Chairs for GOP-endorsed candidates Robert Sullivan and Luis Segarra sit empty. (Photo: Peekskill Democrats)

Last Friday night—Sept. 8—The Peekskill Post received a press release from the “Peekskill United” Republican-endorsed ticket informing the public that Common Council candidates Luis Segarra and Bob Sullivan would not be participating in the next morning’s Candidates Forum hosted by the Peekskill NAACP. Included as to the reasons why the candidates would not be taking part included “late notice” and an inability “to ensure a fair and unbiased event.”

Segarra and Sullivan will not participate in Saturday’s NAACP Candidates Forum

On Sunday night, the NAACP replied in a statement of it’s own. It is as follows:

We the Peekskill NAACP Civic Engagement write today to respond to recent misinformation circulated by “Peekskill United” and the Republican Party of Peekskill regarding our Candidates Forum at the Field Library in Peekskill on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 9.

While planning for this event—which began months ago to arrange a forum for Westchester County Executive candidates Jenkins and Latimer—took a turn when, late in the day on Aug. 23, The Peekskill Post reported that “the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court ruled that Common Council candidates Luis Segarra and Robert Sullivan—Democrats running on Republican Mayor Frank Catalina’s Peekskill United ticket this fall had indeed acquired enough petition signatures to qualify as candidates in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary. The decision, made on appeal, overruled prior decisions by both the Westchester County Board of Elections and New York State Supreme Court Justice Sam Walker, who found that the pair submitted some 60 invalid signatures, leaving them short of the required number.”

The next day, Aug. 24, in response to this ruling, the Peekskill NAACP Civic Engagement co-chair reached out to Peekskill Republican Chairman Vincent C. Vesce Sr. to invite Segarra and Sullivan to attend the Candidate Forum. We had several email exchanges with him over the course of the next eleven days, in which he made references to his communication with Segarra and Sullivan. Based on Vesce Sr.’s communications with them, the Civic Engagement Committee believed that they were doing everything possible to secure the participation of the two candidates.

It wasn’t until Sept. 4, five days before the Candidates Forum, that we received an email from Brendon Fitzgerald, introducing himself as the campaign manager for Segarra and Sullivan, requesting information on the upcoming event, and requesting that all subsequent communication about the event be channeled through him. Consequently, we had no choice but to start the entire process over, this time with Mr. Fitzgerald. In the days that followed, Fitzgerald asserted a number of times that he would get back to us. But it was not until 8:17 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 8—the evening before the Candidates Forum—that Fitzgerald stated in his last email: “We have a scheduling conflict and will not be able to attend the forum. I tried to work around it, but we committed long before your invite.”

Here we respond, point by point, to an article in The Peekskill Post, also dated Sept. 8, with the headline Segarra and Sullivan will not participate in Saturday’s NAACP Candidates Forum:

• “Unfortunately, due to late notice and scheduling conflicts, Peekskill United cannot attend tomorrow’s forum. Peekskill United was contacted late about the forum the Peekskill NAACP scheduled for Sept. 9.”

The NAACP made contact with V. Vesce Sr. as soon as we knew that Segarra and Sullivan were going to be on the ballet of Sept. 12, and from Mr. Vesce Sr’s. email correspondence, we were clear that we had the right contact.

• “After trying to ensure a fair and unbiased event, we were ignored and our names were still used without permission in a press release stating we would be attending. If truly an unbiased event, our input and schedule would have been taken into consideration to show a clear level of respect.”

The NAACP press release named all the candidates, a matter of public record, but did not state who would be attending. Given that we had exactly 17 days—and only three Saturdays when many people are free to attend—between the Appellate Court ruling and the primary and an event we’d scheduled, we stayed with our plan to hold the event on Saturday, Sept. 9. We asked for and received input from NO candidates; the Peekskill NAACP is capable of mounting a Candidates Forum without such assistance, and, as a non-partisan organization, must eschew such input.

• “The event taking precedence is the Peekskill Police and Fire Department 5K. We see this as a very important event to support for our community. Since the forum provides the questions in advance and our written responses were requested, we are making the best of both worlds. Luis Segarra and Robert Sullivan wanted to take the time to answer these questions in a video that can be viewed by clicking on the link below.”

The Peekskill NAACP and its Civic Engagement Committee applauds the Peekskill Police and Fire Department 5K, and we hope it was as successful and well-attended as our Forum.  Please note the forum questions were not provided to the candidates in advance. A selection of five questions was supplied to each invited candidate in advance. The content of the forum was based on audience supplied questions and a list of predetermined questions covering a wide range of topics.

We count on this statement to put to rest any aspersion cast upon our conduct.