A State Supreme Court judge ordered the Board of Elections to put City Council member Alan Gerson back on the ballot this afternoon – and he dismissed a ballot challenge filed against candidate PJ Kim. Perhaps the biggest loser of the day was the Election Board itself, ridiculed by the judge for clinging to archaic and rigid rules. The legal challenges had left the First District Council race in limbo for weeks, as the campaigns became preoccupied with legal strategy.
Today in court, attorneys for the Elections Board said Gerson was disqualified because he twice revised the cover sheet attached to his petitions. The Board only allows candidates one chance to correct mistakes. Judge Edward Lehner seemed surprised that a candidate would be thrown off the ballot for what he called an "administrative error."
Gerson has not only been battling the Elections Board, but also one of his opponents, Pete Gleason. Ray Dowd, Gleason's attorney, argued that Gerson should have been kept off the ballot because fraud occurred "at the highest levels of the Gerson campaign." He pointed to the testimony of Renee Abramowitz, a signature collector who said petitions were altered and her initials were forged. But the judge ruled that that discrepancy could not be traced to Gerson himself and that Dowd failed to prove the allegations of fraud.
Well aware that the Gleason campaign would appeal his decision, Judge Lehner probed the attorneys for the better part of an hour. Dowd, telegraphing a strategy he'll use in appeals court, complained that he wasn't allowed to cross examine Gerson. The judge conceded that a special referee should have permitted Gleason to ask "leading questions" when he was dissatisfied with Gerson's answers. But Lehner said this did not prevent Dowd from making his case.
In a statement this morning, Dowd told The Lo-Down, "I was permitted zero
cross-examination of Alan Gerson on questions regarding the UJC fraud (United Jewish Council's role in collecting signatures – see background here).
None, zip. The case law is clear that I am permitted to treat an
adversary as a hostile witness… If you
cannot ask the questions you want answered, you can't get at the truth.
Thus, I was only
able to elicit what Gerson volunteered. There was no legal basis
for denying us this basic right."
Outside the courtroom, Gerson said he was gratified by the decision. The worst part of the ordeal, he said, was the fact that volunteer signature collectors, some of them "in tears," were hauled into court and are hesitant to take part in the process again. Asked about allegations that the United Jewish Council directed its employees to gather petitions on Gerson's behalf, attorney Lawrence Mandelker said there "is no basis to believe that is true."
In a written statement, the Gerson campaign said Gleason "failed in his attempt to abuse the judicial system in a cynical effort to deny the voters their fundamental democratic right. It calls Gleason "ethically unfit to represent the area in the City Council." The statement continues,"His campaign offers very little in what he will do to improve the lives of people in Lower Manhattan, and seems concentrated almost entirely on distorting my record and personal insults, that to this point, he has failed to disavow."
We have reached out to the Gleason camp for a response. We'll let you know what they have to say.Before the ruling, the campaign sent out a press release, "10 Questions For Alan Gerson."
In the other lawsuit looming over the District 1 race, the judge ruled there was no proof to support candidate Margaret Chin's fraud allegations against rival PJ Kim. However, he declined to impose sanctions against Chin, something the special referee who made recommendations in the case said he should consider. Afterwards, Kim said the suit was filed only to "harass us." Kim said he reached out to all of the campaigns early on in hopes the candidates would agree not to sue one another. He said no one called him back. Kim said he was pushing for sanctions against Chin as a deterrent to future candidates who decide to pursue "frivolous" legal challenges against their competitors.
In a statement, Chin's campaign said she was disappointed but would not appeal. "With less than five weeks until the Primary, the statement reads, "she believes that the important issues facing the City and the District should be front and center on the agenda."