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Westchester Committee Keeps Campaigns In Line

Victor Goldberg, Susan Schwarz and Paul Atkinson of the Westchester Fair Campaign Practices Committee.
Victor Goldberg, Susan Schwarz and Paul Atkinson of the Westchester Fair Campaign Practices Committee. Photo Credit: Sam Barron

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- As election campaigns kick into gear, there's one group that's doing their best to make sure campaign material is fair and accurate.

The Westchester County Fair Campaign Practices Committee is a non partisan group of citizens that rule when a candidate complains about unfair campaign literature.

The purpose of the committee is to promote a climate in which candidates conduct honest, fair and open campaigns, refraining from dishonest and defamatory attacks and without distorting the facts. The committee rules on the complaint, though it's rulings are nonbinding.

The committee formed in 1991 after an editorial in a local newspaper blasted the culture of campaigning in Westchester. The League of Women Voters started the group with five members along with a Democrat and Republican who observe the proceedings. The committee now has 16 members.

"We think that form of transparency and has been a key to our success and longevity," Susan Schwarz, a committee member and Tarrytown resident, said. "We rule for both sides."

Schwarz said when the committee goes into executive session to rule on a complaint, they always try to develop a consensus.

"The discussion is very important," Schwarz said. "People in the room need to have the same vision. We usually leave the room pretty satisfied.

The committee says a candidate is responsible for anything said in a candidate's name.

"If someone puts out something on your behalf and it's not right, we expect you to disavow it," Victor Goldberg, current chair and Scarsdale resident, said.

Schwarz said members are all political junkies who have been around the block. The group features lawyers, librarians, teachers and members of the League of Women Voters.

"We're jaded without being cynical," Schwarz said.

Schwarz and Goldberg both said they one day hope the committee is no longer necessary.

"We would like people to stop being unfair in campaigns," Goldberg said. "They don't need to be. They can be just as effective without some of the nonsense."

Goldberg said there is a combative instinct in candidates or campaign manages.

"It's almost inevitable they will overreach unless there's a penalty for overreaching," Goldberg said. "Hopefully what we do is an impediment. You have to read about yourself in the newspaper as being unfair."

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