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Candidates spar to get onto ballot

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Indo-Guyanese, Indian and Muslim candidates for City Council in Richmond Hill and Jamaica were sparring this week over who will be on the ballot in the diverse council district currently represented by Thomas White (D-Jamaica).

There were 11 Democratic candidates in the running after petitions were collected last month, but now the race is down to five.

Trevor Rupnarain, who is Indo-Guyanese and lives in Richmond Hill, brought objections to petitions filed by three of his fellow Democratic candidates.

As a result, two of those candidates, Rameshwar Jodha of Jamaica and Inderjit Singh of Richmond Hill, were removed from the Council District 28 race last week. A third, Imam Aziz Bilal of Rosedale, has been in court fighting to stay on the ballot.

Jodha and Singh were set for legal battles this week, attempting to get back on the ballot.

In addition to Bilal and Rupnarain, the others remaining in the contest are Democrats Anthony Andrews, Jr., Allan Jennings and Garth Marchant.

Rupnarain said his campaign filed objections to the petitions of Bilal, Jodha and Singh because he thought they could take votes from him.

The Indo-Guyanese community and people of Indian origin are the base of Rupnarain's support, he said. Candidates like Jodha, who is Indo-Guyanese, Singh, who is from what is now Pakistan, and Bilal, who is a Muslim leader, could be drawing support from some of the same ethnic groups as Rupnarain.

"We cannot afford any split in the vote," Rupnarain said. "The aim was to keep the constituents focused on one candidate."

Council District 28 covers Richmond Hill, which has a large Indo-Guyanese community, Jamaica and Rochdale Village, where blacks are in the majority, and small sections of Rosedale and South Ozone Park.

Jodha said he was upset that a fellow candidate and member of the Indo-Guyanese community had helped to get him thrown off the ballot.

"If the county went after me, it would have been OK," Jodha said, referring to the Queens County Democratic machine. "To have the guy across the street or your neighbor go after you, that doesn't look good."

Each candidate was required to file a minimum of 900 signatures from registered voters in the candidate's district and party. If less than 900 signatures are found to be valid, the candidate will be removed from the ballot.

The signatures may be found invalid if they are unreadable or missing information about the signer. Forgery, similar handwriting in more than one signature or duplication of a signature would also disqualify them.

Singh shares Jodha's frustration. Even if the Board of Elections puts Singh back on the ballot, Rupnarain has filed a lawsuit to keep him off, Singh said.

"I am opposed to any of these sorts of shenanigans, but at the same time, I have to defend myself," Singh said of the legal battles. "To deny me the chance to be on the ballot is to equate me with someone who has committed a felony."

Rupnarain, who has focused his campaign to the west of the Van Wyck Expressway in Richmond Hill, said he has raised more funds than has any other candidate and that he has helped many people register to vote.

"I think the constituents should focus on the strongest candidate rather than have a lot of distractions," he said.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.

Posted 7:19 pm, October 10, 2011
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