Thursday, August 13, 2009

Paterson Calls for Special Election Before Quickly Reversing Course

Blames Confusion on Staff Mistake

By Conor Greene

The uncertainty looming over the 38th Assembly district continued after Gov. David Paterson announced that a special election would be held in September to replace disgraced ex-Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, before changing course just hours later and issuing a statement that no decision has been made yet.

The latest embarrassment for Gov. Paterson came last Friday, when his office announced that a special election will be held on September 15 to fill the vacancy created when Seminerio resigned before pleading guilty to fraud charges. “This special election will ensure that the residents in part of Queens County will have the representation they need in the New York State Legislature,” said Paterson in the release.

However, just four hours later, the governor’s press secretary Marissa Shorenstein issued a statement informing the media that the prior press release has “been recalled” and that “no final decision has been made at this time with respect to a special election.” Several weeks ago, the governor’s office had informed the city Board of Elections that Paterson intended to call for a special election.

The unusual move to rescind the special election announcement led to speculation that it had first been called at the request of county Democrat party chairman Rep. Joseph Crowley, before Gov. Paterson reversed course due to pressure from state Senators Malcolm Smith and John Sampson and Rep. Gregory Meeks, who are backing Albert Baldeo in the crowded field.

On Wednesday, Shorenstein refused to comment on reports the governor’s reversal came as a result of political pressure and instead chalked the error up to a mistake. “The announcement of a special election was made in error. The governor did not sign off on such an announcement. There is currently no special election,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Forum.

If a special election was held, the candidates would be hand-picked by county party leaders. If a primary is held, candidates who qualified through the petitioning process would appear on the ballot. At the center of the dispute are reports that while Baldeo has the support of certain party members, he wouldn’t get the nod if a special election was held. There are also questions regarding whether Baldeo meets the one-year residency restriction to be eligible to run for the seat, an issue the Ozone Park lawyer refuted.

“The governor eventually made the right call, but it was done in a sort of convoluted way,” said Baldeo. “The voters should decide who our next assembly member is after all we have gone through, and no one else. As much as it created confusion, I think… that the right decision was eventually made.” He said he has the paperwork needed to prove that he has lived in the district for well over a year.

Baldeo said that he was not aware of any politicians lobbying the governor on his behalf against a special election. “I would imagine there would be a lot of folks who have seen my work and are very supportive of my candidacy because I’ve been working very hard in my district,” he said, adding that he helped the party by abandoning his bid last year for the party’s endorsement for the state senate seat eventually won by fellow Democrat Joseph Addabbo. “I’ve done a lot for the Democratic Party,” added Baldeo.

Another would-be Democratic candidate, Mike Miller of Glendale, said he isn’t concerned about what form the election takes and is instead focusing on running a “vigorous campaign” that already boasts endorsements from City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), Democratic District Leader Frank Kotnik and the Queens Conservative Party.

“I’m honored and proud to be even considered to run for office, and no matter what kind of election it is, I will be ready,” said Miller, who serves on Community Board 5. “I’m spending my time campaigning instead of lobbying for the type of campaign it will be. That’s out of my hands, so why waste my time trying to change it?”

Other residents who have announced their intentions to run for the vacant seat include Democrats Nick Comaianni of Community Board 9 and Farouk Samaroo, who recently returned home from a military deployment in Afghanistan, and Republican Donna Marie Caltabiano, director of the Forest Park Senior Center.

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