The state Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) issued a ruling against the Damali Vidot for State Representative campaign this week for a misstep in the endorsement of DPW Director Fidel Maltez, but Vidot alleges the complaint on the matter is a pattern of harassment against her by Council President Roy Avellaneda.
OCPF fined the campaign $350 for the violation, with $125 of it going to the state and the other $125 going to a charity of choice. The problem revolved around an endorsement on Vidot’s campaign Facebook page. The endorsement came from DPW Director Fidel Maltez and his wife, Maria Belen Power. While non-elected public employees can endorse candidates, they cannot do so with a solicitation for contributions. Under the picture of Maltez was a link and a solicitation for contributions.
“The campaign finance law states that non-elected public employees may not ‘…directly or indirectly solicit or receive any gift, payment, contribution…or promise of money or other thing of value for the political campaign purpose of any candidate for public office…’ Non-elected public employees may, however, endorse candidates for public office, but only if the endorsement is not part of a solicitation for contributions,” read the letter from OCPF.
During the OCPF inquiry, Maltez said he was not aware his endorsement would be used for fundraising and did not agree to that.
Vidot said it was a misstep that came when the campaign received 10 similar endorsements, mostly from elected officials – who are permitted to raise money for another candidate. She said they should have removed Maltez’s link for fundraising, but forgot to do so by mistake.
“I can promise we didn’t get any money as a result of that post,” she said. “I was going to go through the whole process with them, but after the election we decided just to resolve it. That’ how we came up with the idea. It isn’t a big deal. I don’t want to minimize it because there is a rule and we broke that rule through a misstep and we acknowledge it.”
Maltez told the Record he was glad the issue was resolved and that it was stated he had no idea that the endorsement would be used for fund-raising.
“I am happy to see this issue resolved,” he said. “It was clearly an unintentional misstep by the campaign. As OCPF stated, my endorsement of a candidate is within my right and I am proud to be an active participant in the community we have chosen to live in and raise our kids in. When my wife and I decided to endorse Damali, we were doing so as individuals who live in this community and support her, not within our professional capacity…The issue was not with our endorsement, but rather the accompanying text on the post. I had conversations with OCPF and was happy to hear from them that there was nothing we did wrong.”
All that withstanding, Vidot said she sees the complaint as an ongoing form of harassment by Council President Roy Avellaneda. She said she was told he made the complaint and it follows with what she called a trend.
“The problem here isn’t so much the misstep,” she said. “The problem here is when you have people like Roy Avellaneda weaponizing state agencies to stifle grass-roots movements. It is definitely scary. I’ve had Police and Fire yelling and screaming and threatening me. Honestly, I’m tough; I grew up in Chelsea, but you don’t know what’s driving the other person. I don’t even want to talk about OCPF; I want to talk about white men harassing women of color when they see themselves losing power to someone like me.”
Avellaneda said he took great offense to having the finger pointed at him, noting that many people saw the misstep and many pointed it out to the City Solicitor in Chelsea and the OCPF. He said it wasn’t just him, and he actually heard about it from others that complained. He also pointed out this was her second misstep.
“First of all, it was made clear to me that complaints were made to the City and to the City Solicitor first,” he said. “So, it wasn’t just OCPF and not just to me. Members of the community – residents – saw the incident and recognized it right away as a violation and raised it to me. Now, whether it’s a street crime, drug activity or trash violations or anything, Councillors get all sorts of complaints. It’s our duty to pass them on to the police, if that’s it, or in this case a state agency. The fact is this is the second time Ms. Vidot has violated campaign finance. My message back to her is don’t break the law and there is no weaponization by anyone. She has said she would run first-class campaigns, but here we are seeing more violations. Furthermore, in the 25 years of City Councillors, there have been 30 members serve and no one else has ever been charged once, let alone twice, with a violation. She’s done it twice in four years.”
Avellaneda also said the first violation came when, he said, she was trying to hide donations from developers.
“She loves to control the story and only wants to talk about her misdeeds in her methods,” he said. “The reality is she’s already been charged $1,200 for hiding campaign donations from her supporters because she didn’t want them to know that she was taking money from a developer…and here we are again with another mistake by her campaign. My integrity has been questioned by here time and again, and I want to ask people to look at who is doing things by the book and who isn’t.”