Assembly candidate Robert Smullen out of a job

State Assembly candidate Robert J. Smullen of the town of Johnstown announces his candidacy April 11 in downtown Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

ALBANY — Republican state Assembly candidate Robert J. Smullen is crying foul politics because he recently lost his position as executive director of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District.

Smullen’s campaign sent out a news release this week saying that Democrats in state government were to blame for what they see as a political move.

“He was doing a good job at the district,” campaign staffer Mike Rose said Wednesday of Smullen.

But Hudson River-Black River Regulating District Board of Directors Chairman Mark Finkle said today there was nothing political about the board’s move to let him go. He has since been replaced with interim Executive Director John Hodgson.

“He withdrew to run for office,” Finkle said of Smullen.

Finkle admitted that Smullen had requested an unpaid leave of absence while he ran for Assembly. Finkle said the board “considered it,” but later rescinded the offer, deciding it was unacceptable to wait until November to possibly hire a new director.

“We wish him the best,” Finkle said.

Smullen didn’t return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday and today.

But he stated in the release: “Unfortunately, these types of actions are exactly what New Yorkers have come to expect from the politics of today. I greatly respect the board of directors, and I am sure that overwhelming political pressure from the governor’s office is what caused the change of heart from the board. Let this be further proof of my commitment to this race and to the people the 118th Assembly District — nothing will deter me from fighting for the people of New York.”

Smullen added: “I asked for an unpaid leave of absence to become a candidate for Assembly. I was willing to walk away from my position to run for this office because there would be no greater honor than to represent the hardworking people of my community in Albany.”

Town of Johnstown resident Smullen announced April 11 in Johnstown he is seeking the Republican nomination for the state’s 118th Assembly District seat. The seat is currently occupied by Assemblyman Marc W. Butler, R-Newport, who is retiring at the end of the year and who also attended the event. Smullen is currently the third Republican to announce his candidacy in the district, which consists of Fulton, Hamilton, Oneida, Herkimer and St. Lawrence counties. Other GOP candidates are Patrick Vincent and Philip Lloyd Paige. Keith Rubino is the only declared Democrat seeking Butler’s seat.

Smullen served in the Marine Corps and achieved the rank of colonel before retiring in 2015.

The release issued by Smullen’s campaign claimed “political pressure” from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office caused “decorated Marine colonel running for Assembly to be let go.”

The release indicated the HR-BRRD board on April 10 granted Smullen’s request for unpaid leave from his position as executive director. But the release said that within 10 days, the board “succumbed to political pressure,” voting to end Smullen’s role in the agency.

Smullen, a lifelong Republican, originally applied for the position back in January 2016 through an advertisement on the job search site “Indeed” and was appointed to the position in May 2016, the release said.

Rose said being named to head the regulating district is typically a political appointment, but Smullen didn’t “exert any influence” to get the position. He claims the governor’s office and the Democrat-controlled board got wind of his political ambitions and now “he’s out of a job.”

“The guy is committed to running and being the best assemblyman for the 118th [District],” Rose said.

Finkle stated in response, “It was not political.”

He said there are two Republicans on the regulating district board, and he heard that state government was “not happy” about leaving the position open for months for a leave of absence.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.