CLIFTON PARK — A local Republican official is drawing criticism for online statements about gay people attributed to him, opening a new front in a local Senate primary fight that turns in part on the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Several people contacted the Times Union with online postings attributed to Brian Telesh, now chairman of the Clifton Park Republican Committee and a backer of Saratoga County Clerk Kathy Marchione in her challenge to Sen. Roy McDonald.
Libby Post, a public relations executive and longtime LGBT activist who has aided McDonald, was one of those who came forward with the material.
Telesh acknowledged making some statements but denied others, suggesting someone had co-opted his persona digitally.
In 2003, Telesh wrote that gays “are no different than drug addicts, wife beaters, alcoholics or any other deviant behavior group” on a website opposing a federal amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The site is titled The Leviticus Files, a reference to the Old Testament book that Telesh quotes to say homosexuality is an “abomination.”
This week, Telesh said the Leviticus posting was from a private email exchange with campaign consultant Chuck Muth — “something I said over a decade ago that is not in context.”
Muth said he could not remember exactly how he came across Telesh’s quote.
In December 2009, someone identifying himself as Brian J. Telesh engaged in what started as a tongue-in-cheek exchange in a Facebook group about New Jersey, in which interstate bashing devolved after another poster mocked Telesh’s employment as a corporate-level employee of a fast-food chain and his support for the GOP, and repeatedly called him a “clown.”
“Yes I am proud to be Republican, just like your new Governor. The corrupt guy is gone and I’m sure you go to services in Hackensack to see your ex Gay Gov on Sundays ’cause you sound a little gay there,” said the person identified as Telesh.
Another poster named Eric Stein branded the posting as “homophobia” and called Telesh a “bad Christian.”
“Stein? Does that make you a Christ Killing Homo?” reads a reply from the Telesh account.
The exchange no longer appears online, but PDF copies of it were provided to the Times Union by Post and another source.
Wednesday afternoon, Telesh did not initially deny he had written them. “I don’t recall it and never would have written anything along those lines,” he said. “Anybody who knows me knows I would never say anything along those lines.”
Later Wednesday evening, Telesh wrote an email condemning the comments and suggesting they were “bogus screen shots.”
While other users in the online conversation referenced factual details about Telesh’s biography — which are posted on his Facebook profile — Telesh suggested someone had researched him and fabricated the conversation. He claimed the accompanying photograph “may be of me, but … it’s not one of my profile pictures.”
The Times Union, however, was able to locate the same picture used in two other digital accounts used by Telesh. Post said the material was “incredibly disturbing. … Any campaign that he’s involved with needs to distance themselves from him and his comments.”
Marchione’s campaign spokesman Ken Girardin said, “Kathy certainly doesn’t share those sentiments.”
Both Marchione and Telesh have criticized McDonald’s legislative record, including a vote to renew most of an expiring tax surcharge and his party-bucking 2011 vote for same-sex marriage. They have been careful to confine their criticism to McDonald’s change of position: He voted against a similar bill in 2009 and ran for re-election saying he would do the same.
Telesh is quoted endorsing Marchione in emails to supporters, and while he recused himself from the endorsement deliberations of the Clifton Park Republican Committee, he has publicly talked up Marchione.
McDonald, R-Saratoga, said he had heard of Telesh’s postings and “is on the other side.” “America is about inclusion,” said McDonald.
Telesh characterized himself as a “private citizen,” questioned how the postings were relevant and suggested he would explore legal action against the Times Union. “I don’t think that has any relevance on today’s battle,” he said. “It might be some folks from Roy McDonald’s office just trying to slime and attack and go after me personally regarding this. It has nothing to do with any of the issues that are out there.”
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