City Council Debate: Gleason Sharply Critical of Gerson Tenure

IMG_0340 The five candidates competing to represent District 1 (including the LES) on the City Council debated the issues Monday night at a forum sponsored by The Villager and Downtown Express newspapers. The evening was marked by an aggressive attack on incumbent Alan Gerson by challenger Pete Gleason. By the end of the forum, held at Pace University, the contours of the race began to take shape. In the absence of major disagreements on the issues, the voters will likely make their choice in September's Democratic Primary based on differences in personal styles and backgrounds. Gerson vigorously defended his tenure, trumpeting a record of "unparalleled accomplishments." Gleason positioned himself as the outspoken fighter against the status quo at City Hall. Chin portrayed herself as the champion of affordable housing and education who would brings decades of experience as a community organizer to the Council. Kim touted his fresh approach to issues and an ability to build consensus. And Gregory presented himself as the affable, shoot from the hip businessman and activist, who wouldn't be afraid to speak his mind.

Postal Union Endorses Gleason

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The New York Metro Area Postal Union announced it is endorsing Pete Gleason in the First District City Council race. Gleason is one of four candidates trying to knock off two-term City Council member Alan Gerson in next month's Primary.

In a statement, Union President Clarice Torrence said, "We have endorsed Pete Gleason because we are working people, union people, who live and work in New York City .  Pete has been one of us and understands our plight. He also understands the impact of post office closings on a community. We look to Pete Gleason to be a voice for all working people on the city council in this time of crisis.”

Gleason, now an attorney, served a New York City police officer and firefighter. In the statement, he said, "Post Offices are a focal point of our communities.  The Pitt Street post office on the Lower East Side and the Battery Park City Retail Post Office on Rector Street are essential parts of our neighborhoods.  We cannot afford to lose them.” 

See our coverage of the fight to save the Pitt Station Post Office here and here.

Gerson Testifies Before Court Referee

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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.

Multiple Lawsuits Filed in First District Council Race

It appears the State Supreme Court is going to be kept busy next week dealing with the legal maneuverings of the candidates running for the First District City Council seat. Earlier today, we reported that candidate Margaret Chin has filed suit against rival PJ KIm. Now comes word that Councilman Alan Gerson, who has been thrown off the ballot, has filed a suit against the city's Board of Elections. Also, another candidate, Pete Gleason, has filed an "invalidating petition," against Gerson and the Elections Board, arguing that he should not be allowed back on the ballot.

The Gerson campaign has said a printer's error was responsible for an incorrect address on the cover sheet on one volume of his petitions. This is how the Downtown Express has characterized what happened next:

When the Board of Elections wrote Gerson about the
mistake, he sent one of his campaign volunteers down to fix the error.
The volunteer, who is an elections lawyer, crossed off the extra “1”s
but forgot one key thing: At the bottom of the amended cover sheet, he
was supposed to write, “This is to certify that I am authorized to file
this amended cover sheet” and then sign and date it, said Valerie
Vazquez, spokesperson for the Board of Elections. Gerson
said the volunteer realized his mistake while he was still in the
building and tried to correct it, but the Board of Elections would not
allow him to do so. “You only have one
opportunity to cure a defect,” Vazquez said. The cover sheet “was not
presented to the board in accordance with the rules.”

The article, in yesterday's newspaper, continues:

Gerson, who is a lawyer, defended his decision to not
go down to the Board of Elections himself when the issue with the
petitions first came to light last week. “I’m
not an election lawyer, I didn’t think it was necessary, and my first
priority remains the business of my district,” Gerson said.

The Gleason camp is calling into question the Gerson statement that he did not go to the Board of Elections Office personally. Gleason's lawyer, Ray Dowd, says if it can be proven that Gerson was handling the issue himself, then he's guilty of fraud. Even if Gerson wasn't present, Dowd contends Gerson was still responsible for the actions of his staffers and the printer. Dowd says the Gleason campaign is not dwelling on a trivial matter. Instead, he argues the counter-lawsuit is about upholding an important principle: the integrity of the petition process — and a framework that is meant to ensure the candidates on the ballot have a "mandate from the people."

