Volume 22, Number 11 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 31 - August 6, 2009

Downtown Express photo by Milo Hess

Gerson’s cold jolt
Councilmember Alan Gerson got drenched over the weekend at a Burmese Water Festival in Chinatown, but his reelection effort got a bigger splash of cold water Tuesday when the Board of Elections denied his application to be on the ballot because of problems with his petitions. Gerson is confident the dispute will be resolved next week. For more photos of the waterfest and of the New Museum’s Block Party, which were both in Sara D. Roosevelt Park Sunday.

Access denied! Gerson not allowed on the ballot

By Julie Shapiro

An increasingly beleaguered Alan Gerson faces a new challenge in his bid for reelection to the City Council after the Board of Elections removed his name from the ballot this week.

Gerson is already confronting four opponents in a Democratic primary race that appears unusually close for a two-term incumbent. But those opponents are now the least of his worries as he scrambles just to be on the ballot at all.

On Wednesday, one day after he was denied access to the ballot, Gerson said the Board of Elections was acting incorrectly based on a technicality and he would be restored to the ballot soon.

“The short story is, this time next week it’ll be history,” Gerson told Downtown Express. “I’m confident this will be corrected in the next few days.”

The trouble started when Gerson submitted the stacks of petitions he had collected from supporters. He submitted about 7,000 signatures, far more than the 900 required. But in at least one volume of signatures, collected by the Harry S. Truman Democratic Club, the printer made an error in Gerson’s address, Gerson said. Rather than listing the address as 505 LaGuardia Pl., on some of the pages the printer listed it as 1505 LaGuardia Pl.

When the Board of Elections wrote Gerson about the mistake, he sent one of his campaign volunteers down to fix the error. The volunteer, who is an elections lawyer, crossed off the extra “1”s but forgot one key thing: At the bottom of the amended cover sheet, he was supposed to write, “This is to certify that I am authorized to file this amended cover sheet” and then sign and date it, said Valerie Vazquez, spokesperson for the Board of Elections.

Gerson said the volunteer realized his mistake while he was still in the building and tried to correct it, but the Board of Elections would not allow him to do so.

“You only have one opportunity to cure a defect,” Vazquez said. The cover sheet “was not presented to the board in accordance with the rules.”

As a result, the Board of Elections did not allow Gerson on the ballot Tuesday. Gerson will have a chance to argue his case before the commissioners at a hearing on Wed., Aug. 5. If they do not restore him to the ballot, he will sue, said George Arzt, spokesperson for the campaign.

Lawrence A. Mandelker, an election lawyer Gerson hired, said the Board of Elections was wrong to ask Gerson to submit an amended cover sheet in the first place, since there was no problem with the original cover sheet. The board could have just discounted the petitions with the incorrect address, which would have left more than enough signatures to qualify Gerson for the ballot, Mandelker said.

The goal of election law is to prevent fraud, “And here, there was no fraud,” Mandelker said. “It’s an outrageous thing, and I don’t think the court would stand for it for one second.”

While Gerson also blamed New York’s notoriously arcane and complicated election laws, some of his opponents in the First District Council race said the problem was a typical of Gerson’s disorganization, which has been a frequent complaint of many during his tenure.

Pete Gleason, one of the opponents, released a statement slamming “Gerson’s history of sloppy work, lateness, and passing-the-buck behavior.” Gleason’s press release noted that Gerson unsuccessfully filed objections to Gleason’s petitions when Gleason challenged Gerson in 2003.

Margaret Chin, another one of Gerson’s opponents, said in a statement that she was not surprised to learn Gerson could not get on the ballot.

“He shouldn’t be on the ballot anyway,” she said, “because in any other year he would be term limited.”

Gerson voted in favor of a Council bill last year that extended term limits for city officials, including the mayor, the borough president and himself.

Gerson, who is a lawyer, defended his decision to not go down to the Board of Elections himself when the issue with the petitions first came to light last week.

“I’m not an election lawyer, I didn’t think it was necessary, and my first priority remains the business of my district,” Gerson said.




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