2009-01-30 / Front Page

Ballot-Bumpers Could Sway Special Election

By Nicholas Briano

The list of seven candidates vying for a vacated City Council seat in the upcoming special election could soon be winnowed down to as few as three if the ballot challenges filed last week by their opponents are upheld.

In order to earn a place on the ballot for the February 24 special election, candidates must have gathered more than 1,000 signatures of registered voters living within the district. However, while all seven candidates reached this goal and met the filing deadlines with the Board of Elections, some of them have seen their signatures challenged by their opponents, who are attempting to knock them off the ballot.

The mainland candidates being challenged are Republicans Eric Ulrich and Mike Ricatto, as well as Democratic favorite, Frank Gulluscio.

The only Rockaway resident to be challenged is Glenn DiResto. There are no challenges against the other two Rockaway candidates, Lew Simon and Geraldine M. Chapey.

If any of the four challenged candidates' valid signatures fall below the required number, they will not have a place on the ballot.

But who is challenging their petitions? Due to the fact that any registered voter can challenge petitions, often the candidate asks a supporter to challenge the signatures on his or her behalf, making it hard to tell who is trying to bump the other off the ballot.

But Glenn DiResto, who says he gathered more than 1,200 signatures, feels the challenging of petitions is a major distraction in the campaign process and says he knows that fellow Rockaway candidate Geraldine Chapey is challenging not only his petitions, but Gulluscio's and Ulrich's as well.

"I try and focus on solutions to the problems our district faces," he said. "But the signature challenging process is not a democratic process. There are a lot of peo-

ple working hard on campaigns to gather those signatures."

Lew Simon, who isn't being challenged, nor is he challenging any candidate's signatures, thinks the process works just fine the way it is.

"Just because someone signs a petition does not mean they are a registered voter," Simon said.

Simon was proud to claim, however, that he gathered the most signatures, collecting nearly 4,000, he said.

Harold Cornell, one of two persons objecting to signatures on the behalf of Chapey, says he feels that no candidate should have to file petitions to get on the ballot. He adds that, if the individual has the money to run, he or she should be allowed to do so. Despite expressing that belief, Cornell is still challenging the signatures of Republican Party favorite Eric Ulrich.

"She [Chapey] asked me to sign the challenge, and I did," Cornell said.

Chapey's campaign spokesperson, James Wu, however, denies that the challenging of the signatures was done to obtain an edge over any candidates that may have threatened her run for the seat.

"It is a matter of campaign competence," Wu said. "This is the first step in every campaign. If you can't do this why would someone even run for office?"

When asked why the Chapey campaign felt the need to challenge signatures, while others such as Simon and DiResto have not, he says it is simply a matter of administrative competence.

"Well, not everyone runs a competent campaign," commented Wu.

Gulluscio, also challenged by Chapey's surrogate, told The Wave that Chapey is "a disgrace to the people she wants to represent."

"Challenging signatures is a waste of time and money," he added.

The process of eliminating petitions, however, has become less restrictive, amidst popular protest that legitimate signatures were discounted because of minor nuances such as misspelled streets or incorrect zip codes, to name two.

New York State Election Law now states that the use of common abbreviations and other minor mistakes no longer invalidate a signature. As long as the name is capable of being matched and verified against voter registration logs, it is accepted.

The final ballot will be determined at a February 3 Board of Elections hearing. Those included will be invited to a special election forum at 7 p.m. on February 9, at West End Temple, located at 147-02 Newport Avenue, hosted by The Wave. Residents are encouraged to attend and meet the candidates and hear where each stands on the issues that impact Rockaway most.

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