2008-08-01 / Top Stories

Richards Denied Spot On Primary Ballot

By Miriam Rosenberg

In a move that could determine who the next state assemblyperson to represent Far Rockaway will be, the city's Board of Elections ruled this week that a candidate looking to replace the incumbent for the 31st Assembly District did not have enough valid signatures on his petitions to appear on the Democratic primary ballot in September and ordered his name removed from contention for the seat.

The Board of Elections informed Donovan Richards, who is challenging incumbent State Assemblywoman Michele Titus, that most of the signatures on his petition were disqualified, thus keeping him off the ballot and possibly allowing Titus to run for her party's nomination and reelection without a challenge.

"I expected [them] to play games. A lot of backroom dealing," said Richards, who has learned the system during his years working as the Rockaway liaison for Councilman James Sanders, Jr. "I wasn't shocked. They like to make deals and make decisions. The system doesn't want progressive people, doesn't want change. It wants people who will protect [the party's] interests."

Although only 500 signatures are needed to get on the ballot, Richards and those who worked with him got almost 2000 from all over the 31st Assembly District, the would-be candidate said. The district includes Far Rockaway, South Ozone Park, Springfield Gardens, Rosedale and Laurelton.

"We knew 500 would not do any good and that [Titus' campaign] would try to knock it down to zero. We got nearly 2000," said Richards, who added that he believed all along that his opponent's strategy was to try to disqualify him.

Earlier this week Richards and his campaign were notified by the city clerk that of the 2000 signatures, only 382 were deemed valid.

"To bring in 2000 signatures and not have 500 is ludicrous," he said.

Under arcane state regulations, once a petition is submitted, a challenger can question the names that are placed on the petition.

Titus' campaign, according to Richards, questioned the validity of more than 300 signatures.

The BOE then matches all the names to the lists of registered voters and can disallow signatures for various reasons.

The board can find that a signature is invalid due to a wrong address on the petition or, in Richard's case, that the person who signed the petition is not a registered Democrat. The other way the BOE can void signatures is to find that the volunteer or witness who collected them is not enrolled as a Democrat. If that happens, then every signature collected by that witness is thrown out.

"They said [most of] my witnesses weren't registered," Richards said, who added he and his staff checked the online database and found that not to be the case. "I knew most of the people who petitioned for me. They were civic leaders and people who worked the polls."

Richards claims that the board members, who are selected by the local Democratic Party, which happens to be backing Titus for reelection, already had their minds made up to keep him off the ballot.

He also believes, without a doubt, that Titus, who came to the assembly in a special election in April 2002, and her campaign are involved in keeping him off the ballot.

"It's evident the way they challenged names as not being registered, but they [the names] are," continued Richards.

Titus spoke with The Wave on Wednesday.

"The Board of Elections has standards we all must meet," said Titus. "My petitions are scrutinized as well."

Titus went on to say that she has been busy doing work for the people of her district and "I have not been able to ascertain the status of my opponent."

When asked about the 300 signatures her campaign has disputed, she said she was not up-to-date with the workings of the Board of Elections.

The future of the signatures challenged by Titus and those thrown out by the BOE will be decided in court. Richards filed a lawsuit against the Board of Elections on Wednesday. This will force the judicial system to look at his petitions. Richards believes the court should make a ruling by the second week in August.

Richards, who says he is fighting for the people who petitioned for him and who signed his petitions, believes that after the judge looks at all his evidence and proof of the validity of the signatures, he will prevail.

"We found hundreds of [disputed] names that were correct," said Richards.

Richards concluded by saying, "I am confident I will be on the ballot."

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