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Is letter from Plattsburgh landlord considered voter intimidation?

Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 7:55 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 22, 2020 at 5:14 AM EDT
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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) - A letter from a Plattsburgh landlord is stirring up controversy online. Channel 3′s Kelly O’Brien spoke with a tenant who received a letter encouraging them to vote for the GOP candidate for mayor.

John Gordon has lived at his Sailly Avenue home for two years. He says his partner found the letter taped to their door on Monday and that their neighbor got one too. It encouraged tenants to vote for Republican Scott Beebie in the upcoming Plattsburgh mayor’s Race.

“I really felt like my boss telling me who to vote for, because a landlord has a similar power of relationship economically over tenants,” Gordon said. “He is the owner of the property I live in.”

Among other things, the letter says that the city likely will “raise taxes to recoup losses” from controversial projects like the Durkee Street lot and that would mean landlords would need to raise rents. The letter went on to say they don’t want to raise rent and “strongly encourage you to consider voting for Scott Beebie.” The letter never mentions Democratic candidate Chris Rosenquest.

“Intentional or not, that association is created and it almost feels like a vague intimidation or bullying,” said Gordon.

Voter intimidation is illegal, but would this be considered voter intimidation? Harvey Schantz, a political science professor at SUNY Plattsburgh, says no. “This to me is electioneering or persuasive speech,”he said Schantz. “Aside from actually voting, the way that people participate in elections the most is by trying to persuade others as to how to vote.”

Schantz says the landlord was using the property to connect with their tenants on the elections and that in New York state, who you choose to vote for is kept a secret. “A secret ballot means that no one will know how you voted, we know if you voted,” he said.

Still, Gordon believes it crossed a line, “'I’ll make it personal. I am a candidate for Ward 5 city council.' And if it were me, personally being endorsed like this, I would still be angry,” he said.

The landlord for the properties, 15 Champlain LLC. and 11 Plattsburgh LLC., did not respond to a request for comment. Scott Beebie also did not respond.

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