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Emails Show MA Secretary Of State Dismissed Mazzeo Campaign Claims

People standing around a table with seated people.
Josh Landes
Melissa Mazzeo (standing in the maroon blazer) watches as city election officials recount votes on November 25th. Mayor Linda Tyer stands with her back to the camera on the right.

On November 5th, Pittsfield, Massachusetts voters sent Mayor Linda Tyer to a second term. But losing candidate Melissa Mazzeo has pressed on – calling for a recount held Monday that affirmed the result. Now, emails from the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office reviewed by WAMC have shed new light on Mazzeo’s claims.

A week and a half after losing to Mayor Linda Tyer, city councilor Melissa Mazzeo filed a petition for a recount with city hall. One of the two reasons cited was that “unauthorized persons had access to the area in the office of the city clerk and registrar of voter’s office where ballots were stored and maintained.” The city councilor reiterated these claims on the day of the recount, November 25th.

“When you have somebody that’s not authorized to be in an office, there’s ballots that are open and freely there it throws to question,” said Mazzeo.

She named names: Mayor Tyer’s husband.

“It’s – at least, of the secretary of state’s office – it was Barry Clairmont," Mazzeo told WAMC. "Being the husband of the candidate, I think it would be the last place you would want to find yourself. You’d want to stay as far away from anything that you could. But because that didn’t happen, there were people there voting, he was behind the counter, they called me and told me, we made our call to the state. The state then called the city clerk and explained that no unauthorized people should ever be in that area and that she was to not have that happen again and what not. So we have that on record.”

WAMC secured records of the Mazzeo campaign’s communications with Secretary of State William Galvin’s office. In those emails, Mazzeo says the initial call about Clairmont originated October 29th, and was made by her campaign director Chris Keohan of CK Strategies, a Boston based consulting firm.

On November 20th, Michelle K. Tassinari – the Director and Legal Counsel of the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Elections Division – acknowledged receipt of the campaign’s call, and wrote the following:

“There was no indication in the call that Mr. Clairmont was soliciting votes for or against any candidate or otherwise communicating with staff or voters. The report was of his presence in the office.  Upon receiving this information, Election Services Manager William Rosenberry contacted City Clerk Michele Benjamin who indicated that he came to the Registrar’s office to pick up a record previously requested and was waiting in the area where voters were using absentee ballots.  Ms. Benjamin directed him to go into her office so she could give him the requested record, which would avoid him remaining within the area where voting was occurring.  Upon receipt of the requested record, he promptly left the office.  At no time did he interact with or interfere with voters or have access to ballots or other election materials.

After receipt of this call, the City Clerk directed all candidates and campaign staff to exclusively interact with their offices through the counter at the City Clerk’s office.”

While Galvin’s office told WAMC that it has “no reason to believe the clerk is not telling the truth,” Mazzeo responded to that message saying that her campaign had received no such direction from Benjamin and that her account was suspect. Mazzeo spoke to WAMC Wednesday.

“If people are clearly standing there and they’re doing absentee ballots, there’s ballots that are out and he was in the back part of the office," she said. "If you’re waiting for record requests from the clerk, you’d be in front of the counter in the clerk’s office.”

Benjamin is the city’s chief election official. She did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Under no time – let me be clear – no time during this entire election did I have unauthorized access to any ballots for this election," Clairmont told WAMC. “I was in the voters office a number of times during the campaign looking for various reports and pieces of information.”

He served as his wife’s campaign treasurer, crunching numbers and analyzing absentee ballot requests and prior election results to predict voter turnout.

“There’s nothing barring me from being in that office or – any member of the public has every right to go into the voters office, make public record requests for any information that is a public record," said Clairmont. "So at no time was I doing anything inappropriate by going in and asking for various records.”

Clairmont told WAMC that while he didn’t recall the exact events of October 29th, one trip to city hall could have been what the complaint was about.

“There was one time where I was asked by the city clerk to go into her office to retrieve some of the reports that I had asked for so I did walk through the voters office to get to the clerk’s office,” he said.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, Mazzeo can seek no further remedy from the office at this time, and her only way forward is in the courts. Mazzeo says her team is working on a legal case daily.

“When you’re going to take something to court or you’re making a decision to go to court, you gather all your evidence and you get all your stuff," said the city councilor. "You don’t keep throwing it out into the wind – ‘oh, we have this,’ and ‘oh, we have that.’ It’s once you get everything together then you make your decision and that’s when everybody will know.”

With the recount, Tyer picked up two votes, extending her margin of victory to 528. 11,961 votes were counted.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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