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Queens Chronicle

Katz called winner, but it still isn’t over

Her 60-vote margin of victory is challenged in tense court hearing

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Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2019 10:30 am

Lawyers for Melinda Katz and the Queens Board of Elections asked a judge this week to end the month-long uncertainty over the outcome of June’s district attorney election and declare the borough president the winner.

At a highly unusual hearing Wednesday morning in Queens County State Supreme Court in Jamaica, lawyers for insurgent Tiffany Cabán argued that scores of votes remain uncounted, despite the 60-vote margin Katz had when the election results were certified last Monday by the BOE.

“I don’t know why they don’t want these ballots counted,” said Jerry Goldfeder, the veteran election lawyer representing the Cabán campaign. “I can only speculate.

“If I didn’t think there were a sufficient number of ballots to change the result, I wouldn’t be here,” Goldfeder told the judge.

Judge John Ingram said he wants to inspect at least some of the disputed ballots before ruling. He summoned both sides to meet for a hearing Tuesday morning at the Queens BOE’s office in Kew Gardens where the affidavit ballots are stored under lock and key.

Cabán has an uphill legal battle to reverse the results of the election after it was declared official earlier in the week.

At bottom, said Katz lawyer Gerald Sweeeny, “They lost the election fair and square.”

Lawyers for Katz and the BOE spent much of the three-hour hearing urging the judge to toss out Cabán's appeal for technical deficiencies.

The Cabán campaign had earlier contended that 114 affidavit ballots— votes cast on election day by people who claimed they were wrongly not listed on registration rolls — were invalidated only because they failed to fill out the line that asked for party affiliation.

In court, Goldfeder revised that number down to 67 affidavits that are missing the party affiliation line plus one with an incomplete address.

He also wanted the judge to look at 21 suspect ballots that he said had been wrongly credited to Katz during the three-week hand count that ended only last Thursday.

He also called for another 21 ballots to be reinstated that indicated the voter’s preference for Cabán but were thrown out.

That made for a total of 110 ballots in dispute, Goldfeder said.

Katz and the BOE claim that the Cabán people had not lodged formal challenges with the board during the recount process and had failed to provide a detailed list of the disputed ballots.

“You don’t get to tell us on Twitter,” Sweeney said, poking fun at the Cabán campaign’s extensive use of social media during the recount. “You got to do that in the courthouse.

“When they certified [the election on Monday], their time ran out,” he added.

Ingram, a Brooklyn judge who was specially assigned the election case to avoid any appearance of partisanship, did not say when he might rule.

He dealt the Cabán side a setback, however, when he ruled that he would look on Tuesday only at 28 affidavit ballots that the insurgent’s campaign included on its original list of challenged votes.

“For the time being,” said the judge, he would not look at any of the other claims of uncounted votes from Cabán.

“The math of this is almost impossible to overcome,” Sweeney told the judge.

Cabán has so far refused to concede the election.

Late last week, when the recount was completed, Katz claimed victory in the nail-biting race to succeed the late Queens DA, Richard Brown.

As if to emphasize her claim, on Monday, she held a victory party for her supporters in the same Forest Hills restaurant where, on election night, she appeared to have been undone by a 31-year-old public defender who’d never run for office before.

Katz, a career political figure who’d been a member of the City Council, the state Assembly and borough president for two terms, looked as if she was the loser, 1,100 votes behind Cabán.

Improbably, the tables were turned a week later when 4,000 absentee ballots were counted and Katz sneaked ahead by a mere 16 votes.

That triggered an arduous hand count of 91,000 votes that ended last Thursday.

Her 60-vote margin represents less than one-tenth of one percent of the votes cast.

A change in New York election law last Spring moved the primary from September to June for the first time this year.

One lawyer noted that, without that change, this primary might still be unsettled by Election Day in November.

Since election night, the race has become more than a straight-forward primary for a county office of important but local significance.

It has drawn the attention of the national candidates and been seen as a litmus test of how much sway the progressive wing of the Democratic party has in New York and around the country going into next year’s presidential election.

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