MONROE – Tears filled Mary Shkut’s eyes as Marvin mayoral candidate Christopher Smith gave his testimony Dec. 2 at a special Union County Board of Elections public hearing regarding the Nov. 5 election.
A write-in candidate won the Marvin mayoral race by 18 votes, beating Smith, who was the only one on the ballot. The Union County Board of Elections later revealed the write-in winner was Mayor Joe Pollino, who did not file for reelection prior.
Events that allegedly took place the week before the election involving Pollino, Marvin planning board member Mike Lavelle, Village Commissioner Kim Vandenberg and commissioner candidates Bob Marcolese and Jamie Lien led Smith to file a protest Nov. 15, accusing them of unlawful election practices.
The Union County Board of Elections dismissed the protest, making Pollino’s win valid.
The alleged events started after Smith endorsed Shkut’s write-in campaign for reelection of town commissioner, he said in his testimony. Smith said he felt Shkut was more qualified than Marcolese and Lien. He wrote her a letter of recommendation, which she published on her website. He said Marcolese, Lien, Vandenburg, Pollino and Lavelle disagreed with this decision. Marcolese and Lien were elected to the village council Nov. 5.
“Disagreement is to be expected in politics; even strong disagreement is to be expected in politics,” Smith’s lawyer Bo Caudill said. “But they didn’t just disagree. They didn’t just try to persuade voters that Chris was wrong. Instead, they engaged in a campaign of confrontation that included threatening phone calls and a verbal altercation outside of village hall on election eve that were designed to scare Chris and his supporters away from the polls on Election Day.”
Caudill said the alleged events led Smith to change his campaign plan on Election Day. He also said the accused parties took one of Smith’s fliers and attached a written statement that said, “No More Mary,” which he said confused voters.
Smith wanted a “free and fair election,” according to Caudill.
In his testimony, Smith said after he endorsed Shkut, who was at the meeting as an observer and was not represented by an attorney, he received phone calls which he perceived as “threatening” from Pollino, Lien and Marcolese. He had not told anyone except Vandenberg that he would no longer support Lien and Marcolese.
Smith alleged that over the phone, Pollino assumed Shkut had bribed or blackmailed Smith to receive a letter of recommendation. Smith said he denied these assumptions to Pollino on the phone, and Smith alleged that after this, Pollino implied he would tell people about a scandal that did not happen involving a woman at Firethorne Country Club. Smith said he believed the alleged threat and was frightened.
Smith’s wife testified that she heard the phone call and she also felt upset afterward.
Smith alleged that after a planning board meeting the night before the election, things got more aggressive. He sits on the planning board and said he was late to the meeting, but when he got there, he saw Pollino, Lien and Marcolese, all of whom he said had no business at the meeting.
Smith said that after the meeting, he was cornered outside by Pollino, Lien, Marcolese and Lavelle. He said they accused him of being a liar and yelled in his face. He said Lien got very close to him with a clenched fist and a pointed finger. However, nothing became physically violent.
Planning board member Kelly Cates observed the interaction as she was walking to her car. She testified as a witness and recalled the events Smith spoke of. She said when she walked down, she saw Lien “aggressively pacing,” yelling and getting close to Smith, pointing his finger.
“I work in a lot of gang neighborhoods in Charlotte,” Cates said. “I don’t get rattled very easily, but his behavior made me very uncomfortable. It did seem very aggressive … I don’t know him, so I don’t know what he’s capable of. It was very clear that Chris was very uneasy, but he was keeping it together. But I didn’t know what could’ve happened. It could’ve turned violent.”
Cates said she was concerned about her safety and left while the alleged altercation was happening, though. She felt guilty about it when she got home.
Smith said in his testimony that on Election Day, he planned to greet voters at Marvin Elementary. When he saw Pollino and Lien at the same location that morning, Smith said he decided to leave because he felt nervous. He would later go back to the school.
None of the accused were present at the hearing Dec. 2. Kenneth Helms, who represents Pollino, Lien, Marcolese, Lavelle and Vandenberg, presented affidavits in their absence.
Helms questioned Smith, asking if he had the option to ignore the phone calls. Smith said he did have the option and confirmed that no one prevented him from ignoring the call or hanging up the phone. Helms asked if it was true Smith did not call the police or report the phone calls to the Board of Elections, which Smith confirmed.
Marvin resident Diane DeMacio testified at the hearing, although she was not a witness and had never met any parties involved in the matter. DeMacio said she had been out of town in the weeks leading up to the election. The day before the election, she saw campaign signs for Pollino, whose candidacy she was unaware of.
DeMacio said when she and her husband went to the polls the next morning, she was approached by Lien, who gave her a “huge bear hug” as soon as she got out of the car. DeMacio said she and her husband were “shocked” because they did not know Lien. She said Lien told them Smith had betrayed Lien and Marcolese and handed them the “No More Mary” flier, which she said she did not keep.
DeMacio said she moved to Marvin three and a half years ago after working as a paralegal in Virginia for 25 years.
“I am appalled by the conduct of the current Marvin village… and I am embarrassed to say that I live in the village of Marvin,” DeMacio said. “In my experience, even though they submitted affidavits… if a defendant doesn’t show up at a hearing, they’re admitting their guilt.”
Deliberations continued into the afternoon and the next day.
Attempts to reach Helm and Pollino were unsuccessful by press deadline.