City Council candidate Margret Chin's alleged voter fraud lawsuit against rival PJ Kim was back in court this morning. Following the hearing, Josh Ehrlich, Chin's attorney, conceded he probably did not present enough evidence to prove the fraud allegations. Only about a third of the subpoenaed witnesses showed up, seriously hampering Ehrlich's case (more on that in a moment).
The most striking development this morning occurred outside the courtroom, after the proceedings had been adjourned. Talking with reporters, PJ Kim said the lawsuit is evidence that Chin can't accept that there's another Asian candidate in the race. Kim (who's Korean) said he wanted to represent the First District on the City Council – he asserted that Chin (who is Chinese) wants to be "the mayor of Chinatown." It's fair to say these comments are not sitting well with the Chin campaign. They will be releasing a statement shortly – we'll have more on the Kim/Chin war of words later this afternoon.
Now back to the proceedings before Leslie Lowenstein, the court appointed referee, this morning. About 10 witnesses were called to testify, all signature collectors for the Kim campaign. While there were some irregularities, Ehrlich was not able to establish a pattern of illegally altered petitions. He noted that 18 witnesses were "no shows." A spokesman for the Chin campaign has suggested that the Kim campaign encouraged witnesses to ignore the subpoenas.
Lowenstein will prepare a report early next week for State Supreme Court Judge Edward Lehner, who has scheduled a hearing on election matters Wednesday afternoon.
Pete Gleason's lawyer, Ray Dowd, just called with his take on what happened at the courthouse today (see the last post). It should come as no surprise he''s not buying the Gerson campaign's argument that the mistakes made on the petitions were merely technical errors. He says it has became apparent that pre-printed petitions with Alan Gerson's wrong address were passed out to campaign workers collecting signatures. Dowd contends that, since those people altered the petitions by correcting Gerson's address, the petitions are "mutilated" documents, and therefore illegal. He says this is a clear case of fraud – justifying the disqualification of Gerson from the September ballot.
Dowd said he was not able to fully cross-examine Gerson and other witnesses about the alleged alteration of the cover sheets after the Election Board alerted the Gerson campaign to the problem. He will seek to question Gerson and other campaign staffers and surrogates Thursday.
Dowd expressed frustration that media coverage of yesterday's court hearing highlighted the judge's apparent reluctance to remove a candidate from the ballot for a "cover sheet issue." Dowd thinks, once he heard the argument that issue is really the "alteration of signatures," the judge changed his tune.
We just heard from Lawrence Mandelker, the attorney representing Councilman Alan Gerson in State Supreme Court. As we reported earlier, a referee is sorting through the disputed facts in two lawsuits — one filed by Gerson against the Board of Elections, and the other a suit filed by challenger Pete Gleason against Gerson.
Mandelker argued today that Gerson fulfilled the requirements of state law and of the city's Election Board, in spite of the Board's ruling that his petition is invalid. He said the campaign made a "typographical error" on a cover sheet attached to one volume, incorrectly listing Gerson's address as 1505 Laguardia Place, rather than 505 Laguardia Place. Mandelker contends that since 1505 Laguardia is an address that does not exist – and since Gerson submitted more than 7-thousand signatures (far more than the required 900), it amounted to an inconsequential error.
He argued that since state law only calls for "substantial compliance" and is meant to prevent fraud, the Board should not have called on Gerson to file an amended cover sheet. Mandelker rejects the Gleason campaign's suggestion that the manner in which the amended cover sheet was filed, invalidated the entire petition. Gleason attorney Ray Dowd alleges that Gerson went down to the Election Board's office to correct the error himself, and in so doing, committed fraud. But testifying today, Gerson said he did not handle the issue personally.
The Gleason campaign will present its case on Thursday. Meanwhile, Mandelker will appear before the Board of Elections tomorrow morning to argue a narrow point — that rather than invalidating the entire petition, only those pages affected by the wrong address should be discounted.
We placed a call to the Gleason campaign earlier today. We'll update if we hear back this evening.
There are conflicting reports this morning about what's next for Councilman Alan Gerson, removed from the ballot by the NYC Elections Board. Yesterday, the board's two-member committee on "cover sheet review" reaffirmed a decision made a day earlier to disqualify Gerson due to a technical error” resulting from the printing of petitions that incorrectly listed his address. City Hall News reporter Chris Bragg caught up with Gerson last night at a fundraiser in Chinatown:
In an interview while the fundraiser was
going on behind him, Gerson said that he still officially considers
himself on the ballot until a full hearing of the Board of Elections
executive committee is conducted sometime next week. (This contradicts
the position of the Board of Elections: BoE spokeswoman Valerie Vasquez
said he was actually officially off the ballot, and this could only be
changed if the New York County Supreme Court reverses the decision.) Gerson
also responded to a statement from opposing candidate Pete Gleason
“commending” the Board of Elections decision and stating that Gerson’s
removal from the ballot typified his “shoddy work ethic.” “Pete Gleason is going to use this for political purposes,” Gerson said. “The printer made a mistake. It was a computer error.” Gerson
added that he had no regrets about trying to correct problems with his
petitions himself, rather than hiring an election lawyer do it. “An
expert should not be needed,” Gerson said, saying that he had used all
volunteers to collect over 7,000 signatures, while other candidates
paid signature gatherers. “That’s wrong.”
Earlier, Gerson's campaign consultant, George Arzt, told City Hall News, that he would take legal
action against the board if he was not reinstated.The Gotham Gazette is reporting that a Board of Elections appeal hearing will take place on Monday.
The Village Voice speculates that Gleason and Margaret Chin would have the most to gain if Gerson does not get back on the ballot.
Gerson is running for a third term, made possible by the extension of term limits. The Democratic Primary is September 15th.