DUTCHESS COUNTY – The Dutchess County Democratic Committee met virtually on Monday night to select Hannah Black as their elections commissioner.
The meeting was the end of a contentious battle that began when County Legislator Black challenged current Dutchess County Board of Elections (BOE) Commissioner Beth Soto for the position. Black defeated Soto by a margin of nearly two to one.
Black announced her challenge in September claiming that Soto was working with her GOP counterpart, Erik Haight, in acts that Black considered to be voter suppression in advance of the presidential election. Soto rebuffed the claims and called Black unethical.
The race heated up late last week when Soto’s deputy, Debbie Wright sent a letter claiming that Black is the candidate chosen by Democratic County Chairwoman Elisa Sumner because Soto fired Sumner as her deputy and the challenge is retribution.
The internal rift caused supporters of both candidates to send emails announcing their support. Soto received endorsements from former Congressman John Hall and current Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, both of whom sent their announced support to committee members.
Former BOE employee and attorney Terry Horner supported Soto. In an email he said, “The county committee needs to find a better way to carry out its mission. Whether you call it ‘eating our own,’ circular firing squad, or just plain vindictiveness, it is counterproductive.”
Suzi Stoller, a longtime party activist endorsed Black, saying that Soto’s received endorsements were inconsequential. The Town of Poughkeepsie Democrat also took issue with former BOE employee Joe Torres who is supporting Soto, saying in part, “Joe Torres would have us support Beth Soto because of a Latino connection.” Mrs. Soto is married to a man of Latino descent. Torres said, “Beth has my support because she is better qualified – the fact that she is married to a Latino does not influence my vote.”
Soto was nominated Monday night by City of Poughkeepsie Councilwoman Natasha Cherry and seconded by her colleague Lorraine Johnson. Newly elected Fishkill Town Councilwoman Kenya Gadsden nominated Black and the nomination was seconded by Brian Kelly. Gadsden said, “Hannah is committed to the Democratic candidates and she will continue to put getting Democrats elected as her top priority.”
GOP Commissioner Erik Haight rejoiced in the selection, saying, “Legislator Black has a reputation of not being particularly bright or hard-working so I look forward to working with her.”
The Democratic Committee will forward the name of their selection to the county legislature for Black to be approved. Typically, the legislature provides a “rubber stamp” approval to the party’s choice.
Neither Black nor Soto responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.