|Pittsfield Registrars Uphold Powell's Candidacy for School Committee|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
03:50AM / Friday, August 11, 2017
|Dennis Powell swears under oath that he collected his nomination signatures the proper way. |
For more than an hour, Alexander Blumin pointed to instances where the handwriting closely matched handwriting in others.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Two city gadflies wasted everyone's time on Thursday in a "shameless plug" when they accused Dennis Powell of falsifying nomination signatures for School Committee, according to Board of Registrar member William Barry.
Craig Gaetani, who is running for City Council at large, and resident Alexander Blumin filed objections to Powell's nomination papers.
The pair, who are both regular speakers during the City Council's open microphone period, accused Powell of having the same person write multiple signatures, or that spouses were signing for each other, throughout his 222 certified names for office.
The Board of Registrars took more than two hours of testimony on Thursday to ultimately reject the accusations outright.
"To go through this, to waste people's time, I thought this was totally uncalled for. I thought it was a shameless plug by someone trying to run for office, trying to promote their own agenda, and using you as a scapegoat," Barry told Powell before casting his vote to overrule the objections.
A candidate for School Committee needs 150 signatures from registered voters. Powell turned in 273, 222 of which were certified by the Registrar of Voters.
During Thursday's hearing, which was presided over by City Solicitor Richard Dohoney and was before Board of Registrar members Jody Phillips, Jennifer Kerwood, and Barry, Blumin walked the group through 11 pages of signatures, pinpointing addresses that appeared to be in the same handwriting.
"The person was using his hand, making the same angle of writing, the same pattern of writing," Blumin contested. "In my opinion, about 15 percent of the signatures are correct, are original, correct signatures."
He compared such things as the D in Dewey Avenue to the D in Powell's name. He compared the way sixes were written to ones near by. He accused entire pages of signatures as all being written by the same person. He repeatedly focused on the handwriting in the address column despite his contesting the signatures were forged.
"We're talking about addresses only," Blumin repeatedly said.
He further contended that there wasn't sufficient time to get all of the signatures required. Papers were made available in early April and Powell returned his in early May.
"Mr. Dennis Powell submitted more than 150 signatures, and all of those signatures were dated in May," Blumin said, claiming as much as 85 percent of the signatures were falsified.
Blumin also repeated that it was "his opinion" that the signatures appeared to be forged. It is incumbent on the accuser to bring forth a preponderance of evidence to prove wrongdoing.
"It was an opinion and even in his own testimony 'I may be wrong' was repeated several times," Barry said.
Following Blumin's testimony, Powell offered a brief rebuttal, listing his multiple leadership roles he has in the community and civic organizations, and called the allegations an "insult" to himself, the people who signed for him, and the community.
He also questioned why he was the only candidate for office singled out.
"I find these accusations offensive to my integrity," Powell said, later adding, "It is a direct insult on the 273 individuals who offered their signatures in support of my candidacy."
One of those names specifically cited by Blumin was that of Superintendent of Schools Jason McCandless, who testified that he signed his own name and address.
"I was at an event and watched almost every one of these people sign this sheet individually, including myself," McCandless said, vouching for about a dozen signatures Blumin accused of being falsifying.
Thasia Giles testified that her name was also written by her.
"This signature was completely my own I was surprised to hear it called into question," she said.
Even the mayor's name on the signature page was cited as possibly being falsified. Powell had a dozen or more supporters in the audience willing to testify that their signatures were, in fact, their own. But, in an effort to save time he didn't call each one.
Gaetani specifically called attention to some of the notable names of people who signed for them, and those in the audience ready to testify on Powell's behalf.
"We have wall to wall good old boys, special interest groups, in the audience," Gaetani said.
During his testimony, which often veered into him spouting off accomplishments and money he allegedly saved the city in the past regarding the water treatment plant — a common topic for Gaetani during open microphone during City Council meetings — Gaetani disputed even the Board of Registrar's ability to rule on it.
He called for a forensic audit, which the Board of Registrars does not have the authority to order, on the signatures and a ruling from the secretary of state.
"We have to make absolutely certain in elections that we have transparency," Gaetani said. "I don't know whether Mr. Powell was completely honest."
He continued to say how his objections were to help the "taxpayers" and boasted of his own self-worth and vigilance toward accomplishing political and social gains.
The pair said large sections, and even entire pages, featured the same handwriting all the way down the address column.
"Mr. Blumin and myself are mavericks. It is mavericks who move communities and countries ahead. We don't care anything about how many people oppose us, all we care about is having our say to be able to express ourselves," Gaetani said.
Blumin said the city is filled with "political corruption" and objected to Dohoney, who was not a voting member, moderating the hearing. He said he sent multiple letters to Dohoney in the past and never got a response.
"Because you disrespected me by not replying, you diminish me as a United States citizen, diminish me as a resident of Pittsfield, and you are hostile with me. I oppose you being part of this hearing," Blumin said.
Both Blumin and Gaetani said they've also filed objections to Powell's paperwork with the state and with District Attorney David Capeless, but have not received a response from either.
Gaetani didn't offer any new evidence beyond the multitude of signatures Blumin cited as looking similar to each other. Though he didn't submit his papers as evidence for comparison, he said the signatures he collected for at-large does not have the same number of incidences where handwriting is similar than in Powell's paperwork.
Powell again had a chance to rebuke Gaetani's objection, to which he replied: "there is absolutely nothing necessary to say."
Powell didn't speak a lot in his own defense overall, and Barry felt the accusations were so outlandish that he respected Powell's demeanor throughout the hearing.
"I have to tip my hat to Mr. Powell to go through this with dignity, to be able to listen," Barry said. "If this shows what kind of candidate and what kind of demeanor you have in doing this, boy, I am all for you."