Facing fraud lawsuit, Gigi Li withdraws from district leader’s race

Gigi Li. Downtown Express file photo.

Gigi Li. Downtown Express file photo.

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON  | (Updated 4:27 p.m. July 30, 2015 with more reactions) Gigi Li withdrew as a candidate for Democratic district leader in the 65th Assembly District, Part C, on Wednesday amid allegations by the opposition of fraudulent ballot petitions.

The Lo-Down first reported the news, including a resignation statement from Li, in which she acknowledged that she did not garner the required minimum amount of 500 signatures to get on the ballot.

However, her statement added, “I want to be clear that the accusations of fraud are false and played no role in my withdrawal.”

Li said while she was disappointed at not being able to run for district leader, she looks forward to continuing to serve as chairperson of Community Board 3. She was elected in June to a fourth one-year term leading the East Village/Lower East Side board.

Last week, two supporters of incumbent District Leader Jenifer Rajkumar who are both Democratic County Committee members — Georgette Fleischer and Lora Tenenbaum — filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court charging that Li’s petitions were “permeated with fraud.”

Fleischer and Tenenbaum are members of the Downtown Independent Democrats Club, Rajkumar’s home club.

They were represented in the lawsuit by election attorney Martin Connor, the former Lower Manhattan state senator who is feared for his track record of knocking candidates off the ballot.

On Tuesday, amid Connor’s challenge of Li’s petitions, the Board of Elections had determined that she only had 477 valid signatures — short of the required amount.

The Part C district is divided geographically to include Battery Park City, FiDi and parts of the Lower East Side.

One of the lawsuit’s main charges is that many of Li’s petition signatures were collected by underage individuals — in this case, students from a local prep school. It would have been O.K. if the signings were actually observed by a “subscribing witness,” who technically must be a registered Democrat, and thus 18 years or older, Sean Sweeney, a leading member of D.I.D. explained.

D.I.D. members say they observed the youths collecting the signatures at two locations — 189 Allen St., a public-housing development, and Battery Park City — without the presence of a registered Democrat.

“They questioned them,” Sweeney said, “and we have 360-degree, panoramic photographic evidence, showing there was no registered Democrat within 30 feet of them.”

A subscribing witness even can be blind, Sweeney said, “because they can hear it” — but they have to be there.

One subscribing witness for the signatures collected by the teens was Yume Kitasei, chief of staff to City Councilmember Margaret Chin, who defeated Rajkumar two years ago in a Council primary. The accusation, thus, was that Kitasei did not actually witness the signatures, yet signed them at some later point, which would constitute fraud.

Sweeney said, if need be, they were willing to subpoena the young students to make them produce their birth certificates in court.

Chin had endorsed Li, who is widely considered to be the councilmember’s protégé. Like Rajkumar, Li is thought to have her eyes on the Assembly seat of scandal-scarred former Speaker Sheldon Silver, who — according to political word on the street — is not expected to run for re-election if he is exonerated.

Other subscribing witnesses for Li included two former Chin staffers, Persephone Tan and Matt Viggiano, as well as Susan Stetzer, the district manager of C.B. 3 — but no fraud is alleged in their cases.

“A lot of people say it’s a conflict of interest,” Sweeney said of Stetzer petitioning for Li.

Li, who heads the 50-member volunteer board, is technically Stetzer’s boss, in that Stetzer is the board’s top paid staff member.

Asked his thoughts, Arthur Schwartz, the West Village’s district leader, said, “I don’t think it’s the smartest of moves. Perceptions are important.”

Schwartz said if anyone had a conflict of interest it would be Li, since she is Stetzer’s boss and thus holds power over the district manager and her job.

On Monday, two days before Li bailed out of the race, Stetzer would only say “I’m sorry. I’m very, very busy. We’re doing our district needs and we have a full-board meeting tomorrow night and I am extremely busy and I cannot speak right now.”

In addition, the suit charged, at least 50 petition signatures collected for Li were all written in what appeared to be the hand of one female subscribing witness, and so also constitute forgery, the suit charges.

Li and a Chin spokesperson both did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Chad Marlow ran against Li for C.B. 3 chairperson two years ago, losing by 31 to 15. He chose not to run again this June as Li won an uncontested re-election to a fourth term. When he ran two years ago, Marlow sharply criticized Li’s leadership of the board.

Asked earlier this week about the allegations of fraud in Li’s ballot petitions, Marlow said local politicos of course had all been buzzing about the lawsuit — but that even before the suit’s filing, he had been hearing stories of alleged petition improprieties.

