City Council Seat Candidates Squabble Over Cuomo’s Exec Order

Darma V Diaz (2)

Attorneys for two of the candidates – Kimberly Council and Sandra Nurse – running to fill the vacant 37th District city council seat are challenging the city Board of Election’s (BOE) math in determining how many signatures are needed to get on the ballot.

The legal brouhaha stems from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order last month, which suspended the petitioning process to get on the ballot for health and safety reasons due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and also ordered that there needed to be 30 percent less of the mandated signatures to get on the ballot. The actual wording of the executive order is the following:

Article 6 of the Election Law is modified to the extent necessary to reduce required number of signatures on petitions pursuant to Section 6-136 of such law to 1.5% of the enrolled voters required, or 30% of the stated threshold, whichever is less. Further such provisions are modified to require that gathering of signatures shall be suspended effective Tuesday, March 17, 2020 at 5 p.m.

The problem, though, lies in the provision [Section 6-136], which has an antiquated number of signatures, 900, needed to get on the ballot. Thirty percent of 900 is 270.

The anomaly lies in that the City Charter was revised before the 2013 city elections in that it required only 450 good signatures to run for the city council.  Thirty percent of the 450 is 135.

Both the petitions of Council and Nurse were challenged, but both came away with more than 135 valid signatures, but less than the 270.

Named as respondents in the court case about the matter, scheduled for Friday before Kings County Supreme Court Judge Edgar Walker, are the City’s Board of Elections, who made the 900 signature ruling, and petition challengers Ariana Zapata and Alexandra Alvarda, who are allegedly supporters of Democratic District Leader and longtime community Activist Darma Diaz, who is also running for the seat.

Diaz also has the support of Kings County Democratic Party Boss Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Flatbush, Ditmas Park).

“The question here is how to interpret the intent of the Governor of the State of New York in issuing an emergency order during a pandemic,” said Attorney Howard Graubard who is representing Council.

“Did, as petitioner contends, the Governor intend a blanket order to stop petitioning dead in its tracks in the name of public safety and to lower the required numbered of signatures uniformly in order to facilitate that end?

“Or did he, as Respondents would have us believe, purposely issue a highly technical order in an effort to set different thresholds for different offices in order to sew confusion in a time of crisis? Common sense can lead us to only one answer,” said Graubard, who also has some case law backing up his argument.

Graubard said that even after the petition challenge, Council has 174 “clean” signatures, which more than meets the 135-signature threshold but is below the 270 thresholds.

Terry Hinds, attorney for Nurse, said his client also has enough signatures, 147, to get on the ballot, and his arguments will be along the line of Graubard’s arguments when their case is heard in on May 6.

“You must look at the intent of the governor’s executive order, which was to safeguard the public during coronavirus and to ensure the integrity of the electoral ballot,” said Hinds.

The BOE did not respond to questions regarding their decision to go with the 900 signature threshold.

Both the special election and the primary election for the seat is slated for June 23. The district includes Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Bushwick, Crown Heights, Cypress Hills, and East New York.

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