2008-08-29 / Front Page

Richards Assembly Ballot Case Sent To Queens Court

By Miriam Rosenberg

A state appellate court has ruled in favor of a would-be challenger to Assemblywoman Michele Titus, who represents Far Rockaway, and sent his case asking to be included on September's primary ballot back to a lower court in Queens.

Donovan Richards, who is fighting to have his name restored to next month's primary ballot, speaks to the Far Rockaway community after the march to take back the streets of Far Rockaway during the 2008 National Night Out Against Crime. Photo by Miriam Rosenberg
Donovan Richards, 25, who has been denied, by the Board of Elections, a spot on next month's September 9 ballot because he allegedly had an insufficient number of valid signatures on his petitions, has won the right to have the court check his petitions line by line after he claimed he had more than enough signatures to qualify for the primary. The decision was announced late last Thursday after The Wave had gone to press.

In the matter of Donovan Richards versus the Board of Elections and Michele Titus, "The court reversed the decision remitting it back to the Queens Supreme Court for reconsideration," a court officer told The Wave last week.

Earlier this week, Richards elaborated by saying, "They [the appellate court] ruled that the judge who came before never looked at the evidence."

As previously reported in The Wave, Richards was denied a spot on the ballot because the Board of Elections determined that, of the 2000 signatures he submitted to the BOE, he did not have the 500 valid signatures that are needed to be on the ballot. More than 1,500 were deemed invalid due to various reasons.

"I'm praying that the laws of the land are applied in the Queens court and that justice will be served in Queens," said Richards. "That they'll look at all the evidence based on fact and law, [and] I should be on the ballot."

The same jurist who originally dismissed the case will now hear it in Queens Supreme Court on September 2 - when the judge returns from vacation. The timing of the hearing concerns the aspiring assemblyman. He noted that absentee ballots had already been mailed with Titus' name, but without his name on them. If Richards is returned to the ballot, he maintains his opponent will have an unfair advantage.

"The absentee ballots are unfair and they shouldn't be sent with her name on them because we are still in court," said Richards. "It's very unfair. It's undemocratic. But, this is one of the tactics they're using to try to hinder the democratic process."

Richards called the absentee ballots "a crucial thing for me" should his name, as he expects, be returned to the ballot.

"How can they count them without my name being on them," he said. "Just like [Barack] Obama and Hillary [Clinton] and Florida, I would ask that either they don't count them or either they redo them and resend them out."

On Wednesday afternoon Richards held a press conference at the Mott Avenue subway station and then campaigned with fellow democrat Reuben Wills, who is looking to unseat U.S. Congressman Gregory Meeks. Wills, who was originally on the ballot and then removed, is currently in federal court to have his name put back. The two men are among several democratic candidates in Southeast Queens seeking to run against incumbents in the primary. Yet, they say, the Queens democratic machine is working to block them.

Both men believed that, considering the urgency of the matter, a new judge should have been assigned to Richards' case.

"Election law stops everything," said Wills. "Either they give us enough time to do what we need to do or put an injunction on the election."

Neither Richards nor Wills ruled out seeking a special election if the need arises.

The Wave also reported last week that, according to the Board of Elections, the only person to challenge Richards' petitions was Eric L. DeBerry - Titus' husband.

In response to that Titus said, "Any citizen in the state who lives in the assembly district can challenge a candidate's petitions."

When she was asked on Wednesday about the case being referred back to the Queens court, Titus said there had been no changes in the case and that she is continuing, "to do the job she was elected to do."

"I'm focused on serving the community," she said. "Going door to door, sharing the work I've accomplished … and listening to constituents and their concerns."

Titus was elected to represent the 31st Assembly District during a special election in 2002 to complete the term of the late Pauline Rhodd-Cummings. Richards is currently the Rockaway liaison for City Councilman James Sanders Jr.

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