“What I am hearing,” Marlow said, “is like the old Ronald Reagan line: ‘There she goes again.’”

He called Stetzer collecting signatures for Li “inappropriate.”

Without an opponent, Rajkumar declared victory Wednesday night in a statement, adding, “My focus remains fighting for my constituents everyday to keep our neighborhoods affordable, create quality education for our children, and transform local government into a platform for innovation and inspiration.”


Similarly, other D.I.D. leaders, naturally had favorable reaction to Li’s withdrawal.

“Getting 500 Democrats out of more than 13,000 in the district to sign a petition may not be a high bar — but it appears even with the help of City Council staffers, Ms. Li was not up to the task,” Jeanne Wilcke, the club’s president, said in a statement. “In addition, given the gravity of the allegations against Ms. Li  brought up in the challenge to her petitions, it was prudent for Ms. Li to step aside. We look forward to two more years of Jenifer Rajkumar’s outstanding leadership.”

Sweeney added, “Of course Gigi Li will deny her election petitions were not riddled with some 800 fraudulent signatures, which was the real reason she withdrew from the race. Otherwise how could Li ever explain the multiple photos and videos we have of the underage, high school kids that she enlisted to collect signatures for her?  Or care to address the 50 signatures — all in the same handwriting — fraudulently ‘witnessed’ by one of her petitioners? Ms. Li simply had no choice but to withdraw.”



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21 Responses to Facing fraud lawsuit, Gigi Li withdraws from district leader’s race

  1. IamCuriousRedWhiteBlue

    The reporter called Ms. Stetzer of CB3 who declined to comment.

    Were Council member Chi, Ms. Li and Ms. Kitasei called? If so, what were their comments? Or did they decline?

    Readers would be interested to hear.

    • Josh Rogers, Editor

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, as the article states, Li and a spokesperson for Chin did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. The spokesperson may speak for anyone on Chin's staff including Kitasei.

      • Election Worker

        Arthur Schwartz has a point.

        According to the NYC’s Conflict of Interest Law, both Gigi Li and Susan Stetzer are “public servants”. Li is a volunteer; Stetzer gets paid, but both are public servants.

        Section 2603 (b) (9) of NYC’s Conflict of Interest Law clearly states:
        “No public servant shall, (a) coerce or attempt to coerce, by intimidation, threats or otherwise, any public servant to engage in political activities, or
        (b) request any subordinate public servant to participate in a political
        campaign. For purposes of this subparagraph, participation in a political campaign shall include managing or aiding in the management of a campaign, soliciting votes or canvassing voters for a particular candidate or performing any similar acts which are unrelated to the public servant’s duties or responsibilities.”

        Both Gigi Li and Susan Stetzer have some headaches ahead for themselves.

  2. Gigi Li should step down from CB3 chair immediately until this is sorted out.

  3. I think the discussion has moved past the point of whether the allegations are true and arrived at the point of what is to be done about it. This isn't any longer about which candidate is preferred….the election is over. What matters is whether we should permit this sort of misconduct to carry no penalty. I don't think we should. Whatever we call this–fraud, corruption, dishonesty, etc.–it cannot pass without consequence. If it does, what will anyone have learned and what progress will have been made? The only lesson will be that nothing has changed no matter what. All of us know, no matter our political allegiance, that the time has come to clean up lower Manhattan politics. Results may be reached in small steps, but steps must be taken. So we must take this step. Ms. Li should be suspended as Chair of CB3 pending an inquiry. Others should investigate the complicity of the Chin staff and of those who gave false witness statements. Appropriate and reasoned punishments should be meted out. Ms. Li should not run for office again anytime soon. If careers are interrupted and lives disrupted, that is an unfortunate result. But a necessary one. This was a very local election, but much is at stake in how we react. Let's get is right.

  4. CB3 Board must suspend Li pending an investigation in order to protect their integrity. If she is found to have been involved in this fraud, she must be removed. Same for Stetzer.

  5. Li must go. Period.

  6. So Li took some advice, made the smart move and quit. Good decision. Everyone around her would have been drawn in and crucified in a fraud trial so she had no choice. Let's hope she makes another smart move and steps down at CB3 and takes some time to consider what just happened to her and why. The knives are out and she will get no symapathy from anyone if she tries to fight this or seek another office (like Assembly). This will hang over her for a while but if she's smart she'll learn a lesson and start over. There's always the Chin seat in 2021 (assuming she's reelected), by which time Li may have rehabilitated herself. We'll see if she has the skill and the stomach for that. In the meantime she needs to disappear for a while. She's a polarizing figure right now, and we don't need more of that. Some more unsolicited advice to Li: go try to mend fences with Jenifer Rajkumar and ditch that hack Margaret Chin and the cronies. Rajkumar taught you a good political lesson and is miles ahead of you. She's always supported young women in politics and you might learn something. Swallow your ego and your wounded pride and serve the community.

