Luke Gasparre, World War II Purple Heart recipient, Mets usher and beloved Astoria community leader, died at 95 on Feb. 13. Now he’s running for office.
Gasparre and his son Luke Gasparre Jr. are both running for Democratic County Committee, a volunteer, hyperlocal party position in charge of representing a few blocks’ worth of voters.
The Gasparres were nominated by the borough’s Democratic Party leadership. Gasparre Sr. had served on the county committee previously, but he died before the organization began petitioning for him and his son, and no one remembered to stop his nomination from going forward.
Unlike his father, who was an ardent volunteer for his local political club, Gasparre Jr. was not familiar with the position he was running for.
“I’ve never heard of it before. Who put me on there?” he said to the Chronicle.
Two years ago, The New York Times shone a light on the phenomenon of county leaders running candidates for the office without their consent. It suggested that Queens County Democratic Party leaders may intentionally be running candidates without their knowledge as a way of holding onto their grip of the party.
In this case, Carol Scarano, the district leader who nominated the Gasparres, said that her nomination of a dead person, and her lack of communication with his son, were mistakes.
“If we slipped up on one or so I’m sorry about that, but I don’t know how that happened to be honest,” she said.
The confusion over the Gasparres’ candidacies instead stems from disorganization within the County Democratic Party’s nomination process.
“We try to talk to most of the people,” Scarano said of her efforts to ask community members whether they want to run for the hyperlocal office before her organization nominates them.
To be elected to county committee, candidates must acquire a threshold of signatures from their constituents as support. But in many cases, political clubs like Scarano’s, The Taminent Regular Democratic Club, have assumed the role of providing the signatures for their members, relieving candidates of the responsibility of speaking with their constituents themselves.
The political clubs work in coordination with the county party to take care of petitioning for the candidates in the district. The clubs pass off a list of candidates to the county party, which then stacks petitions for many different officers together and asks its volunteers to gather signatures.
For the Gasparres’ petitions, volunteers were asking for signatures for the re-election campaign of Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn), Councilman Donovan Richards’ (D-Laurelton) campaign for borough president and various judicial delegates and other local offices all on one petition sheet.
The Board of Elections ledger shows that 26 candidates for county committee from Scarano’s district were all submitted in the same stack of petitions that the county Democratic Party used to back the Gasparres.
Scarano claims that, together with Taminent Club Vice President Kimberly Mullarkey, she submitted the names of county committee candidates to the county Democratic leadership to divvy out the petition signatures on Jan. 27, when Gasparre Sr. was still alive.
However, a Facebook post by Scarano’s political club shows that members were aware he died on Feb. 13. By Feb. 25 when the petition period officially began, she had not made an effort to get him off of the ballot.
“What if any action was taken at that point?” asked Peter Beadle, a member of Queens County Committee for All, a group dedicated to making the county committee body more transparent.
Once the committee begins to convene again, it will be able to fill the vacancy opened by Gasparre Sr.’s death at an organizational meeting. Gasparre Jr. will have the opportunity to resign if he chooses.
It’s unclear what would prevent the current system of collecting petitions from arriving at the same outcome in the future.
“It is a really dense system and, of course, this whole system is designed deliberately to be dense and confusing,” said Beadle. “As you learn more about how these systems work, you suddenly have a power other people don’t.”