A communications assistant for Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, used a phony name to blog, tweet and write letters to the editor of area media outlets, including the Observer-Dispatch.
The name, "Dave Garland," was one Patrick O’Brien used to write a book, "The Common Man’s View of Political Dishonesty," while a junior in college. O’Brien has been submitting letters to the O-D under the false name, "Dave Garland," for the past year. Most were pro-Tenney, and all were checked through the O-D’s letter verification system whereby writers are called by a staffer, asked to identify themselves and queried briefly on letter content to be sure that they are indeed the writer.
"Garland" also wrote letters to the Rome Sentinel and Syracuse.com.
In all cases, O’Brien claimed to be "Dave Garland," the author of the letter.
Tenney’s office said the staffer was spoken to and told to stop.
"After Rep. Tenney became aware of a young staffer’s social media posting on his own time, he was asked to delete the account and refrain from such activity in the future," said Hannah Andrews, Tenney’s deputy chief of staff and communications director. "Unlike Rep. Tenney’s detractors, he was always civil and polite."
O’Brien, under "Dave Garland" and listing his residence as Camden, had letters published Aug. 26, 2016, Oct. 11, 2016, June 24, 2017, and July 25, 2017. Two praised Tenney for her work, while several criticized Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, an announced Democratic candidate for Tenney’s 22nd Congressional District seat.
O’Brien’s last letter, sent to the O-D in an email Aug. 17, 2017, raised some suspicions. It accused Brindisi of asking Utica College government professor Luke Perry to ask questions for him during a Tenney coffee hour event in Cortland. Perry has been a political analyst and columnist for the O-D since the beginning of the last presidential campaign.
After consulting with Perry, the letter was not published due to suspicions that it might be untrue.
In an Aug. 30 email, "Garland" expressed "extreme disappointment" with the O-D’s letter to the editor system for not keeping him informed of progress in getting the letter published.
"I will be publishing my letter through other avenues along with voicing my displeasure publicly," he wrote.
A follow-up email asking him to resend the letter was not answered.
It wasn’t long after that when O’Brien was exposed. In a blog, UC’s Perry wrote that "Followers of Dave Garland, a frequent social media commentator on NY-22, recently learned via Twitter this is a pseudonym for Patrick O’Brien, communications assistant for Congresswoman Claudia Tenney."
Perry wrote that O’Brien adopted the pen name several years ago as an undergraduate student at Western New England University. A video promoting the book revealed that he used the pen name.
"O’Brien explained this in a promotional video on Facebook for his self-published book, "The Common Man’s View of Political Dishonesty." "Garland" touted the book in his Aug. 27, 2016, letter to the O-D.
Garland’s Twitter account retweeted Tenney, Perry said, and regularly criticized Brindisi. Meanwhile, O’Brien’s LinkedIn profile lists the authorship of his book between interning for Tenney’s campaign and working for her office. Perry notes that Tenney and Andrews followed "Garland" on Twitter.
Perry stated, too, that Garland also recently created a new blog, "Upstate NY Congressional News," with the purpose "to fight major media bias" in NY-22, NY-19, NY-21 and NY-24. The opening feature, "Fighting Dishonesty Together," was devoted to "giving a voice to upstate conservatives" by offering to publish their letters.
"Garland’s" social media accounts and blogs have since been taken down since his identity was revealed, Perry said.
Contributing: Dave Dudajek and Fran Perritano.