ALBANY | A dispute over an endorsement from a grassroots progressive group has spilled out into the open in the Democratic primary for New York’s 21st Congressional District.

The New York Progressive Action Network (NYPAN), an organization that sprouted from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid, is alleging a Capital District area chapter has made an unauthorized endorsement of Tedra Cobb, one of the five primary candidates seeking the nomination to go against Rep. Elise Stefanik in November.

“This endorsement was made contrary to the statewide organization endorsing Patrick Nelson on April 14,” said NYPAN in a statement on Tuesday. “This ‘endorsement’ was orchestrated by a Tedra Cobb campaign worker acting as a director of Capital NYPAN.”

The Cobb campaign posted the endorsement on its Facebook page Monday afternoon, and NYPAN reached out and requested it be removed.


NYPAN co-chair and co-founder George Albro told The Sun Capital NYPAN wasn’t authorized to make the endorsement because they do not have a presence in the congressional district, a sweeping expanse that covers all of northern New York.

The two chapters in the district, Washington County Progressives and the Saranac Lake-based Voters for Change, declined to endorse a candidate in the contest, he said.

As such, the statewide group reserves that right, and opted to go with Nelson. 

“It’s not proper for them to endorse in a district that they’re not within,” Nelson told The Sun. “They should take it down. It’s not a proper endorsement. They shouldn’t be misleading the public."

Albro said the executive committee had no objection to Cobb personally.

“We wanted to make it clear that the endorsement was not a valid one, according to our rules,” he said. “To some extent, it may be a misunderstanding and we hope that’s all it is. We’re sticking by Patrick.”

If Nelson fails to clinch the nomination on June 26, Albro said the executive committee will reassess the situation.

This endorsement has lead to a disciplinary complaint being lodged against Capital NYPAN, one of 32 statewide chapters.


Capital NYPAN contended the executive committee has it backwards, and stood by their endorsement.

Local chapters make recommendations to the state organization, and the executive committee cannot endorse without the permission of local chapters, said Capital NYPAN’s Zack Smith, a founding executive officer of NYPAN and founding chair of their elections committee.

Smith called the decision to tap Nelson an “endorsement by fiat” that violated the organization’s bylaws, which grant local chapters autonomy — including making endorsements within their jurisdictions.

“There was no communication whatsoever with the local chapters,” Smith told The Sun. “The local chapters are the ones who give NYPAN the permission to endorse — not the other way around.”

Smith said a Nelson surrogate went to the executive committee in April and floated the idea of endorsement without permission from the local chapters.

But Capital NYPAN went through the agreed-on endorsement process to invite Cobb.

“Our membership voted almost unanimously,” Smith said. “That’s how the bylaws are supposed to work. But unfortunately, there are people more concerned with people getting friends in than following procedure and following the grassroots.”

Smith contends Capital NYPAN does have a presence in the district, hosting some 800 members between New York’s 19th, 20th and 21st Congressional Districts.

He said the chapter has run voter registration drives as far north as Plattsburgh.

“We do have a large footprint up there,” he said.

Albro responded, “I think we have a failure to communicate.”

“They would be right if they were a local chapter in this district, and they did not want us to make an endorsement,” Albro said. “We don’t recognize them as a local chapter in the congressional district.”

Albro continued: “The two chapters that are recognized by NYPAN as official chapters in the congressional district did not make an endorsement, and gave the statewide organization permission to make any endorsement it wished."


Cobb campaign manager Mike Szustak accused the executive committee of using strong-arm tactics.

"The back-and-forth over endorsements would just be normal election noise, but there’s more,” Szustak said. “The leaders of one group threatened and tried to bully Tedra Cobb. Tedra Cobb isn’t going to be bullied, here or in Washington. She knows that sometimes doing the right thing and the hard thing are the same thing. That’s why Tedra Cobb is going to be the next Congresswoman from NY21."

Other candidates endorsed by NYPAN in April included Cynthia Nixon, who is waging an insurgent Democratic primary campaign against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams for lieutenant governor and Ian Golden in New York’s 23rd Congressional District.

The dust-up marks the second in as many weeks amongst progressive groups that have emerged from the ashes of the 2016 presidential contest.

Indivisible chapters and campaigns are sparring over the decision to endorse Cobb ahead of the primary on June 26 as opposed to staying neutral. 

Five candidates are running for the Democratic nomination. Emily Martz, Dylan Ratigan and Katie Wilson join Cobb and Nelson in seeking the seat.

Lynn Kahn is running as the Green Party candidate.

Stefanik, a Republican, is running for a third term.

Patrick Nelson