Southbridge election results still undecided

By Albert Amateau

The state Division of Housing and Community Renewal this week was still reviewing the Southbridge Towers co-op election of May 5 and 6 and the run-off between two candidates on May 13.

A D.H.C.R. spokesperson said on Mon. June 2 that the agency, which oversees state-sponsored Mitchell-Lama co-ops like Southbridge, would make a report to the co-op board soon.

Victor Papa, who lost the run-off to Warren Green, had called for the review on the evening of May 13 and the co-op management and the co-op’s attorney, Burt Solomon, complied by sending the election ballots from May 5, 6 and 13 to the state agency.

Gregory Cooper, head of the co-op election committee, said last week that all five members of the committee had agreed to the procedures in the two-day vote and in the run-off. Co-op management determined the validity of proxy votes by checking signatures against signatures on file in the co-op office.

The highly politicized election of five members to the 15-member board got off to a bad start on May 5 because voting machine ballots allowed seven levers to be pulled instead of five. Cooper said that he noticed the error after 66 votes had been cast. Together with Martin Pestrich, a representative of the co-op’s management company, the election committee consisting of Cooper, Arlyene Wishner, John Ost, Paul Hovitz and Joseph Morrone, agreed to continue the election and the voting machines were adjusted to allow only five levers to be pulled.

Morrone and Hovitz are political supporters of Papa, while Cooper, Wishner and Ost, who were elected to the board last year, are their rivals and supported Green.

Two kinds of proxy votes were accepted in the election: directed proxies that were placed in a box to be counted at the end of the election and general proxies that authorized a surrogate to vote by machine as he or she saw fit. The management company verified the signatures on both kinds of proxies and just before going to the machines, the surrogates with general proxies signed a registry opposite the names of the residents who submitted the proxies.

The general proxy forms were placed in envelopes sealed with tape at the end of each day’s voting

After the count at the end of voting on May 6, the leaders were Paul Viggiano, who was unanimously elected to be president of the board, Anthony Russo, Paul Kiefer, John Fratta, Victor Papa, Lisa Ying, Molly Perrone and Warren Green. But an actuary was engaged to determine what effect the 66 votes had on the election.

Cooper and Papa and their allies have accused each other of unfair election practices.

The actuary report on May 8 found that Viggiano, Russo, Kiefer and Fratta would have been elected in any case and that Papa, Ying, Perrone and Green could have been the fifth winner. So the May 13 run-off was set. But on May 12, Ying and Perrone withdrew leaving only Papa and Green in the run-off. The machine vote on May 13 ended in a tie but the proxy paper ballots gave Green the edge, 390 to 388 for Papa.

For the May 13 run-off, both general and directed proxies were paper ballots. People who had cast proxies on May 5 and 6 were allowed to vote them again unless they were superseded by later proxies or by the proxy signer voting in person.

Cooper said this week that he noticed on May 12 that one of the envelopes that held general proxies was partially opened, but the co-op manager, Barbara Benson Pacheco, dismissed the observation saying the tape might have just have come loose.

When Cooper’s wife, Bonnie, came in on May 13 to cast her own vote and six general proxy votes she had cast on May 5, Cooper said he went to the partially opened envelope and found only two proxy forms. Cooper said he then checked the previous week’s registry that general proxy voters had signed before casting machine ballots. He found that Bonnie indeed had cast six valid proxies on May 5. On May 13, however, one of the six had come down and voted in person and another proxy was superseded by a later proxy given to Hovitz, Cooper said.

So Bonnie Cooper was allowed to cast the two proxies found in the envelope and two that she had cast the previous week. Gregory Cooper said the election committee had all agreed to the decision.

“We went to extra efforts to see that this was a transparent effort,” Ost said on Monday.

Papa, however, said he won the first election and a runoff should never have been called.


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