BY MICHAEL RICONDA
Suffern – Following a County Board of Elections ruling, county executive candidates Dagan Lacorte and Vladimir Leon have been removed from the Democratic primaries for having an insufficient number of signatures for their campaigns. The rulings are both being appealed.
The board ruled on the night of Thursday, July 25 that over 3,337 signatures submitted for Lacorte and an undisclosed number of petitions for Leon were ineligible for inclusion in their candidacy petitions and had to be thrown out. In effect, both Lacorte and Leon’s petitions were left with under the minimum number of signatures, with Lacorte only 74 short of the 2,000 signature minimum.
The board’s decision is an apparent victory for County Executive David Fried, for the moment. In an effort to identify petitions that could be disqualified, Fried’s campaign filed FOIL requests for each candidate’s petitions two weeks ago.
According to Fried’s Campaign Manager Stephen Papas, the campaign found that Leon’s petitions contained incomplete witness statements, while Lacorte’s petitions contained not only those errors but also signatories who were not residents of Rockland County. Valid signatories must be current residents.
“When you looked at Mr. Leon’s petitions and also Mr. Lacorte’s petitions, there were some glaring concerns there,” Papas claimed.
Lacorte fired back in a press release on Friday, claiming “political insiders” with the Rockland Democrats-which he claimed included Democratic Chairwoman Kristen Zebrowski Stavisky and David Fried-were attempting to destroy his campaign. He accused Fried of lying to remove legitimate Rockland Democratic voters from the ballot and vowed to continue his current campaign while he challenges the Board’s decision in court.
“I will fight with everything I have to make sure the people have a choice in the September 10 primary,” Lacorte stated.
In response, Rockland Democratic Party Executive Director Theodore Collins, himself disqualified from an effort to get on the ballot in the Spring Valley trustee race, hit back hard against Lacorte, pointing out the candidate declined to participate in a pre-filing review of his petitions offered through the County Democrats.
“Neither the party, nor the chair has endorsed a candidate in the Democratic primary and the party strongly believes that if Dagan has met his legal obligations then he should be on the ballot and that if he wins the primary we will support him,” Collins explained. “At this point, however, it is sad and pathetic that Dagan is choosing to lash out at others for the possible failure of his campaign.”
Fellow County Executive candidates Ilan Schoenberger and Ed Day have commented on the matter as well, offering support for a fair petitioning process while remaining mum on the validity of the petitions themselves.
Schoenberger explained he did not challenge other candidates’ petitions because he “was hoping we would have an open Democratic primary.” Day argued the petitioning was a matter of abiding by all required regulations and that the outcome would be a product of the same regulatory standards.
“There are laws and there are rules,” Day stated. “The Board of Elections is charged with protecting the rights of all who vote fairly. That’s the process that’s being engaged in right now. However this turns out, we are all abiding by the same rules and they are there for a reason.”
In court, Fried’s campaign has already filed a proceeding with the Supreme Court reserving the right to invalidate the signatures. On the morning of Friday, July 26, Lacorte hit back in the State Supreme Court in Westchester County, where Papas explained Lacorte was expected to file a validating proceeding, which would allow him to return to the ballot.
Leon stated he would similarly challenge the board’s decision. Lacorte also appears to be willing to fight it out in court, but if he fails and cannot continue his current campaign, he may have other options.
“I can only speculate that Mr. Lacorte may do either a write-in campaign on the Democratic primary or he may do an independent nominating petition to create his own party,” Papas speculated.
Lacorte returned to court on Wednesday, July 31, while Leon is due in court today, August 1.