Two Democratic City Council members who are seeking election this year filed a lawsuit on July 26 challenging petition signatures gathered by an opposing Democratic slate to qualify for a primary next month, claiming that they are fraudulent.
Incumbent council members Scott Mandel and Chumi Diamond, along with Darlene Tangney, chairwoman of the Independent Democratic Club of Long Beach, filed the suit in Nassau County State Supreme Court in an attempt to have the signatures gathered by candidates Joe Miccio, Barbara Bernardino and Runnie Myles declared null and void — and have their names removed from the official ballot.
The suit also names Nassau County Board of Elections commissioners Louis Savinetti, a Republican, and David Gugerty, a Democrat.
A candidate is required to gather a minimum of 500 signatures to get on the ballot for the Sept. 12 Democratic primary. The complaint claims that the petition filed by Miccio, Bernardino and Myles was fraudulent and insufficient, and does not conform to state election law.
“We reviewed all the petitions submitted by each candidate and have come to the conclusion that some petitions may have run afoul of the law,” Diamond, who was appointed in February to a vacant seat, said in a statement. “We must take the petition-gathering process seriously and confirm that every candidate running for office play by the same rules based on the New York state election law. Therefore, we are going through the normal legal remedies afforded to candidates to ensure that our electoral process is clean and fair.”
The lawsuit claims that the petitions do not contain the minimum number of valid signatures of voters; that many were not personally signed by those whose names appear on the petition and were signed without their authority or knowledge; that many were not registered to vote at the residences given and are therefore invalid; and that many provided the wrong party affiliation. The lawsuit also alleges that the petition sheets were subsequently altered and filled with fraudulent dates and signatures, among many other claims.
Miccio, a retired FDNY firefighter, said that his slate gathered nearly 1,300 signatures, more than enough to get on the ballot. He dismissed claims of fraud and said that he and his running mates are confident that they will qualify for the primary.
“They’re just trying to intimidate us,” Miccio said of the complaint. “It was a laundry list, and it looked like they were throwing everything in there to see what they could come up with. In the complaint, they did not list anything specific that we saw. Those signatures were signed by people in Long Beach who are looking to see a change.”
He added, “There’s always going to be a percentage [of signatures] that are knocked out due to technicalities; there are some people who didn’t change their addresses, and some people don’t know if they changed parties. There are always going to be people who get something wrong, but not 800. But this would have to have been massive fraud, which is just an insult and borders on libel.”
Roy Lester, an attorney representing Bernardino, Miccio and Myles, said that the county Board of Elections validated the signatures.
“The Board of Elections went through line by line and determined that we had 855 valid signatures,” Lester said, adding that a motion has been filed to dismiss the complaint.
An attorney for Mandel and Diamond did not return a call seeking comment. Lester said that if the suit were not dismissed, the court would review the signatures and determine whether they are valid. Both parties were set to return to court on Thursday.
Miccio, Bernardino and Myles did not challenge the more than 1,000 signatures gathered by Mandel and Diamond.
“At a certain point, we had to make a decision as to whether we were going to object to their petitions,” Lester said. “We decided not to object. That’s not what democracy is supposed to be about.”
In May, Nassau County Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs said that the party was backing Mandel and Diamond for City Council this year — as well as newcomer John Bendo, the president of the West End Neighbors Civic Association — even though Miccio, Bernardino and Myles received the Long Beach Democratic Committee’s nomination at the party’s convention that month.
The Long Beach Democratic Committee — part of the county committee’s Long Beach zone — and the Independent Democratic Club of Long Beach have been at odds for several years.
Miccio said that he and his running mates were nominated because many residents have expressed frustration with the city administration over a number of issues, mainly its handling of the Superblock deal and the developer iStar’s request for a 20-year, $109 million tax break, as well as overdevelopment and the lack of a full-service hospital in the community after Hurricane Sandy.
“This is Jay Jacobs trying to make it difficult for us to run, and they’re basically coming up with any objection,” Lester said of the complaint.
Jacobs, who is not named in the suit, did not immediately return a call for comment as the Herald went to press on Wednesday. Mandel, an attorney who was re-elected to a four-year term in 2013, declined to comment because of the ongoing litigation.
For his part, Bendo, who is unaffiliated with a political party, did not add his name to the complaint. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
“As a resident of Long Beach, I am not supporting the challenge to the ballot petitions,” he told Project 11561, a local Facebook group. “Long Beach, like the rest of the country, needs more civic engagement, not less. I wholeheartedly welcome a robust exchange of ideas for improving our community resulting from a Democratic primary.”