UPDATE: This story has been updated with more information from the New York State Board of Elections about the New York State Public Safety Foundation.
ITHACA, N.Y.—Voters in the First and Fifth Wards of the City of Ithaca may have received an interesting piece of mail over the last few days: a campaign mailer with the faces of either First Ward incumbent Cynthia Brock or Fifth Ward candidate Marty Hiller.
While that type of mail would be fairly normal for election season, especially with the local primary ongoing for both those candidates, small print at the bottom of the mailer reveals an unfamiliar source of the mailers.
“Paid for by the New York State Public Safety Foundation,” it says. “This communication was not expressly authorized or requested by any candidate or by any candidate’s political committees or by any of its agents.”
Brock and Hiller have both said they aren’t sure where the mailers came from and why they are being sent out on behalf of their campaigns. Neither candidate’s campaign finance reports show donations from the New York State Public Safety Foundation or any similar entities.
Searches in Google and federal and state public election databases do not turn up anything for the “New York State Public Safety Foundation,” as it does not appear to be a registered political action committee or have had reported prior involvement in local elections—at least not by that name. The return address on the mailers, however, is 263 Route 17K, Suite 1004 in Newburgh, NY. That address is associated with the New York State Union of Police Associations, a non-profit organization that describes itself as providing “labor related services to independently affiliated police benevolent and law enforcement organizations.” New York State Board of Elections official John Conklin said that there is an independent expenditure committee by that name, which was founded on June 3, 2021.
The most recent interest any statewide police union organization showed in Ithaca affairs was in March, when they flanked Ithaca Police Benevolent Association President Thomas Condzella as he called for the rejection and redesign of the Reimagining Public Safety proposal. Condzella and other union officials had accused the plan of union-busting, though those allegations have been rebuffed.
Requests for comment from the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association and the New York State Union of Police Associations had not been answered by the time this story was published. Beyond that, a call to the New York State Board of Elections seeking clarification of the political action status of the New York State Public Safety Foundation has not yet been returned.
Both mailers feature pictures of Brock and Hiller taken from their campaign websites, as well as relatively generic statements in support of their suitability for office. Brock’s touts her as a “protector of immigrant rights,” that she “supports police reform” and is “endorsed by organized labor;” meanwhile, Hiller’s states that she is a “proven leader” and a “progressive voice.” All statements that are vague yet liberal enough to appeal to a very wide swath of Ithaca voters. Identical advertisements can be found on the Ithaca Times‘ website.
However, both candidates have distanced themselves from the mailers, both claiming they haven’t had any contact with the state police union nor sought any endorsement from them. Hiller sent out a press release once she got wind of the mailers, and Brock addressed them in a tweet.
As a recipient of this largess, I was saddened when I saw it. Statewide union attention and financial contributions to Ithaca’s City Council race is a whole new world… one that I never imagined or wanted. https://t.co/gErTM5MIpV— CynthiaBrock (@CynthiaBrock_) June 15, 2021
“This puts me in an unexpected and unwanted situation: campaigning on a thorny and emotional issue, with social ties to activists and a strong commitment to deep reforms, and yet somehow receiving unasked-for support from a state police organization, one that I’ve not to my knowledge had any contact with,” Hiller said in a statement. “No one is under any illusions about where I stand. My decision to listen derives from my experience with negotiation and consensus, and my commitment as a Unitarian Universalist to honor “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” –– a principle that applies to everyone, not just people I agree with.”