Volume 79, Number 9 | August 5 - 11, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photos by Milo Hess

Councilmember Alan Gerson got drenched with a water gun over the weekend at a Burmese Water Festival in Chinatown, above. Below, some of the possible super-soaker suspects?

Access denied! Gerson gets hit by petition glitch

By Julie Shapiro

An increasingly beleaguered Alan Gerson faces a new challenge in his bid for re-election to the City Council after the Board of Elections removed his name from the ballot last 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.

On July 29, 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 said. “I’m confident this will be corrected in the next few days.”

Gerson’s optimism didn’t quite pan out, and this week he remained off the ballot with no chance of getting on until Aug. 12, when Judge Edward Lehner will hear a referee’s opinion on the case.

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 Place, on some of the pages the printer listed it as 1505 LaGuardia Place.

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, a Board of Elections spokesperson.

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 the volunteer to do so.

“You only have one opportunity to cure a defect,” Vazquez said, adding that 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 on Tues., July 28.

Gerson’s lawyers are now arguing his case before Leslie Lowenstein, a referee that Judge Lehner appointed to hear the matter. Gerson testified before Lowenstein on Tues., Aug. 4, and Lowenstein will hear additional testimony on Aug. 6.

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 the councilmember 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 Council District race said the problem typified what they called 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 he ran against Gerson in 2003.

Raymond Dowd, Gleason’s lawyer, filed a court action to keep Gerson off the ballot, a case that referee Lowenstein is also weighing. At a hearing Tuesday, Dowd said Gerson purposely misstated his address, with “clear deception and intent to confuse the Board of Elections.” He accused Gerson of fraud, an issue Lowenstein will take up in more detail at another hearing Thursday.

Gerson spent about an hour on the witness stand at Tuesday’s hearing but offered little new information. He frequently said he could not recall the dates and contents of conversations.

Another candidate in the race, Arthur Gregory, faced a challenge on his petitions by Gleason. However, the challenge came too late, and Gregory -- who filed 1,100 signatures, 200 over the minimum -- is still on the ballot.

The two additional candidates for Gerson’s seat — Margaret Chin and PJ Kim — are also locked in a battle over petition signatures, with Chin claiming that 5,000 of Kim’s 5,500 signatures are invalid. Lowenstein, the referee, is also hearing this matter and will submit an opinion to Judge Lehner for a hearing on Aug. 12. Unlike Gerson and Gregory, Kim remains on the ballot despite the challenge, at least for now.

A. Joshua Ehrlich, Chin’s lawyer, accused Kim of fraud on the petitions, saying some signatures appeared forged. In response, Jerry Goldfeder, Kim’s lawyer, said Ehrlich’s accusations amounted to nothing more than “a fishing expedition.”

In addition to challenging Kim’s petitions, Chin released a statement saying she was not surprised to learn Gerson failed to 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 presidents and city councilmembers, such as himself.

Gerson, who is a lawyer, defended his decision not to 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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