Volume 18 • Issue 10 | July 29 - August 4, 2005

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

From left, City Council candidates Gur Tsabar, Mildred Martinez, Claudia Flanagan, Michael Lopez, Reverend Joan Brightharp, Chris Papajohn and Roberto Caballero, Brightharp’s campaign manager and a district leader candidate, at City Hall press conference last week.

Canidates blast petition challenges

By Olga Mantilla

Half of the candidates in the race for Manhattan’s Second City Council District gathered on the steps of City Hall last Thursday to decry what they called the “antidemocratic” turn the race took last Mon. July 18 when members of the political organization Coalition for a District Alternative filed challenges against their bids to represent the sprawling district that includes the Lower East Side, the East Village, Alphabet City, Gramercy Park and Murray Hill.

Five of the six Democratic candidates against whom Michael Farrin, CoDA co-president, and Roanna Judelson, a CoDA member, filed a challenge were present at City Hall — Reverend Joan Brightharp, Michael Lopez, Christopher Papajohn, Claudia Flanagan and Mildred Martinez. Former Democratic District Leader Roberto Caballero, Brightharp’s campaign manager and a founder of the Committee to Defeat Margarita Lopez — whose petition signatures to get on the ballot for district leader were also challenged by CoDA — stood in solidarity with the candidates.

Manuel Cavaco, another council candidate for District 2 whose petitions CoDA challenged, was not present.

The group of disgruntled candidates, brought together by Gur Tsabar, another 2nd Council District whose petitions are not being challenged, rallied to ask CoDA to withdraw its challenges.

“We’re all legitimate candidates,” said Tsabar. “We’ve all exceeded petitioning requirements. This club [CoDA] wants to decide for the people. I call for them to simply drop their challenges.

“Everyone they have challenged is of color. They’re limiting diversity from the ballot. It is shameful and absolutely wrong,” he said.

To qualify to run for election, each council candidate needs to obtain valid signatures of at least 900 registered Democrats residing in the district. If a challenge is lodged against a candidate’s petitions, the New York City Board of Elections reviews the petitions for illegible names and addresses, dead persons and any other illegalities that may be alleged. The board’s verdict as to whether a candidate has enough valid signatures determines whether he or she can be on the ballot.

CoDA, which is supporting Mendez’s candidacy, is the home political organization of both Mendez and the district’s current councilmember, Margarita Lopez, who has to leave office at the end of this year because of term limits.

“We represent the wishes of over 15,000 voters by way of their petition signatures,” said Michael Lopez, who works for Verizon. “Rosie and Margarita Lopez want the wishes of over 15,000 voters to be put in the garbage.

“This is not Florida. This is New York. The election should be decided in the voting booth, not in the court,” he said. Ballot petition challenges often are ultimately decided in court.

CoDA, a progressive grassroots political organization, was founded in 1992 to contest the policies of former District 2 Councilmember Antonio Pagan, among other issues.

“One of the candidates filed exactly 75 signatures,” Farrin, a founder of CoDA, said prior to the protest. “You let these people sneak in and get public funds… . And it clutters the field.”

But the City Council candidates at the City Hall rally accused the group of suppressing diversity and competition on the ballot.

“CoDA’s agenda is to remove any Latino candidates from opposing Rosie Mendez,” said Caballero. “That is what CoDA is, that’s what they represent and that’s what had to be brought forth.”

But Caballero later said in a telephone interview that he thinks that challenging petitions is the right thing to do, if justified. CoDA’s challenge last week against his district leader petitions did not hold up and he’ll be on the ballot in September.

“If a candidate does not have the required amount of signatures they should be removed from the ballot — and that includes Brightharp,” Caballero said of the candidate whose campaign he’s managing. “If I was in their position, I would have done the exact same thing as CoDA is doing.”

Brightharp had a different take than her campaign manager.

“Every citizen in New York should be allowed to run for office,” she said. Brightharp. “We’re coming at them. And we will do it in the courtroom. We’ll come like Muhamamd Ali.”


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