  7. GiGi Li's statement to the press denying her fraud is unadulterated nonsense and knowingly false. The fraud was clearly documented in photos and videos and supported by eyewitnesses. She knows that and that's why she quit even though the BOE found her under 500 signatures and she could have challenged that. She and Chin's staff are up to their eyeballs in this and Li should have had the courage to admit what she did. That's leadership and that's integrity. She has neither. Disgraceful.

  8. Racial bias and election fraud. Not exactly the qualties we've been searching for in a candidate I'd say. What is wrong with this Li woman? Has she no moral compass or even common sense? Did she actually think she could win or was this just an excuse for Chin to take some free shots at Jenifer Rajkumar through a willing puppet? That didn't work out so well, now did it? Li is history and Chin has been humiiated and Rajkumar is a hero, highly respected for her toughness here and stronger than ever heading into the Assembly race. The price of arrogance. Good for Rajkumar for setting a shining example of how to stare corruption in the face and destroy it.

  9. Some set of stones on Jenifer Rajkumar. Wow. She just crushed Li and Chin right out of the gate. No mercy. She's young I guess but do not screw with her folks. Not the same fresh faced candidate Chin barely beat in 2013. What a performance. This was a political execution. Awesome!

  10. Editor, You should stay with this story. Something is rotten here with the whole Li campaign and it makes Chinatown look very bad. You should look at her financial contributions and her family's ties to Chinese organizations. There should be a thorough investigation of what went on with the signatures and the abuse of the Chinese kids. It's such a clear fraud how could she think she would get away with this?

    • Election Worker

      " You should look at her financial contributions "

      Gigi Li's petitions had the address of a 501c3 non-profit as her contact address and also her campaign received $100 political contribution from another non-profit, in violation of IRS tax laws.

      Now the Feds will be on her case, besides the City's lawyers.

      • That's a big deal. Did anyone tell the organizations particiapting in that 501c3 that their names were being used in a political campaign? That could cause them a lot of problems. Sounds like there's more fraud than we knew about.

  11. Borough President Brewer must look into these allegations of fraud and conflict of interest. If they are true Li should be dismissed. She has no place in public service, then again fraud and conflict of interest are the pillars of government here in NYC, especially in Council District 1

  12. Carl R is right. BP Brewer has to do an independent and totally unbiased review of this now. That's her job. She's already investigated Li once for racial bias and let her off the hook on shaky grounds. If she finds that Li submitted false witnesses, she should remove Li from CB3 immediately. We need transparency, not crooks.

  13. To the Editor:

    Have you requested copies of the photos or videos? Does Li have a response to all this yet? Can you post the pages with the fifty forged signatures? I'm sure you don't want to embarrass the kids who were involved by posting their photos, but if you've seen the evidence you could help clarify what seems to be a very bad set of accusations.

  14. There's a pattern here. People like Gigi Li don't just accidentally commit fraud. They never just get caught the first time. There should be a thorough inquiry into this woman and her history. It smells bad and there probably is more here than meets the eye. It's time for BP Brewer and the DA and the media to do their jobs and tell us what's really going on with her.

  15. So if Marlow and others think this is wrong and there's a conflict of interest, why aren't are they speaking out? They're the only ones who can get CB3 to do something. They should have the courage of their convictions and do something about this.

  16. This is the real Margaret Chin at work. She'll do anything to settle a petty grudge, including sacrificing one of her favorite puppies. But she's too lazy and stupid to do the work and when someone like Rajkumar fights back this is what happens. I kinda feel sorry for Gigi Li (not really). How could Chin think Rajkumar would forget the 2013 campaign and not be ready to destroy her at the first opportunity? Chin and Li walked right into this one and got blasted. This is the payback Chin deserved and it's great to watch. TIme to get rid of both these hacks once and for all.

  17. Chin and Li should not be allowed to get away with this. How much smoke do we have to see before we realize it's a forest fire and we're all getting burned? Chin probably never even gave a secod thought to breaking the law….business as usual for her….until the lawyers and others told her how serious this is. Li just went along with it because that's who she is. Their lawyers never even tried to challenge the BOE finding even though Li only needed 30 more signatures. That says it all….they knew it was over and that Li/Chin were in big trouble if it went further. It's time for the prosecutors to step in and clean out this sewer.

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