Questions about the signatures Middle Village mayoral candidate Thomas Ognibene filed to get on the September primary ballot turned into accusations that Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign was attacking the Queens County Republican Party.
Six registered GOP voters raised objections to Ognibene’s submission of 1,000 signatures that were originally collected for former Republican candidate Steve Shaw. Shaw recently announced that he was withdrawing from the race.
John Haggerty Jr., a paid political operative for the Bloomberg campaign, is listed as a contact on an objection submitted by his brother, Bart Haggerty.
In addition, John Haggerty filed his own objections to the petition sheets for four potential Queens Republican judges. An additional objection was filed against the Republican Party’s nominee for Queens borough president.
“Why Mayor Bloomberg is attacking the Republican Party from the top down, I have no idea,” said State Senator Serphin Maltese, the county Republican leader. “I think it’s an outrage.”
But William Cunningham, a spokesman for the mayor’s campaign, said the objections are not an attack, rather routine procedure for campaign workers. “The two brothers challenge petitions all the time,” he said. “John is paid to be a political operative, so it’s a natural thing for him to do.”
The Haggerty brothers are among a number of Republicans who split from the Queens County GOP and endorsed Bloomberg rather than Ognibene for the Republican primary. Both are Forest Park Republican Club members.
No matter who filed the objections, the matter, Cunningham said, is now between Ognibene and the Board of Elections.
“He’s the person who added in signatures for a totally different candidate,” Cunningham said. “This is a dispute between him and the New York City Board of Elections.”
Combining petition sheets is allowed only if extenuating circumstances force one of the candidates out of the race, according to New York State election law. In that case, a committee, authorized by the candidate who dropped out, would make the decision to allow another candidate to file his signatures.
But those rules were not followed in this case, according to the Board of Elections. “Steve Shaw did not have a committee, so he can’t just do that,” said Christopher Riley, a spokesman for the Board of Elections. “He can’t just give his signatures away.”
But Shaw said such a committee was indeed created. The confusion may be a result of the fact that he filed the necessary paperwork on the same day the signatures were due.
“It was completely done with my knowledge,” he said, about Ognibene using signatures that he collected. “I wanted to help Tom out.”
The matter will be settled during a hearing that is scheduled to begin on August 2nd. The result may be that Ognibene is removed from the Republican primary.
If that is the case, Ognibene said he will still challenge Mayor Bloomberg on the Conservative Party line. “All the people who the mayor has sought to disenfranchise with his tactics are going to have the opportunity to vote for me in the general election,” he said.
Even without Shaw’s filings, Ognibene said he submitted 7,959 signatures for his own campaign, more than the 7,500 that are required to get on the ballot.
The fact that Bloomberg supporters collected more than three times as many signatures did not discourage the challenger. He chalked up the difference to the incumbent’s virtually unlimited resources.
The mayor has filed more than $23 million with the Campaign Finance Board, all of his own money, while in comparison Ognibene has managed to raise $61,651.
While Cunningham was not able to say exactly how many paid and volunteer workers have been collecting signatures for the mayor, he did say that “more than 100” did not sound unreasonable. In comparison, Ognibene had between 20 and 30 volunteers working for him.
“The mayor, using all of his resources, got only three times the number of signatures I did,” Ognibene said. “I got one-third the number of signatures with one-thousandth of the resources.”
Ognibene also charged that the Bloomberg campaign flooded his Middle Village neighborhood with workers, making his efforts even more difficult.
But Cunningham said his campaign collected signatures in every neighborhood in the city with significant numbers of Republicans. The number of signatures Ognibene collected, he said, was a telltale sign about the status of the challenger’s campaign. “This is an indication of the kind of campaign he is able to run and the kind of interest he is able to generate.”
Although Ognibene was endorsed by the Queens County Republican Party, the mayor subsequently reached out to dissident borough leaders and earned the support of 12 who split off. In addition, the main GOP county parties in the other four boroughs endorsed the mayor.
Even City Council Minority Leader James Oddo of Staten Island, a close friend of Ognibene’s, has not endorsed the challenger. “I don’t know if it would have helped Tom’s candidacy,” he said. “Ultimately, it might not be where I go.”
Part of the reason, he said, is that it would have the effect of “making raw relations worse,” referring to relations with some members of the Bloomberg Administration.
For that same reason, Ognibene said, some people have been reluctant to donate significant amounts of money to his campaign.
Ognibene, who is an attorney and served in the council for 10 years, has repeatedly criticized the mayor for not being a true Republican. From the increase of the property tax to the size of the city government, Bloomberg, he said, has distanced himself from Rudy Giuliani’s legacy.
Under Giuliani, Ognibene was the second most powerful elected Republican in City Hall and an aggressive spokesman for Republican causes. Besides youth curfew legislation, he was also a proponent of legislation that would have made English the official language of New York City.
No matter what the outcome of the election, Ognibene said, the important thing is that the people have a choice.
“The mayor is not a Republican. He doesn’t respect the ideals of the Republican Party,” he said. “We’re not going to let him crush the conservative wing of the party.”