Out of a protracted court battle between three campaigns to get on the Democratic primary ballot in the race for the City Council’s 32nd District, a new feeling emerged from a group of ostensibly competing candidates: solidarity.
After Howard Beach Attorney Mike Scala’s campaign for City Council took an especially litigious approach to the primary in comparison with his competitors, five Democratic candidates and one independent have rallied together to voice their support for the two candidates who were knocked off.
On Wednesday, a new development unfurled in the race that could potentially cost the Democratic nominee votes in the general election: Community Board 9 Chairman Kenichi Wilson, one of the two moderate Democrats who were eliminated from the primary ballot, plans to run on a third-party line.
Back in March, before any of the legal ballot battles began, five candidates, Felicia Singh, Raimondo Graziano, Kaled Alamarie, Shaeleigh Severino and Rubén Cruz, came together in a solidarity pact not to challenge each other’s petition signatures to get on the ballot, in the hopes that the agreement would avoid objections and reduce the risk of in-person campaigning.
However, a supporter of the Scala campaign had other plans. A surrogate lodged Supreme Court lawsuits on his behalf against two of his moderate contenders, Graziano and Wilson, and succeeded in removing them both from the ballot.
While the Board of Elections removed Graziano, it initially found that Wilson had enough valid signatures to make the ballot.
But before any of the objections even went before the BOE, the Scala supporter lodged a peremptory lawsuit in state Supreme Court against Wilson and the BOE on behalf of the campaign, which succeeded in knocking him out of the race after the BOE ruling.
As a result of the legal battles, Wilson incurred tens of thousands in expenses, which he paid from his city-subsidized matching funds. If he can’t make it onto the ballot, either in the primary or the general election, he’ll personally be on the hook to the city for anything over the nearly $15,000 that he raised in private donations.
This past weekend, the five candidates who originally joined the solidarity pact wrote statements in a join press release condemning the “lawsuits and political games” that ended up kicking Graziano and Wilson from the ballot as “undemocratic.”
Wilson said that “one candidate,” whom he declined to name, “succeeded in limiting the options that voters have come this June. He abided by the law, yes. But his ethics and his character speak volumes. The law, while written, is not always just.”
Scala’s spokesperson responded in an email: “Nobody has done more in this race to defend ballot access than Mike Scala, having taken on some of the country’s most well-known election lawyers. Just as those who qualify should make the ballot, the ballot has to be protected from abuse and manipulation. This is especially important in light of the fact that public dollars in the form of matching funds are at stake.”
It was after that joint press release was sent out though, that Wilson decided he was going to run on a third-party line.
He said that he had continued to fundraise after his loss in Supreme Court, at first thinking he would need money to pay for the legal defense necessary to appeal the decision in a higher court to try to get back on the ballot. But while he was considering whether to make that legal gamble, he realized that running on a third-party line could allow him to avoid the whole legal mess and avoid debt at the same time.
Asked whether he was concerned about being a spoiler for the Democratic candidate who does end up winning the primary in the general election, paving the way for a Republican to win one of the GOP’s only competitive seats in Queens, Wilson said that it would depend on who wins over the summer.
“It’ll probably take votes away from both sides,” he told the Chronicle, adding that he doesn’t see his campaign, or the role of councilmember, along partisan lines.
“This is why the City Council has the smallest districting lines. It’s for the community, it’s to speak for them, to bring funding in — to fund programs within,” he said.