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State commission dismisses complaint against Norwich mayor's campaign consultant

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published February 19. 2014 3:00PM   Updated February 19. 2014 11:46PM

Norwich — The state Elections Enforcement Commission Wednesday dismissed a complaint filed by Norwich registrars in September alleging a consultant working for then-mayoral candidate Deberey Hinchey’s primary campaign used voter coercion and attempted intimidation of election officials.

Democratic registrar Dianne Daniels and Republican registrar Dianne Slopak filed the complaint against Geoff Luxenberg, owner of the Vinci Group consulting firm hired by Hinchey for both her successful primary campaign and November mayoral election. Luxenberg also is a state representative from Manchester.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon following the meeting, Luxenberg called it a “politically motivated, inaccurate” complaint that falsely accused him of improper conduct.

The Elections Enforcement Commission issued a four-page ruling following Wednesday’s dismissal vote, approved 4-0 with one abstention. The ruling said allegations that Luxenberg spoke in “a negative and combative nature” with registrars in demanding absentee ballots be provided to voters who could not get to the polls did not constitute a threat.

One of the Norwich voters contacted by the commission described Luxenberg as “a perfect gentleman,” the ruling stated, and the second voter contacted could not recall details of the incident.

The ruling stated that in order to find a violation of state statutes, the commission had to conclude that the respondent in a complaint had to “voluntarily” commit an act that influenced someone’s speech by using “force, threat, bribery or corrupt means.”

The commission said Luxenberg’s statement that he would seek an investigation into the registrars’ refusal to issue an absentee ballot “are legal statements that are consistent with a citizen’s free speech rights.”

After learning of the decision, Slopak said Wednesday that she was not surprised that the complaint was dismissed and said the commission never contacted the registrars’ office during its investigation into the complaint. The registrars also were not notified that the complaint was on Wednesday’s agenda for review.

“We’re disappointed,” Slopak said. “The main reason I felt we did it was to make the Elections Enforcement Commission aware that we felt he was doing something unethical. Maybe it will raise a red flag if something else comes in.”

Daniels could not be reached for comment.

Hinchey said she was “very, very pleased” with the ruling and said it affirmed her confidence that her campaign consultant did not violate election law.

“This is a good conclusion to an unpleasant situation,” Hinchey said.

In his statement, Luxenberg called it a “manufactured controversy” and said his conduct was focused on making sure city registrars allowed an elderly woman to vote.

“I am not surprised with the result, and am pleased the record has been set straight,” Luxenberg said in the statement.

c.bessette@theday.com

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