Three candidates in the special election for the 31st District City Council seat have taken a stand against what they call unfair tactics employed by one of the competitors, who has gone to court to keep them and others off the ballot.
Rosedale attorney and candidate Jacques Leandre has filed lawsuits in Queens Supreme Court challenging the validity of the signatures of six of the other eight candidates in the race — Mike Duncan, Marie Adam-Ovide, Earnest Flowers, Donovan Richards, Selvena Brooks and Allan Jennings — for the Feb. 19 special election to replace James Sanders Jr., who was elected to the state Senate. The candidates needed to submit 450 signatures by the Jan. 15 deadline to get on the ballot.
Leandre told the Chronicle that the lawsuits were a pre-emptive move based on the right to authenticate and validate signatures to ensure a fair election. He said he found that the six candidates had instances in which they obtained signatures from people who live outside the 31st District. Leandre took legal action before the Board of Elections’ official decision on who stays and who goes because there are time constraints on when such measures can be filed, he said. He used the same three registered voters as petitioners to file all the objections.
“This is all part of the verification process,” Leandre said. “If the BOE determines that everything is OK, then I’m glad to have them in the race.”
Duncan, Adam-Ovide and Flowers joined hands at a press conference outside a vacant restaurant on Merrick Boulevard in Laurelton on Monday to protest the move. They were joined by a handful of area residents, and Duncan sang a line or two from the tune “United We Stand.”
“This is plantation-style politics and we’re going to get it run out of Southeast Queens,” Duncan said.
Richards and Brooks also panned Leandre’s actions, but they were not at the press conference because they were attending the funeral of former City Councilwoman Juanita Watkins.
“Attempting to rig the system by using New York’s notoriously dysfunctional election law to deny voters legitimate choices not only disenfranchises voters, but it is anti-democratic and contrary to the values of our party, our community and our city,” Brooks said in a prepared statement. “As an African American and a woman, belonging to two groups who have faced historic denial of voting rights and voting suppression, I am disappointed.”
Richards said that in a time when nearly 2,000 people in the Rockaways are still without electricity after Hurricane Sandy, more bureaucracy is not welcome “We need to let the people speak,” he said, “and let them make the decision.”
Leandre later fired back at his critics.
“If they are whining about this process, then they are not adequately prepared for some of the complex processes they will be faced with in the City Council,” Leandre said. “There are rules and they are designed to ensure that someone follows a particular process and that candidates have not engaged in fraudulent measures to get on the ballot.”
Leandre has not taken legal action against the remaining two candidates in the race — Saywalah Kesselly and Pesach Osina.
Duncan and Adam-Ovide believe Leandre only sought to get rid of the candidates whom he thought posed a threat to his campaign and they added that if his motive was truly to keep things fair for the benefit of the voters, then he would have challenged everyone in the race.
“I wasn’t angry about it, because I knew that he would do it,” Adam-Ovide said. Considering a lot of his supporters are of Haitian descent and I am also Haitian-born, I knew I would take a lot of his votes away from him. So, I knew he would see me as a threat in that respect.”
Leandre said he left out Kesselly and Osina because he did not have the financial resources to challenge everyone. “My campaign was equally prepared to be challenged by any of the other candidates regarding the validity of our petition signatures,” Leandre said.
Laurelton resident Jose Richards, 70, who attended Monday’s protest, said Leandre’s court objections amount to “crooked tricks,” aimed at reducing choices for voters. “I am here standing up for dignity and justice for our people,” Richards said. “I don’t care what form it takes. This is an injustice. ... Let the chips fall where they may. Let everyone have an equal chance of running to represent our people.”
Pastor Jenny Reid, a former Springfield Gardens resident now living in Forest Hills, expressed similar sentiments.
“This is a waste of time, a waste of money and a waste of our energy,” Reid said of Leandre’s lawsuits. “This is just foolishness. There is a process, and if we all follow the process, what need is there for this? We should be channeling our energy toward other things — things that can benefit the community, especially in this economic downturn.”
Despite their anger about the legal action against them, Duncan, Adam-Ovide and Flowers made a point of stating that they had no personal ill will toward Leandre. “At the end of the day, we love our brother, Jacques, and we want to see him do very well,” Duncan said. “We want to use this opportunity to try and teach him a lesson, and say, ‘Brother, turn yourself around, turn your life around.’”
In an effort to combat what he considers “disingenuous misstatements,” by the other candidates, Leandre sent a prepared statement to residents. It states, in part, “This race will ultimately be decided by the people of the 31st District. You will have an opportunity to decide whether you want someone in office who is willing to fight for you, or an individual that will spend more time whining rather than fighting.”