Democratic candidates running for Town of Oyster Bay supervisor and the Town Board complained on Wednesday that only they were “targeted” as violators of a town code at a festival last weekend, and not those running on the Republican ticket.
Amanda Field, who is running for supervisor, said that Democratic candidates’ First Amendment rights were denied when they were handing out literature at the Tobay Waterfront Festival, and were approached by town public-safety officers who told them to stop. Another officer asked them to put their fliers away while in the parking lot, Field said. She could not do so because she didn’t have anywhere to put them. Yet another officer told the candidates to do the same.
“We came to meet residents at the festival,” Field said, and added, referring to Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino, “Saladino is using his employees to silence his opponents and prevent candidates from getting their message to voters.”
Town spokeswoman Marta Kane said the Democrats were violating a town code. “The only candidates for public office distributing campaign materials were the Democratic slate, not Republicans,” Kane said. “Town codes are in place for over a decade to protect the public from annoying business and political solicitations during a family outing.”
The town code includes a provision that requires people to refrain from causing others discomfort or inconvenience. It recognizes, however, that “leafleting is a respected tradition in American society and is a method of communication that has permitted citizens to spread political … messages.”
Nonetheless, the code adds that the town has the “responsibility to protect its residents from undue interference and harassment in the exercise of their rights to private relaxation, contemplation and enjoyment of their use of town parks.” And those who distribute leaflets may not “endanger the safety of patrons or interfere with park activities.”
Field said that although Saladino did not promote himself by distributing fliers, banners, signs, tents and recycling bins display his name.
“The town code is unconstitutional, and has a history of violating civil liberties,” Field argued. “We see [Saladino’s] name everywhere, and millions of taxpayer dollars are being used for campaign mailers.”
Kane disagreed, saying, “The Oyster Bay Democratic ticket supports defunding the police yet also believes they’re above the law. Candidates running for elected office should respect the law rather than break it.”
Democrats said that by refusing to allow them to distribute fliers, Saladino is engaging in censorship. “He is always trying to stifle residents, not allowing them to have freedom of speech,” Field said.
Saladino was not available to be interviewed for this story.
Field and the Town Board candidates left the festival last weekend, she said, to avoid being ticketed. Field added that she had not decided whether she would file a lawsuit.
“I felt threatened by the first officer, who was not kind,” she said. “I feel badly that employees of the town feel that they have to do this.”
According to Field, when the public-safety officers were asked to cite the town code the Democrats were violating, they could not. “People working for the town were dispatched to get rid of us, but didn’t even know what we were doing that was wrong,” said Lisa Reinhardt, who is running for the board.
Field, the commissioner of the Plainview Water District, said she mails only two newsletters per year to residents. Otherwise, she explained, she reaches them digitally, on Facebook or the water district’s website. “It’s very important to communicate with the public, and that isn’t done much here,” she said.
The town, does not know how to reach its residents, she said, except by multiple mailings and affixing Saladino’s name to signs and buildings.
“Every five mailers cost taxpayers $25,000,” said Reema Rasool, a Democrat running for Town Board. “There should be more outrage about the town using our taxpayer dollars for mailings and telling us that we can’t hand out materials at public event. The snack bars at the beach are named after [Saladino]. That’s too much for me.”