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Monserrate fights to regain lost Senate position

Ousted state Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) has filed petition signatures for the special election for his seat and appealed a federal court ruling last week that declined to interfere with the vote expelling him from the Senate.

Monserrate gathered 5,500 signatures by the Monday night deadline to get on the ballot as an independent candidate for the March 16 election. He will face Democratic contender state Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) and a Republican contender who remained unnamed by press time Tuesday.

Monserrate, whose expulsion came on the heels of a misdemeanor conviction for assaulting his girlfriend, exuded confidence as Democratic lawyers geared up to challenge his petitions.

“The Queens County machine is welcome to do whatever they do,” he said in an interview with TimesLedger Newspapers. “We’re not concerned about challenges.”

Norman Siegel, the noted civil rights attorney in charge of Monserrate’s expulsion appeal, said he had filed a request for an expedited hearing before the federal Court of Appeals.

“I told them that time is of the essence,” Siegel said, noting he hoped to have an answer as early as Wednesday.

Queens Democratic Party Executive Secretary Michael Reich did not return a request for comment by press time Tuesday.

In the meantime, the Queens Republican Party has been scrambling to field a contender in a district where GOP voters are outnumbered 7-to-1. The GOP had nominated former City Councilwoman Helen Sears over the weekend, but Sears withdrew Monday after she could not obtain backing from the Independence Party, Queens GOP Chairman Phil Ragusa said.

Ragusa declined to name the candidate Tuesday pending his actual confirmation on the ballot.

However, if the Court of Appeals overturns Federal Court Judge William Pauley’s ruling and issues an injunction against the state Senate’s 53-8 vote to kick Monserrate out, the special election could be in jeopardy.

“The March 16 special election furthers the goals of plaintiffs’ current application to protect the voters of the 13th Senatorial District more effectively than judicial intervention,” Pauley wrote Friday.

Siegel said they “respectfully disagreed” with that ruling.

“Expelling a sitting senator without specific standards and adequate process opens the door to arbitrary and unfettered government decisions that violate the rights of duly elected officials and their constituencies,” he said.

Attorney Henry Greenberg, of state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office, called “breathtaking” Monserrate’s claims that the ouster was beyond the Senate’s authority and violated his constituents’ civil rights.

“The plaintiffs are arguing boldly that the New York State Legislature, of all legislatures in the country, is powerless to expel a legislator they deem unfit to serve,” he said during a hearing in Manhattan federal court Thursday.

Monserrate was convicted of recklessly injuring his girlfriend while trying to remove her from his Jackson Heights apartment building.

“Now more than ever we need a strong voice in the state Senate and Jose Peralta will be a senator we can be proud of,” said U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), chairman of the Queens Democrats.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564

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