For those keeping track, and depending on one’s politics, Tuesday May 20 may go down in history as the most pivotal — or, at least controversial — day of the District 30 special election to replace the disgraced former Councilman Dennis Gallagher.
Most significantly, the day saw the elimination of Joseph Suraci, a Middle Village lawyer, who was widely seen as the election’s anti-establishment Republican.
At a Board of Elections hearing in Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon, the board voted unanimously to strike his name from the ballot for failure to obtain enough signatures.
Rules for the special election had required candidates to gather 986 signatures in order to appear on the ballot. According to the BOE clerk’s report, Suraci only filed 828.
Before a candidates debate in Middle Village that evening, hosted by the Juniper Park Civic Association, Suraci told reporters that he had a date in federal court scheduled for the the next day, where he planned to file a show cause order.
Citing regular election rules, which allow candidates six weeks to collect their signatures, he said he would be filing suit against the BOE for violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Suraci called into the Queens Chronicle on Wednesday morning, however, to announce that he had decided to drop out of the race, citing “too much aggravation, too much stress.”
That Suraci even showed up at the JPCA debate Tuesday night, despite having been kicked off the ballot, set him apart from two candidates still on the ballot who failed to appear: Middle Village Republican Anthony Como, and Glendale Democrat Elizabeth Crowley, both of whom have the backing of their respective county parties.
Ridgewood Democrat Charles Ober and Middle Village Republican Tom Ognibene, the only two of the four balloted candidates to appear for the debate, said they had received a call after 4 p.m. from Walter Sanchez, publisher of the Queens Ledger, inviting all candidates to a meeting so he could determine whom to endorse in his paper.
Robert Holden, who lambasted both candidates for failing to appear, said he had emails from all the candidates confirming that they would attend. Before the debate, he received phone calls from Como and Alyson Grant, Crowley’s campaign manager, canceling for the evening.
According to Holden, Como cited a meeting with an unspecified newspaper as the reason for his absence, while Grant cited an unspecified scheduling conflict.
“What does that tell you about their character?” Holden asked the audience, referring to the no-show candidates. At the end of the debate, he closed by asking audience members to “please remember these candidates who insulted you tonight.”
Holden also pointed an accusatory finger directly at Sanchez for calling the meeting at the same time as the debate, which was widely publicized.
“The Queens Ledger has been at odds with the Juniper Park Civic Association for quite some time,” he said.
After the debate, Sam Esposito, Ober’s campaign manager, noted that Sanchez had left them the option of coming after the debate, which they intended to do.
With two candidates missing, the debate was a spirited affair, with attacks on the missing candidates coming from all sides.
Members of JPCA asked Ober and Ognibene several questions throughout the evening, including questions about Crowley’s past campaign finance violations, which incurred over $56,000 in fines, and about a house Como is building in Middle Village — a house many have characterized as out-of-character in a district where overdevelopment is a major issue.
Ognibene presented the audience with a blown up photograph of Como’s house, which Department of Buildings records show has garnered 14 violations and 21 complaints.
Ober, fresh from having received a key endorsement from Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) earlier that afternoon, presented himself as a candidate with deep ties to the community and a history of civic action — including, most notably, efforts to clean up crime along the Queens-Brooklyn border and to help write and pass the city’s Graffiti Nuisance Abatement Law.
Ognibene, who touted his 10-year history of service as the former councilman for the district, had spent a chunk of his day at the BOE hearing to defend himself against objections to his petition filed on behalf of Como. Of the 2,057 signatures he submitted, 1,318 were determined to be valid, allowing Ognibene to stay on the ballot.
After the hearing, Ognibene called the objections “very disingenuous,” referring particularly to allegations by Como that some of his signatures had been fraudulent. One issue was the validity of signatures gathered by witnesses from outside the district, which state election law prohibits, but was unclear on the Special Election ballot forms. The BOE ruled to keep signatures collected by those witnesses, citing previous court rulings on the matter.