ELLSWORTH, Maine — A Hancock man elected last month to the Hancock County Commission may have violated federal law by running for partisan office at the same time he was working as a federal employee, according to a complaint filed with federal officials.
Antonio Blasi, who works part-time for the postal service, on Thursday called the complaint “ridiculous” and “tomfoolery.” Blasi is scheduled to begin serving his four-year term on the commission after the end of the year.
“I don’t understand the basis for this [law],” Blasi said. “This complaint is a politically motivated act.”
Blasi, a Democrat, said he believed that the Republican Party is behind the complaint.
The Hancock resident defeated Republican Fred Ehrlenbach of Trenton in the Nov. 6 general election, receiving 5,153 votes to Ehrlenbach’s 4,485. Blasi is replacing Commissioner Fay Lawson, also a Democrat, who decided not to seek re-election.
Rich Malabay, a Republican who represents District 34 in the Maine House of Representatives, said recently that he filed a complaint with the U.S Office of Special Counsel, which investigates Hatch Act complaints. Malaby said had never heard of the Hatch Act until some of his constituents brought it to his attention after the election. He said his constituents, whom he did not identify, pointed out Blasi may have violated the federal law. He decided on his own to look into it further, he said, and was not encouraged to do it by Republican party officials.
“If it’s against the law for him to do it, he shouldn’t do it,” Malaby said.
According to Ann O’Hanlon, spokeswoman for the federal agency, there is nothing in federal law that prevents federal employees from holding elective office. She declined on Thursday to comment specifically on or even to confirm the existence of the complaint about Blasi, but did say the act applies to postal workers.
O’Hanlon said the law stems from the 1930s and is aimed at preventing federal employees from participating in partisan politics. In any Hatch Act violation that the office decides should be addressed, the employee faces the loss of his or her federal job, not a prohibition on serving in the position to which he or she was elected.
“The violation is in the campaigning, not in the holding of the office,” she said.
O’Hanlon said that, in election years, the office can be “inundated” with Hatch Act complaints, so it can take some time to resolve any particular case. In addition to a loss of federal employment, such complaints can result in a simple warning to the offender or in the case being closed without any action being taken.
Blasi said he was unaware of the Hatch Act before the election and that, in his campaign materials, he publicized the fact that he works for the post office. He said he cannot think of any possible conflict between him running for county commissioner and delivering mail for a couple of hours each day. He also owns and operates a small kayak guiding business.
If Republicans had a concern about his running, he said, they should have brought it up during the campaign, not after he was elected.
Malaby said he has spoken with another person in Hancock County, whom he also did not identify, who told Malaby that he also filed an identical complaint about Blasi with the federal agency. Malaby said he has not spoken to anyone in the Special Counsel’s office about the matter.
Malaby said he is not concerned that Blasi is an elected member of Hancock’s planning board, because that position is nonpartisan. He said that the possible violation most likely was an innocent “mistake” on Blasi’s part.
Malaby said that he will leave the matter in the hands of federal officials as to whether or not Blasi will be made to choose between his postal service job and his elected position. He does not intend to pursue it further, he said.
“I feel like the whole thing has become kind of vague,” Malaby said, though he added: “It probably would preclude him from running a second time.”
Blasi said that he has sent copies of a petition to members of Maine’s congressional delegation, asking that they support a proposal to loosen restrictions of the Hatch Act so it would, among other things, allow postal service employees to run for partisan political office.
Blasi added that, if he still is employed by the postal service by the time his term expires at the end of 2016, he will be careful not to run the risk of violating the law. He said, given the economic challenges the postal service is facing, his job easily could be eliminated by then.
“My job will be one of the first to go,” he said.
But if he does have to choose, he added, “I’d rather be a county commissioner.”
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.