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Titus, Meeks challengers wait for word on signatures

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Despite weeks of legal battle in the courts, two southeast Queens candidates said they would continue to fight for their place in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary.

On Aug. 20, the state Appellate Court in Brooklyn upheld the decision by the State Supreme Civil Court in Queens to remove U.S. House of Representatives candidate Ruben Wills from the ballot because many of the signatures he obtained were invalid.

Wills, a staff member of state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica), was set to challenge U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), who was in Denver for the Democratic Party's national convention this week.

Wills, 37, said he will appeal the decision in federal court on constitutional grounds.

"I have a constitutional right to run," he told a news conference in Springfield Gardens Tuesday.

The Elections Board requires congressional candidates to gather at least 1,250 signatures to be on the primary ballot.

Queens Democratic Party Executive Secretary Michael Reich, who represents the party at the trial against Wills, told TimesLedger that more than half of Wills' signatures were not properly validated and five of the signatures were forged.

"It was a disgrace to the democratic process," said Mike McKay, Meeks' political director, in a phone interview.

Wills said those allegations were unfounded and the party was trying to keep him off the ballot to keep the status quo.

"The whole process is rigged from the beginning," he said.

While the Appellate Court halted Wills' political plans last week, it gave fellow Democratic newcomer Donovan Richards a second chance to get his name back on the ballot for a state Assembly race against Michelle Titus (D-Far Rockaway).

Richards is a district leader for City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) and would need 500 signatures to be on the ballot.

The Elections Board upheld a challenge made by Titus' husband, Eric DeBerry, of Richards' signatures last month, which prompted the candidate to take the matter to civil court.

A Queens Supreme Court judge dismissed the case, but the Appellate Court ordered Aug. 20 that he review the case immediately.

"[T]he Supreme Court erred in failing to consider any of the evidence submitted to it or to address any of the issues raised in this proceeding before making its determination," the court's ruling said.

Titus was unavailable for comment. Richards said he is glad the higher court gave him a chance to hear his side, but also blamed the Queens Democratic Party for delaying the process.

He said due to the judge's vacation schedule, his case will not have its first hearing in Queens Supreme Court until next Tuesday, one week before the primary.

"They've already sent out absentee ballots and my name is not on it," he said at the news conference.

Despite the roadblocks, Richards said he felt confident that the court would move quickly and give him a chance to run against Titus.

"We won the appellate battle and that sends a clear message to the people," he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 6:40 pm, October 10, 2011
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