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Invalid petitions kick Smalls off city ballot

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The shape of the Democratic race for City Councilman Eric Gioia’s (D-Sunnyside) seat shifted Tuesday morning as the city Board of Elections invalidated most of candidate Kwame Smalls’ petition signatures, eliminating him from the race.

In evaluating specific challenges filed against candidates’ petitions, the board also validated enough signatures for Woodside translator David Rosasco to squeak his way onto the Democratic primary ballot in September.

Both candidates’ petitions were challenged by Democratic District Leader John Smythe, who shares the 37th Assembly District leadership post with Council candidate Deirdre Feerick, a move that brought together the other Democratic candidates in protest.

Smalls, 25, a resident of the Ravenswood Houses and a student at LaGuardia Community College, accepted the board’s ruling, which left him with fewer than the 900 signatures required to get on the ballot.

“They only said we have about 567 valid signatures,” Smalls said. “We checked on our own behalf at our homes using software that shows you who’s registered. They were accurate with the clerk’s report. Over 600 wasn’t registered.”

Rosasco’s fight may now continue in Queens Civil Court as early as next week.

“We’re ready to go right for the jugular,” Rosasco said, noting he has retained former Election Board Commissioner Steve Weiner as his attorney. “I don’t mind losing, but we lose in the election booth, not like this.”

Michael Reich, executive secretary of the Queens Democratic Party, said attorneys were ready to continue the legal battle.

“We believe by the time we’re finished with our case in court, he’ll be below 800,” Reich said, referring to Rosasco’s valid signatures. “For the most part, most of [the invalid signatures] were not registered or enrolled voters.”

Feerick declined to comment on her involvement in the District 26 petition challenging.

“You’re entering into a legal process when you gather signatures,” said Edward Kiernan, a spokesman for Feerick’s campaign. “If they’re being challenged, there’s something wrong with their petitions.”

Rosasco and Smalls were the only candidates to receive specific challenges, although general objections were filed earlier against Queens Library External Affairs Director Jimmy Van Bramer and Long Island City business attorney Brent O’Leary.

“I assume that during that time they went through the signatures and since we had two or three times the [minimum] amount, it wouldn’t be worth their time to challenge,” O’Leary said.

“I think those people who support those candidates should have the ability to vote for the candidate of their choice and not have that candidate removed from the ballot in a courtroom,” Van Bramer said.

Rosasco said the challenges whittled away many of his 1,700 signatures.

“It was just frivolous,” he said. “They said I didn’t live in my district, that I live in Japan.”

But though Smalls raised the issue Monday that kicking him off the ballot would deprive voters of the only minority candidate in the race, he said he held no grudges over the challenges that doomed his campaign.

“That’s a part of the game,” he said, noting he would consider running for public office again. “I’ll probably vote for Deirdre, because she seems more hardworking than all the other candidates.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 6:32 pm, October 10, 2011
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