Volume 16, Number 11 | Aug. 12–Aug. 18, 2003

Gerson: Petition fraud charges are ‘nonsense’

By Lincoln Anderson

A petition challenge in a district leader race on the Lower East Side has caused a larger ripple effect, after a Newsday article on Saturday reported that it could impact other races, including City Councilmember Alan Gerson’s reelection bid.

Headlined “Fraud lawsuit targets Gerson election,” the article reports the decision “could determine who will win the race for the 1st District Council seat in the heart of the Financial District.”

Norma Ramirez, who is running for reelection as female Democratic district leader, filed the lawsuit challenging the ballot petition signatures collected jointly for a number of candidates, including Gerson, district leader candidates Alice Cancel and John Quinn and three Civil Court judge candidates, Kathryn Freed, Marcy Friedman and Shlomo Hagler.

Specifically, Ramirez turned up the fact that the signature of Elsie Roloan, who died two years ago, appeared on the petitions. Other signatures on the petitions were said to be “replete with forged signatures.” Two batches of petitions, numbers 216 and 219, are the subject of the complaint, according to Newsday.

Referee Howard Leventhal was to rule on the complaint at 10 a.m. this morning at 60 Centre St., Room 330.

Ramirez said she merely fired back after the other side, led by state Senator Martin Connor, a top election lawyer, attacked her petitions’ validity.

“They went after me first,” she said. “They had said there was a dead person on my petition. I merely defended myself.”

Gerson said he’s not worried and that he’s sure he’ll stay on the ballot and he blasted the Newsday article as overblown.

“That’s nonsense, it’s poor reporting,” he said. “It’s not going to affect the race. The whole thing is ridiculous and spurious. This is a typical dirty trick, replete with nastiness.”

Gerson said it’s quite possible that someone from Ramirez’s side put the disputed signature on the petition to invalidate a whole slew of signatures. But Ramirez denied this. Gerson said candidates’ petitions are carried by different political clubs in various parts of the district, and that in this particular case he didn’t oversee the collection of the signatures, which was done by the Lower East Side Democratic Club. Other clubs that collected signatures for Gerson included Downtown Independent Democrats, United Democratic Organization, Village Reform Democratic Club and the Truman Club. Gerson said he filed over 6,000 signatures, though only 900 are required to get on the ballot for the primary election.

Freed, running unopposed for judge, also downplayed the petition challenge.

“It came out of the district leader race over there,” she said. “Even if all the petitions from that club were thrown out, everyone has enough signatures to stay on the ballot. They always have problems over there,” said Freed, who is a former election lawyer, of the Lower East Side.

The complaint also alleged that there were signatures collected by illegal aliens.

Fratta, a Lower East Side Democratic Club member, said it’s hard to keep tabs on everyone who’s collecting signatures.

“In elections you have people coming out of the woodwork who want to help you,” he said. He said the clubs can check the signatures to see if they look forged, but that it’s really impossible to check to see if each signee is still living.

In related news, Fratta, who has been the Little Italy/Lower East Side Democratic district leader for the last 18 years, has announced he will not seek reelection. His decision stemmed from his refusal to endorse Hagler for Civil Court, bucking Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is backing Hagler.

Fratta instead supports Frank Nervo, a fellow Italian American, for judge and feels there is a dearth of Italians on the bench. Fratta, in fact, wanted Nervo, who is running for the Second Municipal Court District, which covers the Lower East Side, and parts of Noho, Soho and the Village, to be tapped for a countywide judge seat, but said the rest of Manhattan’s district leadership delegation disagreed.
“Italian-Americans need not apply for anything,” Fratta said. “We’ve gotten screwed out of a number of judges and other things. So I’ve decided to pack it in, spend some more time with my family. I’m still fighting for the community, local issues. You have one Italian Civil Court judge in New York County. And this is the first [candidate] we’ve had in 10 years. Other groups you worry about inclusion. Italian-Americans, you don’t have to worry.”

John Quinn has been tapped to replace Fratta as district leader.

Told of Fratta’s complaint of anti-Italian bias, Judy Rapfogel, Silver’s chief of staff, said the Assembly speaker had always backed Fratta in the past when he ran for City Council.

“Shelly is very pleased and proud to support Hagler,” Rapfogel said. “He is an exceptional candidate for judge — and the only person who can vote for himself. We think that’s important.”

Among the four candidates vying for Vacancy #7 for Civil Court in the Second Municipal Court District — Arlene Bluth, Virginia Kolodny, Hagler and Nervo — only Hagler actually lives in the district. Rapfogel noted that the Lower East Side Democratic Club voted unanimously to back Hagler. She said Quinn’s replacing Fratta was “determined internally” by the club.


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