SHRUB OAK, NY – There is an unwritten rule in politics, that electioneering on Memorial Day is considered inappropriate. Towns may even pass local laws banning it. Campaigns usually pause to honor veterans, but this year, Democratic State Senate candidate Robert Kesten shocked veterans and onlookers as he personally distributed literature and flyers at three different parades throughout the 40th Senate District.
Martha Ruiz Jiménez, the spokesperson for Senator Terrence Murphy’s campaign, said “The Senator’s campaign has been fielding calls non-stop from veterans and their families who are disturbed by Robert Kesten’s actions. They are an affront to all those who gave their lives in service of this great nation.”
Kesten’s actions were caught on video by onlookers. Organizers from at least one of the parades asked Kesten’s volunteers to refrain from handing out literature and they did so, at least momentarily, until the individuals who asked them to stop walked away. They then resumed passing out palm cards to disgusted parade attendees. Those in attendance at the South Salem Memorial Day parade reported that Kesten’s challenger Peter Harckham had volunteers handing out stickers and palm cards as well and his campaign should be held to similar account.
World War II veteran Anthony Grasso said, “We gave them the freedom and it’s a shame they’re disrespecting us in this way.”
Gilbert Kaufmann, a combat infantry veteran of the war in Korea, said “They call the Korean War the forgotten war, but those who died will never be forgotten. I am here because of them, to speak for them. I was at the ceremony at witnessed what Mister Kesten did and it is beyond reprehensible.”
Art Hanley, Vietnam veteran, said “Memorial Day is a day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It is not a day for political self-serving actions.”
Eugene Lang, a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, said “Doing what Mr. Kesten did is disrespectful. Memorial Day is when we honor the members of the military who gave their lives for their country.”
This is not the first time that political campaigning during Memorial Day ceremonies has engendered controversy in the area. In 2008, the North County News, Putnam County Courier, Putnam Press and Putnam Times covered the upsetting practice during the race between then Assemblyman Greg Ball and challenger John Degnan. The papers also printed numerous letters as well as editorials decrying the practice, which no candidate for any office has attempted since.
“Robert Kesten proved he has no respect for the day or for the memories of those who were being honored,” Ruiz Jiménez said. “Unfortunately that seems to be the mantra of Robert Kesten and his movement, no respect for the people or for the institutions which made this country the greatest nation the world has ever known.”
In contrast to the scandal, Senator Murphy has a strong legislative record of supporting veterans’ services on issues such as education, employment, healthcare, housing and reintegration. He has also authored and passed a key bill that would block the closure and sale of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Campus of the VA Hudson Valley Health Care System at Montrose, as well as the milestone law that designated the Vietnam Veterans of America as an official benevolent order, which gave it the status and resources to better serve New York’s veterans, along with the other rights and privileges conferred to other traditional veterans’ service organizations.