In string of emails, candidate alleges unfair news coverage
And suddenly there were six.
Former Pelham Town Treasurer Cari Pupo, who at the last moment filed to run in September’s by-election for the open Town Council seat in Ward 1, has dropped out of the race.
Over the course of 11 emails sent to the Voice in a three-hour period on Thursday night, August 13, Pupo asserted that her decision was based on reporting by the newspaper.
In her first email, Pupo wrote, “I’ve withdrawn from the race. Your articles of attack on me are blatant…putting things out there stating I had friction needed anger management confrontational is sexist. If I have a debate with a director or the previous mayor and [the previous CAO] it was to protect this town and in that moment it was always healthy debates. If I was a man I’m sure you would have reported things differently but you didn’t. And I’m sure you have not gone after other candidates like you have come after me. Journalists should be better than this. My kids have been deeply affected by what you have said about me compared to other candidates. More to come.”
By “kids,” Pupo was apparently referring to her three adult sons. The remaining ten emails largely reiterated the same assertions.
The Voice has learned that on Wednesday morning, August 12, Pupo emailed Town Clerk Nancy Bozzato, copying council, to inform Bozzato that she was “canceling” her candidacy, holding Mayor Marvin Junkin responsible for what Pupo seemed to suggest was a conspiracy between him and the newspaper.
“It appears the Mayor is working with the paper to destroy me. When I announced my candidacy the Mayor said ‘You won’t win.’ Then he worked hard to endorse Olson as I have on text message. Elected officials are supposed to stay neutral but this Mayor has not. And his relationship with the paper has guided the paper to say stuff about me that is not true. He says he doesn’t talk to them but then sends a message the next day about what the editor says. I have all the text messages. I am not putting my family through this corrupt government whereby even after you told him he could not endorse Olson he sent me a text asking me to come and see a photo-op with him Olson and [a Fenwick resident]. This is government at its finest. I want answers to why this Mayor is allowed to do what he is doing.”
After news of Pupo’s candidacy reached some former Town Hall employees in late July, they reached out to the Voice to express their concern over Pupo’s fitness for office. The newspaper included their comments in a story that first ran in the August 5 edition. The article also noted that sources confirmed to the Voice that Pupo’s 2017 firing from the Town came as a result of her personal conduct toward other staff.
Pupo was allegedly offered a deal to keep her job if she agreed to undergo anger management counseling. Pupo has repeatedly declined to comment on the offer, and why she didn’t take it.
Asked Friday to respond to Pupo’s decision to drop out of the race, Mayor Junkin said, “It is never a good thing when the choice of candidates available to residents in an election gets reduced. I wish all six of the remaining candidates the best of luck, and I look forward to working with the people’s choice.”
There does not appear to be any prohibition against a sitting officeholder publicly supporting candidates in an election.
In a campaign ad that ran in the Voice earlier this month, Ward 1 candidate Steven Soos presented endorsements from three municipal councillors in other Niagara communities, as well as District School Board of Niagara Trustee Nancy Beamer, sans her title.
“Generally, the conduct of elected officials is not an area of jurisdiction for the municipal administration to address, regulate or comment upon,” responded Pelham CAO David Cribbs, when asked whether officeholders had fewer free-speech rights than ordinary citizens.
“The Town does have a ‘Use of Corporate Property’ policy, which prohibits use of corporate resources [such as Town staff and buildings] for election purposes….the policy is not meant to stifle an elected official’s free speech.”
“I don’t know what Ms Pupo’s actual complaint is,” said Voice Publisher Dave Burket. “We have reported solidly sourced stories, the facts of which are not in dispute. If those facts don’t align with Ms Pupo’s preferred campaign messaging, that’s not the reporter’s department.”
The Voice has offered identical advertising and free promotional opportunities to each candidate. Pupo was the only candidate to decline an interview or to submit campaign photos, which the paper is running at no cost to the candidates.
Technically speaking, in fact, it’s too late for Pupo to withdraw. The cutoff date to leave the race was July 31.
Town Clerk Nancy Bozzato confirms that Pupo provided no notice to withdraw by then, and that strict rules govern a candidate’s departure after the deadline, with few circumstances allowing it.
“A name would only be omitted if the ballots had not been printed and a candidate dies,” Bozzato told the Voice, “or is no longer eligible to hold office—for example, if they no longer own/rent land in Pelham.”
Come Election Day on September 15, Pupo’s name will still be on the ballot paper, next to the remaining six candidates.