Petitioning Objections Get Heated on Staten Island

Candidate Cesar Vargas and supporters at a mock petition protest with “WE COUNT” signs in front of office of Michael Cusick, the chairman of the Staten Island Democratic party. Contributed photo.

Petitioning season for the 2021 elections is rapidly coming to a close this week, as one Staten Islander is calling foul and saying the challenge system to kick candidates off the ballot is racially targeting his campaign.

Candidate for Staten Island Borough President (BP) Cesar Vargas alleged that The Staten Island Democratic Party (SI Dems) challenged his petitions to qualify for the June 22 primary at his “WE COUNT” protest in front of Assemblymember Michael Cusick, the chairman of SI Dems, office today, Monday, March 29.   

“My campaign and I were able to connect with diverse Democratic voters who felt they had been left out of government. They signed my petition and shared their hopes for a more just and prosperous Staten Island,” said Vargas. 

“The Staten Island Democratic party, however, is trying to silence these Black and Brown voices by discounting their signatures of hope on technicalities. Instead of unleashing lawyers to try to disqualify the only Latino off the ballot, they should be spending their energy and money trying to connect with voters. We are delivering this petition to remind the party that these voices count,” he added.

Vargas’ campaign claimed that he is the only Democratic and Latino candidate for BP, collecting more than 2,000 signatures from registered Democratic voters, being challenged by the party. 

“Mr. Vargas is mistaken. Assemblyman Cusick and the Party have not challenged any candidate’s petitions. As per the BOE’s ledger, general objections have been filed against every Democratic candidate for Borough President,” said James Clinton, Executive Director of the Staten Island Democratic Party, in response. 

A source said that people are expected to challenge all the time, and that Vargas was “not special” in terms of the other Democratic candidates who have also had general objections filed against them. 

A source said Vargas hadn’t been endorsed by the party for BP because his citizenship wasn’t eligible at the time interviews were being conducted in February 2021. Vargas was the first undocumented lawyer in New York State to be sworn in 2016. As a native son of Staten Island, he announced his campaign for BP at the end February 2021.

The Board of Elections (BOE) keeps a public ledger, that is available for request by email, of the objections in case of situations like this. It’s noted in a copy obtained by PoliticsNY that the same person has objected to Vargas, SI Dems endorsed Mark S. Murphy, Radhakrishna Mohan, and Brandon P. Stradford in the BP race. Vargas’ objection was recorded on March 25, while the others were recorded later on March 29 at 4pm, several hours after Vargas’ protest. 

Reduced petitioning started on March 2. Candidates have to have general objections for designating petitions filed by this Monday, March 29, and specifications for those objections filed with the BOE by Wednesday, March 31.

This election season, according to the source, has also seen a slew of Democrats running for political position in North Shore’s city council race for District 49, where Councilwoman Debi Rose is term-limited. 

In Mid Island in District 50, there’s only one Democratic challenger, Sal F. Albanese, in the race to replace Republican Councilmember Steven Matteo in what’s commonly a Republican-led district. 

In South Shore’s District 51, the SI Dems have backed candidate Olivia J Drabczyk against incumbent Republican Councilmember Joseph Borelli.