But the Gerson team made a different argument in the Downtown Express article:

Lawrence A. Mandelker, an election lawyer Gerson hired,
said the Board of Elections was wrong to ask Gerson to submit an
amended cover sheet in the first place, since there was no problem with
the original cover sheet. The board could have just discounted the
petitions with the incorrect address, which would have left more than
enough signatures to qualify Gerson for the ballot, Mandelker said. The
goal of election law is to prevent fraud, “And here, there was no
fraud,” Mandelker said. “It’s an outrageous thing, and I don’t think
the court would stand for it for one second.”

We have a call into the Gerson campaign, seeking comment.

The Gleason campaign is also challenging candidate Arthur Gregory's petitions through the Election Board's normal complaint procedure.This is what Gregory had to say about that on his Facebook page:

My petitions have been challenged by John Ross hwo live on W. Broadway in Tiberca NYC, He says he did it because friends told him and his wife Catherine, that I supported loud noise bars, (which I do not). He then stated it was really Pete Gleason one of my oppentants, who for day's has said he had not, until his lawer R. Dowd told him to. I have 2 get a lawyer now.

Regarding the Chin/Kim suit, we have heard back from Margaret Chin's campaign manager Jake Itzkowitz about the lawsuit she has filed against Kim. Here's a portion of the statement he emailed to us:

Margaret Chin… has filed a legal challenge to Jin ‘PJ’
Kim’s designating petitions contending that on top of an alarmingly high rate
of invalid signatures, a large number of the witness statements in Kim’s
petitions were either forged or tampered with. Margaret Chin, who has always
fought for equality and justice, saw the gross forgeries as an assault on the
rights of the voters in District 1 to have authentic candidates on the ballot… As to why we chose to raise these issues in court, rather than at the Board of Elections,
fraud and tampering are serious
allegations and severe breaches of the voters trust. It is only appropriate
that these concerns are debated in a court of law.

It should be an interesting day at the courthouse on Monday.

TLD Interview: City Council Candidate Pete Gleason

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Today we continue our series of interviews with the candidates running for the District 1 City Council seat currently held by Alan Gerson. The District includes the Lower East Side, Chinatown, Soho, Wall Street and Tribeca. Last week we heard from Margaret Chin, one of four challengers Gerson
faces in September's primary election. Today it's Pete Gleason's turn.

Gleason is an attorney, as well as a former New York City police officer and firefighter. He ran against Gerson unsuccessfully in 2003. Recently, he won the endorsement of an influential political club, the Downtown Independent Democrats. Gleason has been an outspoken critic of the lack of progress redeveloping the World Trade Center site.

In these interviews, we want the candidates to be able to lay out their positions fully. For that reason, editing was kept to a minimum. We removed extraneous comments that were repetitious or not directly related to the question asked, and streamlined questions. For more information on the campaign, see below. The full interview with Pete Gleason can be found after the jump.

TLD Interview: Margaret Chin

Pete Gleason's web site

Gotham Gazette's profile of District 1

City Hall News primer on District 1 race

Full Contact Politics: Setting the Record Straight

We've received an email from the president of the Downtown Independent Democrats, clarifying one of several bizarre incidents that occurred at the political club's June 2nd endorsement meeting. We previously reported that challenger Pete Gleason won the endorsement over City Councilman Alan Gerson. In the press release wrapping up the dramatic evening (more on that in a moment), Sweeney (a Gerson detractor) wrote:

Tensions ran very high throughout the evening.  In one
instance, Luke Henry, a ringer from Gerson's VRDC Executive Board,
attempted to vote, only to be discovered and have his ballot shredded
as he attempted to place it in the ballot box. 

In his email to us late last week, Sweeney explained there had been a misunderstanding:

With
some 124 voters there was a lot of confusion, and one of our members,
Luke Henry, asked if he could vote and I said, amidst all the turmoil:
"Certainly."  Someone then noted that Luke had voted at VRDC.  When we
brought this up to him, he readily admitted it and surrendered the
ballot when I informed him that DID has a rule that an individual can
only vote in one club.  I also made the erroneous assumption that Luke
was sent in by VRDC to vote for Gerson.  I later discovered that I was
incorrect in that assumption, an assumption made in haste and released
to the press in the wake of a tumultuous meeting.

