Volume 19 | Issue 26 | November 10 - 16, 2006

Downtown Express photos by Tequila Minsky

Downtown Democratic election supervisor Jean Grillo ordered that these posters at 97 Hudson St. be covered up after a complaint was filed by Peter Hort.

Political cover-up at Tribeca polling site

By Lori Haught, Josh Rogers and Tequila Minsky

In politics the cover-up isn’t always worse than the original offense.

Tribecans who went to vote at the Communication Workers of America office at 97 Hudson St. Tuesday morning were greeted with political art behind the “Vote Here” signs. They were covered up after a few voters complained.

“Polling places are supposed to be neutral,” said Peter Hort, a Republican candidate for Congress in 2004 who registered a complaint with the Board of Elections over the art found at his local polling place.

Hort said that the problem has happened repeatedly at the site over the years. This year the two most prominently featured political artworks included a poster of President Bush with tape over his mouth and the text, “got tape?” and a poster with Uncle Sam stating, “So long, suckers! I quit! I’m tired of being the spokesperson for warmongering, racist, oil-hungry scum!”

Hort said his complaint was not against the political opinion but the overtly political artwork in a polling site.

“They can do whatever they want 364 days out of the year,” he said. “But in a poll setting, that’s an inappropriate poster.”

Hort said he originally complained to the poll workers when he went to vote at 8:39 a.m. Another voter also complained. According to Hort, the poll workers shrugged their shoulders and did nothing. He called and registered a complaint with the B.O.E. The posters were then covered up.

Jean Grillo was working as a “super-coordinator” in the 66th Assembly district for the Board of Elections Tuesday. Grillo, a Democratic district leader in Tribeca, said she and the Republican super-coordinator noticed the posters when they checked the site in the morning and thought that since Bush was not on the ballot, the poster would be okay.

“It didn’t look that dramatic to us,” she said. “It was a fuzzy kind of photo.”

She said they were still discussing the issue when they heard about the complaint. They rushed back to the site and told the custodian to cover up the poster. “We felt if there was any concern, any issue — then end of discussion,” she said. “The system worked.”

An Elections commissioner showed up later in the day to make sure the poster was not visible and that workers knew that “no electioneering is to take place within 100 feet of the site.”

[Tequila Minsky, this article’s co-author and a freelance photographer who often works for Downtown Express, was hired as a Board of Elections poll worker at the site on Tuesday.]

Valerie Vasquez, an Elections spokesperson, initially said that there was no record of any complaint but later confirmed the complaint and the fact that commissioner Frederick Umane visited the site.

In the 2004 election, the artwork in an exhibit on display at the Puffin Room at 435 Broome St., a gallery space in Soho that for years had been used as a polling site, was deemed to be overtly political. The Puffin Room has not been used as a polling site since, although there is no permanent ban.

The rest of the day was a typical Election Day for 97 Hudson St. Actor Harvey Keitel came by to vote and many of his neighbors brought their children into the booth. When told this probably would be the last time New York voters would use mechanical machines, many expressed concerns about what would replace them. One man in his 60s said these machines were the only ones he ever used. 

For Grillo, there was one other notable incident. She said early risers in Battery Park City had to wait to vote at P.S./I.S. 89 because the site’s coordinator was late. Grillo said the same thing happened in the September primary, so she fired the coordinator Tuesday and she hired a more reliable person to supervise the site for the rest of the day and for future elections.

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