Monday, July 26, 2010

Assembly Member Barbara Clark Petitions With The Dead In Southeast Queens by Andrew Hawkins - City Hall News

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Twelve-term Assembly Member Barbara Clark is counting on her old friends Gloria Black and Warrington Canston, two state committee members from Clark’s district in Southeast Queens, to help her win another term in office this year. And she did not let the fact that both Black and Canston are apparently dead deter her from putting their names at the top of her petitions.
Clark’s opponent, Clyde Vanel, a 36-year-old lawyer and former candidate for City Council in 2009, filed a challenge to Clark’s petitions with the Queens Board of Elections last Thursday. He said Clark’s indifference toward the petition-gathering process speaks to a wider sense of apathy in the community he hopes to provoke with his candidacy.
“That’s just ridiculous,” Vanel said. “Barbara’s county committee people, a majority of them don’t even know that they’re on county committee. We’re fighting against something that has historically kept a majority of the community uninvolved and outside the process.”
“Is a dead person a Democrat?” he asked. “I don’t know.”
But Clark could end up skating by without much damage to her re-election efforts. According to the Board of Elections, while it may seem odd to include the deceased on a candidate’s petitions, the signatures that are collected are technically counted as separate for each person on them. Therefore, while the fact that they are deceased makes Black and Canston ineligible for the ballot, as long as Clark herself is living (which she is), there is no legal problem.
Vanel said he would be disappointed if Clark got away with just a wrist slap, but noted he would not want to rob residents in the district the chance to choose between their two candidacies.
All the same, he used the opportunity to blast his opponent for doing a disservice to the political process, and to the memories of community leaders like Black and Canston, by turning in petitions that read more like the obituary pages.
“Clark is not getting people in involved and active in the process by using dead people. It’s a shame,” he said. “I have to tell my county committee people, who are working in the sun, working in the hot summer to collect signatures, that they may be running on the ballot against a dead person. It reflects badly on Clark and it reflects badly on the district.”
Vanel is part of a small-scale movement to challenge the political powerbase in Southeast Queens. He ran against and lost to Council Member Leroy Comrie last year in a race that garnered some attention for unveiling some of the dissatisfaction in the community with leaders like Comrie, Rep. Gregory Meeks and State Sen. Malcolm Smith.
Vanel has run into his own difficulties. He only raised $1,250 for the race, though Clark reported just $2,500 on hand, having raised $900. The Board of Elections also has identified a problem with a number of the petitions turned in by Vanel’s ally and mentor, Donnie Whitehead, who, along with his wife is running for district leader. Vanel said they are still mulling whether to contest the Board’s decision to disallow Whitehead and a handful of others from running as district leaders. Whitehead may run for state committee member instead, he confirmed.
“It’s been a struggle to open this process up,” Vanel said.
Clark could not be reached for comment.