An update on City Council member Alan Gerson's battle to obtain matching funds from the New York City Campaign Finance Board. A short time ago, we spoke with Gerson's consultant, George Arzt, to find out if he's optimistic about receiving the money on the last pay day next Friday (four days before the Primary). But first – a bit of explanation (that's usually necessary in any story concerning the contentious First District Council race). Earlier this week, City Hall News talked to Gerson about his predicament:
Gerson said that his election lawyer, Lawrence Mandelker,
had met with representatives from the CFB on Tuesday to discuss the situation.
He said the holdup was over a complaint filed by opponent Pete Gleason, who has
asserted that Gerson illegally used the taxpayer funded non-profit the United
Jewish Council of the East Side for his campaign work. Gerson said Mandelker,
however, was assured by the CFB that Gerson would be getting matching funds “if
not this week, then next week.”
Gerson was not eligible for the first payment because, acting on a complaint from Gleason, the Board of Elections removed him from the ballot (a court later ordered the board to reverse that decision) Today, Arzt said the Gleason complaint has nothing to do with this most recent hold-up. He told me that due to mistakes contributors made on required forms, the campaign was about 15 short of the number of donors required to qualify for matching funds. Arzt believes the problem will be cleared up by next week.
A source familiar with the city's campaign finance law indicated that the Gleason complaint would most likely be dealt with in a post-election audit – and is probably not the reason Gerson's most recent payment has been withheld.
Eric Friedman, CFB press secretary, refused to confirm that there is an ongoing investigation of Gerson's finances. He said, as a matter of policy, the board does not disclose any information about its inquiries until a final decision is made. How transparent!
The board's next meeting is next Friday. September 11th. Arzt said, if the CFB denies Gerson's matching funds, it simply means they'll raise more private money.
Meanwhile, this afternoon, the campaign announced two new endorsements: The Corrections Officer Benevolent Association and NARAL Pro Choice New York.
It was quite a scene on a sweltering street corner in Chinatown this afternoon. City Council member Alan Gerson rallied with Chinatown business owners and senior citizens, who are fed up with the Grand Street bike lane. While Gerson stressed his support for more bike lanes throughout the city, he said the configuration of the lanes along Grand Street is not working. He complained that the Department of Transportation has refused to meet with residents about their concerns.
Some of the speakers at the rally said the lanes had cut back on parking along the congested corridor, and hurt local businesses. Others said the shifting of the parking lanes to the middle of the street made Grand more dangerous for pedestrians. Gerson has introduced legislation in the City Council that would require the DOT to follow a "comprehensive community engagement process" before major changes are made to city streets.
One of Gerson's challengers in next month's Primary, Margaret Chin, released a strongly worded statement, following this afternoon's rally:
When the Grand Street bike lane was installed by the Mayor’s Department of Transportation, Councilmember Gerson did almost nothing to oppose it. There was limited community consultation, with only one major hearing and a vote by the Community Board. The hearing was poorly publicized and attended, and Gerson did little to make the debate over the bike lane public or engaged. The one tepid protest that Gerson managed to organize failed to prevent the construction of the bike lane, the entirety of which falls within Council District 1. Now that his prospects for election to a third term are in serious jeopardy, he has taken a position with the community, and against the bike lane. Combined with his changing stance on congestion pricing (he voted in favor in the Council, but now claims to oppose it) this position raises questions as to whether his positions on the issues are driven by principles or the desire to be returned to office for a third term.
The rally lasted for almost an hour. On Monday. we'll have extended excerpts from Gerson, as well as Chinatown residents. Below is a short exchange at the end of today's rally. As bicycle advocates grilled Gerson, he tried to reassure them by saying he was trying to prevent the scaling back of bike lanes in New York due to opposition from communities who feel they've been left out of the process.
A source inside his campaign office tells The Lo-Down that a special referee has recommended putting City Council member Alan Gerson back on the September Primary ballot. The Board of Elections removed Gerson for failing to satisfy its concerns about altered petitions. Separately, candidate Pete Gleason sued Gerson in State Supreme Court, alleging fraud. Last week, the referee, Leslie Lowenstein, heard two days of testimony — and he has now forwarded a report to State Supreme Court Judge Edward Lehner. The judge has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow afternoon, in which he'll hear legal arguments from both sides – and decide whether to follow Lowenstein's recommendation. If Gerson gets back on the ballot tomorrow, the Gleason campaign is widely expected to appeal. See our previous coverage of Gleason vs. Gerson here and here.
