intervening isn’t going to make them stop and say ‘Oh, he’s got a point.'”
Giardino said New York state has a law that establishes a ‘duty to intercede’ for police officers who see unlawful conduct by other police officers.
“What can a civilian do?” asked another woman at the meeting.
Giardino said civilians can call authorities and report that it’s happening, video record the incident from a safe distance, but he doesn’t encourage anyone to get physically involved.
“If that’s what they’re doing to somebody they think did something wrong, they aren’t going to listen to you,” he said. “This also shows the value of supervision and training, because if there was a sergeant or lieutenant on that call — who did their job — they would have stopped it pretty quick.”
Another person asked how Nichols decision to run from the police should be viewed as a factor in that incident.
Giardino said there is a problem nationally with fear that exists in some communities including among young black men where they may fear, rightly or wrongly, that if they’re pulled over by the police they are going to be hurt by them. He said he favors introducing instruction into the school system that teaches all young people how they should behave when pulled over by the police.
“We don’t have a lot of brutality, or claims of brutality, in our county, but one of things we want to do is set a program of a half hour to 45 minutes where we teach kids, maybe in Driver-Ed, when you are pulled over, this is what you do,” Giardino said. “And remember, there’s what you can legally do, and what you should do. Just because you can legally do something, doesn’t always mean it’s the right thing to do. If somebody is violating your rights, or you think the police are excessive, file a complaint and go up there, but don’t take the law into your own hands.”