WADDINGTON, N.Y. (WWNY) - North country congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s campaign is accusing supporters of her political rival of trying to shut down Saturday’s ‘Back The Blue’ rally in Waddington.
But the mayor of Waddington denies he did any such thing.
And the Cobb campaign says it had nothing to do with the event.
The rally drew law enforcement agencies across northern New York, and a crowd who lined the streets of Waddington to show their support. Police have come under intense scrutiny across the country since the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In a statement, the Stefanik campaign said “(Tedra) Cobb’s campaign top local supporters tried to shut down the event because of her disdain and opposition to law enforcement including threatening local fire departments who safely participated.”
Stefanik, a Republican, and Cobb, a Democrat, are running for the 21st congressional district seat, which takes in all of northern New York.
In an interview with 7 News Monday, Waddington mayor Mike Zagrobelny said he never tried to shut down the event.
“My only concern was the safety and convenience of this event for the residents of Waddington,” he told 7 News reporter Abbey Buttacavoli.
And Cobb’s campaign manager, Gabrielle Hart, said in a statement ““The campaign did not participate in any derailment of this event.”
“We were not aware of any issues that took place during this event, until we saw the reporting and subsequent social media posts.”
Why does any of this matter? As controversial as the police are in parts of the country, supporting law enforcement is still a plus for a candidate in northern New York, and more importantly, being seen as not supporting law enforcement can spell trouble.
Morgan Wilson from the Stefanik campaign said in an email to 7 News that Zagrobelny “threatened the members of Waddington Fire and Rescue against participating, including discouraging members of their families from attending” on Thursday.
Depending on who you read, you get two very different views of what happened Saturday.
Stefanik’s campaign said she was invited to participate and “was proud to show support for hardworking law enforcement families.”
Zagrobelny said in his Facebook post that the village “was not consulted regarding the parade details or speakers.”
He also said Stefanik’s campaign team twice refused to move - once from the civic center, where they set up a table without a permit and once from Whitaker Park, where they set up speakers without a permit.
Wilson from Stefanik’s campaign wrote the Stefanik campaign was never in the civic center, and that the vehicles and speakers in the park weren’t owned or operated by the Stefanik camp.
But Wilson also wrote that Zagrobelny “approached a group of high school participants and college interns (predominantly young women between the ages of 15 and 18 some of whom were exercising their First Amendment rights for the first time and who have law enforcement in their family) screaming at them, threatening them, videotaping them, and saying he was calling the police to have them removed from a public parking lot.”
“I don’t recall threatening anyone with anything.,” Zagrobelny said in response Monday. “I definitely raised my voice but I wasn’t screaming and I wasn’t threatening.”
Zagrobelny said he asked St. Lawrence County Under Sheriff Sean O’Brien to “ensure that the Governor’s Executive order regarding gatherings and proper social distancing was adhered to at the speaking engagement.”
Wilson wrote Zagrobelny “was seen at the intersection of La Grasse street and Route 37 when the parade was crossing the road, laying on his horn in his car as if trying to protest the police blocking the route for the parade.”
Wilson, in his email to 7 News, said the Stefanik team distributed more than 200 face masks at the events.
In turn, the Cobb campaign denied she wants to defund the police - as Stefanik has charged - and accused Stefanik of “attempting to create division where it doesn’t exist.”
“Support for our law enforcement officers should not be a political issue,” said Cobb in an emailed statement. "
“Our communities have good relationships with our police force, and we must maintain those. I do not support defunding the police. I have been incredibly clear on this matter.”
Zagrobelny said he hopes no one gets COVID-19 as a result of “Back The Blue..”
“I will ask the SLC Department of Health to inform Village residents if any contact tracing stems from Saturday’s events.”
And he denied acting on Cobb’s behalf.
“That claim is completely untrue,” he said.
“As mayor I’m going to be unbiased and it’s not about Republicans and Democrats, and conservatives or independents. It’s about running a great village and that is Waddington.”