Yesterday we reported on the hearing before a court appointed referee weighing whether City Council member Alan Gerson should get back on September's Primary ballot. Ray Dowd (pictured, left), representing candidate Pete Gleason, has now given us his take on what happened in the courtroom. Dowd called several witnesses to support his contention that the Gerson campaign engaged in fraud. He wants the court to uphold the Election Board's decision to kick Gerson off the ballot.
The trouble for Gerson began when the printer got his home address wrong on some petitions. Even though the campaign ordered corrected petitions, somehow (it's unclear how) the Truman Democratic Club didn't get the corrected version. The club collected signatures on behalf of Gerson and other candidates it decided to support. Dowd believes yesterday's testimony by one of the volunteers, Renee Abramowitz, is critical. On the stand, she acknowledged that someone had corrected the address and then written in her initials. Dowd says it's a clear case of forgery and, therefore, fraud. Dowd also pointed to the testimony of Jessica Loeser, president of the Truman Democratic Club. Loeser said that – after volunteers had collected signatures – she told them to change Gerson's address.
During cross-examination, Loeser said signature collectors were instructed to inform voters that they were being asked to sign a petition in support of placing Alan Gerson on the ballot. Councilman Gerson's attorney, Lawrence Mandelker, said there can be no fraud unless it's proven that voters were deliberately misled. Dowd called this argument "ridiculous." "Falsifying petitions is fraudulent behavior," he said. Dowd said that yesterday's testimony contradicted what Gerson himself has said — that the problems were caused by a printer's error. Dowd believes he proved it was the "fraudulent acts" of campaign surrogates that are to blame for Gerson's predicament.
Dowd told me he is troubled by the circumstances under which Abramowitz said she collected signatures A nurse for the United Jewish Council, she testified the petitions were left on her desk. When the petitions were completed, she handed them in to her boss at the UJC. Dowd says he questions why an employee, working for a non-profit organization receiving millions of dollars in government funding, was collecting signatures for a political campaign. Dowd acknowledged that this aspect of Abramowitz's testimony is not relevant to the allegations of election fraud. But he thinks it might be a campaign finance issue.
The referee, Leslie Lowenstein, is now preparing a report that will be forwarded to the State Supreme Court Judge who will decide the case next week.
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.
The Lo-Down contacted the city's Board of Elections this afternoon. Spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez says Manhattan candidate appeals will be heard next Wednesday at 11am, not Monday as some news outlets have been reporting. If Councilman Gerson wants to appeal the board's decision to kick him off the ballot — that's when it will happen. Earlier today, City Hall News reported that Vasquez had indicated only the County Supreme Court could reverse that decision.
We also talked with Gerson campaign consultant George Arzt today, He confirmed the Councilman's attorneys will present their case to the Board of Elections next week. He said the printing mistake in which Gerson's address was incorrect, amounts to a "trivial error." Arzt said the rules that invalidate the voices of thousands of voters who sign petitions are "ridiculous and absurd just on the surface." Gerson submitted petitions with more than 7-thousand signatures.
Arzt said the campaign would pursue legal action if the board does not reinstate Gerson on the September primary ballot.
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.
The Downtown Independent Democrats (DID) voted last night to endorse challenger Pete Gleason in the First District City Council primary against incumbent Alan Gerson. We received a late night email from the club's president, Sean Sweeney, saying the vote was 64-52. In some ways, the result was not a surprise. Some political insiders were taken aback two weeks ago when Gerson barely squeaked out a win at the endorsement meeting of his home club, the Village Reform Democratic Club. But Gleason, a former cop and firefighter (now an attorney), is a favorite son of the DID. Sweeney has been openly critical of Gerson, saying he does not serve his constituents effectively. Other members were upset that Gerson supported Mayor Bloomberg's bid to extend term limits. But in the last few weeks, Gerson had been packing the club with his supporters. We'll have more details later.