Chairman Al C. Hollands of the Niagara County Conservative Party has accused Elections Commissioner Lucille L. Britt of embarking on a "crusade" to remove him from local politics, but Mrs. Britt dismissed Hollands' accusation as "paranoid."
The two fired verbal broadsides at one another in separate interviews with The Buffalo News, sparked by the insistence of Mrs. Britt and her colleague, Commissioner Michael J. Beeny, that Hollands falsely claims that he is a resident of Niagara County.
Mrs. Britt is a Republican, and Beeny is a Democrat. Together, they head the bipartisan Niagara County Board of Elections.
That law says that political party committeemen must live in the county in which they hold office. The election commissioners say that voting from a false address is a felony violation of the state Election Law.
Hollands' version of the conflict is that when John Long was elected county Republican chairman in September 1996 and made an unsuccessful attempt to oust Mrs. Britt as election commissioner, she became vindictive toward him because he and Long are friends.
"John and I have been friends for years," Hollands said. "I have gone out socially with John and several Republican (county) legislators on many occasions. She took that to mean that I was lining up to get rid of her.
"I've asked her personally on several occasions to stay out of partisan politics, but she took on a crusade and wouldn't let go," Hollands said.
Mrs. Britt, who insisted she has no problem with Long as chairman of the Republican County Committee, said of Hollands: "How could he get rid of me? He's a Conservative. I didn't know he was so close to John Long." Told that Hollands felt she was working to remove him from his party post, Mrs. Britt replied: "Why would I care who the Conservative Party chairman is? Does he have some special power I don't know about? Why is he so paranoid?"
Hollands claims 3316 Beebe Road, Wilson, as his address. However, Beeny and Mrs. Britt say the residence there is abandoned. Acting on what they said are "numerous complaints" over the past year, they asked for an investigation by the Sheriff's Department in an effort to determine whether Hollands actually lives in Niagara County.
That probe began Monday, but Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein said it would not be a high-priority case.
Mrs. Britt said a letter complaining about Hollands' alleged failure to reside in Niagara County was presented to the county attorney's office Nov. 12, 1996, but County Attorney Glenn S. Hackett said, "We have no jurisdiction over that. We can't investigate anybody."
Hollands said the large stone house at the Beebe Road site looks abandoned because he is remodeling the interior. He says he occasionally lives in a trailer on the property.
Recently, some of the brush and saplings that surrounded the house have been cut. Part of the house is caved in. Located in a well-kept barn behind the house is the headquarters of Frontier Skydivers, a local parachuting club that rents the land, which is in Holland's wife's name.
The election commissioners think Hollands lives with his wife in a home on Lancaster Avenue in Buffalo, where Prudence Hollands has been registered to vote under maiden name for about 20 years, according to Erie County Board of Elections data.
Hollands said at one time, he took down his mailbox on Beebe Road and rented a post office box in Newfane. When his mail was not being forwarded to Newfane, he said, he again erected a mailbox.
Mrs. Britt said the mailbox was restored after Board of Elections mail addressed to Hollands there was returned to the board as undeliverable, and she passed word through a Conservative committeeman that Hollands should put up a mailbox on Beebe Road.
Hollands, who has no listed telephone number, said he and his wife obtained a non-published number last year after receiving a lot of "crank calls." He said most of the calls were from Republicans angry "because I was helping John Long." He added, "If anyone wanted to get in touch with me, they knew how."
When the state Conservative Party headquarters was asked last week for Hollands' home phone number, it supplied The News with a number in Buffalo that had been listed to Mrs. Hollands before it was changed to an unlisted number.
Hollands also charged that Mrs. Britt has enlisted the help of Beeny, who has been an elections commissioner only since February, in "a campaign to disintegrate" minor parties. Before Beeny became an elections commissioner in Niagara County, he lived in West Seneca, in Erie County.
Beeny said, "Lucille Britt does not control what I do. We get along very well. We agree on a lot of things, but we disagree on a lot of things."
Hollands claimed "a manifesto" outlining a scheme to destroy minor political parties has been circulated to "a chosen few," but he has not seen it.
Mrs. Britt and Beeny denied they had written any such document. Mrs. Britt asked, "A manifesto? Isn't that what the Unabomber sent out?"
Beeny charged that minor-party chairmen try to intimidate major-party candidates seeking extra ballot lines.
"I've had numerous complaints from candidates that these minor-party chairmen are out of control," Beeny said. "Their numbers don't justify it." He noted that only about 5 percent of Niagara County voters belong to any of the minor parties.
"(The candidates) do and say things they wouldn't ordinarily do" in order to win minor-party endorsements, Beeny said. "The more that candidates don't get endorsed because somebody doesn't like somebody, the worse it gets."
Beeny said he'd like to see a requirement that candidates must be a member of a political party in order to run on that party's ticket.