Disputed ballot, but new Southbridge president is clear

By Albert Amateau

The election for the Southbridge Towers co-op board of directors earlier this month is under review by the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal after a series of missteps in the voting process and a disputed run-off between two of the candidates.

Despite the uncertainty, however, the co-op board chose a new president on May 6.

Paul Viggiano, a former state Assemblymember working in the city school system for the past 12 years, was elected one of five new directors and then won the unanimous support of the 15-member board to succeed Seymour Winick as president.

“We’re trying very hard to work together and at our full board meeting [May 19] we reached a consensus on important issues,” Viggiano said. In regard to the disputed election, he said “The D.H.C.R. is reviewing the whole process and I think it’s better to let the review take its course without commenting.”

Victor Papa, however, is disputing the election held over two days on May 5 and 6 and the run-off on May 13. Papa, who is also a member of Community Board 1, contends the Southbridge Towers elections committee of Greg Cooper and Arlene Wishner mishandled the balloting. Papa claims he was one of the five directors elected on May 6, but lost to Warren Green in the run-off, which should not have been necessary. He called for the review by D.H.C.R., which supervises Mitchell-Lama co-ops like Southbridge.

The missteps began when the consulting firm that ran the election in the community room of the 9-building co-op just south of Brooklyn Bridge mistakenly instructed voters to choose seven candidates instead of five.

The error, which stemmed from the fact that seven seats were on the ballot last year because of two resignations, was not discovered until 66 voters had cast ballots. Papa said that Cooper made the decision to accept the 66 votes and continue the election for five seats.

At the end of the balloting, the votes for the fifth, sixth and seventh candidates were so close that the election committee called an actuary to determine how the 66 votes would have affected the election if they had been cast for five candidates. The results indicated that four candidates, Viggiano, Anthony Russo, Paul Kefer and John Fratta, would have won in any case since their margin of victory was more than 66. However votes for Papa, Warren Green, Molly Perrone and Lisa Ying were too close to call so the election committee decided on a run-off.

By the following Tuesday, Perrone and Ying, both incumbents, withdrew from the race, leaving Papa and Green on the ballot. The machine voting end in a tie, but proxy ballots turned the tide in Green’s favor.

According to observers at the May 13 vote, Cooper, Wishner and John Ost, another board member, threw out three paper proxy ballots on which they felt the signatures were questionable. Undirected proxy forms, authorizing one person to vote as he or she saw fit in the place of a voter who could not come to the polling place, were also a disputed issue. John Fratta recalled that Cooper’s wife, Bonnie Cooper, insisted that she had submitted two undirected proxy forms that could not be found at the run-off. Bonnie Cooper nevertheless was allowed to vote those proxies, Fratta said.

“I’ve been involved in elections for City Council and district leader for 30 years and this was one of the nastiest I’ve ever seen.” Fratta said.

Papa has hired an election lawyer, Jerry Goldfeder, to press his case and he indicated that if he were not satisfied with the D.H.C.R. review, he would appeal. “Fortunately, the American way of life affords us access to a court of law for justice,” he said last week.

Green said last week that he would not comment on the D.H.C.R. review and Cooper did not return three phone calls asking for comment on the election. D.H.C.R. refused to comment on the review.

Candidates who were eliminated by the May 6 vote were Donna Cognato, Shirley Espriel, Roger Bennett (an incumbent board member), Bing Chen, Peter Arnone and Thomas Labasso.

The new Southbridge board president was born and raised on the Lower East Side, the son of the late Duke Vigginao, a long time Democratic district leader. Paul Viggiano was an Assemblymember from 1978 to 1982 and then worked as an aide to Assembly Speaker Stanley Fink. He was also president of Community School District 2 in the early 1980s.


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