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Fed judge denies petition of Ackerman’s GOP foe

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A Hollis Hills man whose efforts to mount a Republican Party campaign against U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) were derailed again in a second round of court action this week has vowed to unseat the incumbent in two years.

Republican Perry Reich was tossed from the Republican line in August after Ackerman, dean of the Queens congressional delegation, challenged the validity of the roughly 1,400 signatures Reich collected on his petitions in a highly unusual move.

Ackerman is seeking his 11th term in the Fifth Congressional District, which includes a large section of northeastern Queens and northern Nassau County.

This week a federal judge denied Reich’s request to be reinstated on the ballot and squashed his argument that Democrats should not be allowed to challenge the petitions of a Republican candidate.

To be considered a candidate on the ballot for a particular political party, those who want to run for office are required to collect a certain number of signatures from registered voters within the district. Those who sign a candidate’s petition must be a member of the candidate’s party, and candidates often challenge each other’s petitions in court to try and eliminate potential opponents.

Despite the setbacks, Reich, an election lawyer and Republican district leader, said he would “continue to fight.”

“We’re not going to let Ackerman get away with this,” said Reich, who had contended it was unfair of the congressman to reach outside his own party to challenge an opponent. “We’re not going to let the public forget about this. We will defeat him in two years.”

Barbara Barr, a Queens resident and longtime member of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, said it was rare for individual candidates to challenge petitions from contenders in other political parties.

“There has more or less been a gentleman’s agreement not to do it,” Barr said of the Queens County Democratic and Republican organizations. “An individual candidate may, but I have never heard of it being done.”

Ackerman’s lawyer, former state Sen. Manny Gold, said this week he was pleased with the federal court’s decision.

“I really feel that we’re on the side of right,” Gold said.

U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Spatt, representing the Eastern District of New York, placed the blame for Reich’s ballot troubles squarely on the candidate.

“It is regrettable that there will not be a Republican candidate for the Fifth Congressional seat in the 2002 election,” Spatt wrote in his decision, handed down Saturday. “The fault, if there be any, lies, not in the political affiliation of the objectant, but in the failure to file the requisite number of valid signatures.”

Spatt also disagreed with the contention that Democrats should not be allowed to challenge another party’s petitions and said the prospect of a petition challenge from anyone was a deterrent against falsified petitions.

Petitions are “presumed to be valid,” the judge wrote. “Non-party challenges deter ... deception and assist the state in discovering ... fraud. At times, only challenges by a non-party will reveal this type of election fraud.”

“A non-party challenge is a necessary component in any fair democratic election process,” Spatt wrote.

Reich’s campaign against Ackerman was dealt its first blow last month. At that time Ackerman and Gold won their challenge of Republican Perry Reich’s petitions when the state Board of Elections and then the state court in Albany invalidated more than 400 signatures on Reich’s petitions. Reich had collected about 1,400 signatures, more than the 1,250 needed to lock in the Republican spot on the ballot.

Reich’s name will appear on the November ballot on the Conservative line, and the Republican said this week he will continue to campaign this fall.

“I don’t expect to win,” Reich said.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:23 pm, October 10, 2011
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