The Lo-Down did not refer to the press release in our recounting of the meeting, but several days later, we mentioned an article in Tenant Planet.org that linked to it. Got that? Now on to the really surreal stuff.

For the past week, local political reporters have been trying to sort out a quote "physical showdown" between Councilman Gerson and Gil Horowitz, a 72-year old member of the club. According to the reports (City Hall News, Downtown Express), Gerson rushed over to defend his 84-year old mother Sophie, who was having an argument with Horowitz.

Horowitz said Gerson "grabbed me and hurled me about 20 feet away." Gerson has told reporters that there may have been some contact with Horowitz as he attempted to separate him from his mother, but there was certain;y no "physical altercation." At any rate, Horowitz threatened to call the cops – Gerson said something like "go ahead," and even handed Horowitz his cell phone. Horowitz was unamused: he threw the phone against a wall, with "all the force I could muster," he says. Amazingly, a lot of people at the meeting didn't even hear the incident. Just another routine night in the First District Council race, I guess.

Followup: Gerson’s Re-election Battle

Yesterday morning, we reported City Councilman Alan Gerson lost the endorsement of the Downtown Independent Democrats to Pete Gleason. Today the Downtown Express is out with more details. Reporter Josh Rogers called the defeat a "body blow" to Gerson's re-election efforts. Explaining the influential club's vote, Rogers wrote, "Gerson has lost the support of some Downtown political leaders who previously helped him get elected."

Gerson supporter Bob Townley said his candidate is facing more opposition in this election, in part,  because voters were expecting new blood in District 1. Gerson would have been prevented from running due to term limits, but he supported Michael Bloomberg's campaign to extend the limits for the mayor and the Council. Townley said Gerson should be re-elected due to his experience and track record helping Lower Manhattan. But a former Gerson supporter Julie Nadel says while she likes him personally she beieves he's "totally disorganized." For Gerson's part, he noted that he won most of the other club endorsements and that the DID "does not represent the district."

Gerson's other opponents are Margaret Chin, PJ Kim and Arthur Gregory. Chin's campaign manager, Jake Itzkowitz, told us she directed her supporters to vote for Gleason so Gerson would not win the endorsement. Itzkowitz says it was a demonstration of Chin's organizational prowess. Incidentally, we'll be interviewing Chin next week. During the campaign, we hope to conduct Q & A sessions with all of the candidates and to cover the 1st District race extensively.

Wednesday News Links

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver tells the New York Times he has doubts about Governor Paterson's ethics reform proposals. Senate leader Malcolm Smith, who backs the legislation, took a shot at Silver yesterday, saying legislative leaders should not have outside incomes. Silver, an attorney, has resisted calls for him to disclose his client list. Silver's spokesman says he continues to believe in a citizen legislature.

As we reported earlier, City Councilman Alan Gerson lost the endorsement of the Downtown Independent Democrats last night to Pete Gleason. The blog, Soho Politics, says Gleason only won by two votes in the first round. But after a recount, his lead widened 64-52. Meanwhile, another influential club, the Stonewall Democrats, endorsed Gerson, even though they chose to stay out of other races in which incumbents are "under siege." The Daily News says Gerson is poised to lose the upcoming endorsement of the Working Families Party.

EV Grieve has details of the community meeting last night to discuss complaints about late night noise and other problems from the Cooper Square Hotel. It appears to have been a rough replay of the contentious meeting last week concerning noise at the Thompson LES Hotel. There was one difference. Jeremiah's Vanishing New York reports people attending the meeting walked outside to witness a lavish private party at the hotel to celebrate the unveiling of the new Astin Martin.

Senator Charles Schumer's office says the Grand Street Settlement is one of 13 New York organizations to receive grants from the Corporation for National and Community Service. Grand Street will get $260,000 to hire 40 AmeriCorps members to "help New York City students to improve their education."