By Yoav Gonen and George Joseph, THE CITY
Reform Assemblymember Robert Carroll calls decision to keep judicial delegates on ballot despite dubious petition signatures “politically influenced” — while party leader Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn says he’s “xenophobic” for trying to block Pakistani representation.
A Democratic Brooklyn Assembly member is accusing his own county party’s chairwoman of improper interference in judicial elections — invoking former president Donald Trump’s war on the democratic process.
“Seems like we have our own Donald Trump in Brooklyn,” tweeted Assemblymember Robert Carroll about fellow Assemblymember and Kings County Democratic Party chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn.
The broadside came after the city Board of Elections on Wednesday rejected a challenge to a slate of judicial delegate candidates backed by the county party.
The challenge asserted that the majority of signatures collected on petitions for the candidates were invalid, citing suspicious handwriting, signatures from residents who lived outside the district and other deficiencies. The board rejected that challenge on a technicality, which leaves the candidates on the primary ballot intact.
The county-backed slate is running against candidates supported by Carroll in his 44th Assembly District — an act of aggression in the escalating combat between party reformers aligned with Carroll and a controlling establishment led by Bichotte Hermelyn.
Multiple Brooklyn residents in another district have told THE CITY that their signatures were forged on challenges linked to party leadership seeking to throw insurgent candidates off the ballot — with one more stepping forward this week.
Typically, it falls to each Assembly member and local officials known as district leaders to select a slate of local residents to run for seats as judicial delegates and alternates to serve at the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s nominating conventions for judges.
Those candidates for judge almost always run unopposed in November, ensuring their election once nominated by the delegates.
This year, however, a slate of competing candidates for judicial delegate seats appeared on petitions in the 44th District — which includes Park Slope, Kensington and nearby neighborhoods. All named the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s law chair as the contact person.
Carroll’s team filed challenges to the competing slate earlier this month with the Board of Elections — viewing the move as a heavy-handed bid by party leaders to rack up votes to ensure their picks for judges will sail through at this summer’s convention.
This week, the Brooklyn Board of Elections office staff refused to consider the signature challenge filings because of what they determined were errors in how the pages were numbered. Bichotte Hermelyn appointed the BOE’s Brooklyn Democratic commissioner, who serves alongside her Republican counterpart and is one of 10 commissioners in all for the five boroughs.
The full board’s approval Wednesday of the Brooklyn office’s decision didn’t sit well with Carroll.
“So I guess this now means in Bichotte’s BOE, she can challenge anyone and no one can challenge her,” he tweeted. “She is breaking the Democratic Party. Rules should be followed but she clearly doesn’t care.”
Asked to explain his basis for tying the board’s vote to Bichotte Hermelyn, Carroll said he felt the board’s ruling had been so egregious that he was convinced it had been politically driven.
“I can only make one assumption — that somebody politically influenced those folks,” he told THE CITY.
Bichotte Hermelyn replied Wednesday night, also on Twitter — calling the Carroll-affiliated petition challenge an “attempt to throw a slate of people of color first-time women candidates - off the ballot.”
She accused the Assembly member of “participating in what looks like a xenophobic effort to stop Pakistanis from representing Little Pakistan. #Hypocrisy…. On #Ramadan to boot?”
Some of those candidates issued a statement under the banner of a new Twitter account called “Muslim Slate,” which appeared online on Wednesday and used talking points similar to Bichotte Hermelyn’s.
“We are all Democrats who believe in the American Dream and everything it promises,” the account said in a statement posted online. “Sadly, during the holiest month of Ramadan, a group is trying to knock off our Muslim slate off the ballot.”
THE CITY asked the “Muslim Slate” group for comment on who posts to the account, which has three followers and has issued two tweets to date, but received no reply. THE CITY also attempted to reach four of the candidates listed in the slate but got no responses.
Spokespeople for Bichotte Hermelyn and the Brooklyn Democratic Party didn’t respond to a request for comment, and a voice message left with Bichotte Hermelyn late Wednesday yielded no response.
The back and forth highlights the deepening power struggle between controlling leaders of the Brooklyn Democratic party and a coalition of dissident Democratic factions vying to gain influence in June’s primary.
In recent weeks, groups such as Rep Your Block and the New Kings Democrats have accused the party leadership of playing a role in submitting forged signatures to the Board of Elections in an attempt to kick some of their candidates for low-level county committee positions off the ballot.
On Monday, the New York Daily News reported that the county party had added two mid-level officials to its ballot roster — on top of the current 42 district leaders — by taking advantage of a redrawn Assembly district spanning from Staten Island to Manhattan whose waterfront Brooklyn segment includes a houseboat in Red Hook with four registered Democratic voters.
It was Carroll’s father, John Carroll, an attorney, who made an appearance at the Board of Elections Wednesday seeking to knock the county party-affiliated slate off the ballot. The challenges he filed were among a group that were rejected outright, without a review on the merits, at the beginning of the board’s hearing on Brooklyn matters.
Two Brooklyn BOE officials testified that the filings submitted by John Carroll violated a board rule about how those documents should be numbered, because they confusingly contained two sets of numbers at the bottom of each page.
During the hearing, a BOE staffer in Manhattan said she similarly found the pagination of John Carroll’s filings confusing.
But John Carroll argued that each page was clearly and sequentially marked with a number appearing on the bottom-left. He said numbers placed near the bottom-right of each page were informing board officials of the page number of the ballot petition volume that was being challenged.
“I don’t see how there’s any possibility that it doesn’t comply with the rules, and I frankly don’t see how there’s any possibility that there’s confusion,” John Carroll told the commissioners. “I’m sort of aghast.”
Still, his weren’t the only challenges nixed based on the board’s strict adherence to its own rules.
A significant number of challenges got rejected for mistakes in address, for misidentifying the correct title of the position sought, or for misspelling the candidate’s name.
The Board of Elections didn’t respond to a request for comment.
‘That’s All Fraud’
Also Wednesday, the Board of Elections rejected paperwork filed to get dissident candidates for county committee positions removed from the ballot because of allegedly forged signatures that THE CITY first revealed.
The board’s Brooklyn office determined the challenges, which were linked to the county party, to be “frivolous,” but offered no explanation for the specific basis of its rejection.
The challenge included the name of a registered Democrat in Brooklyn, newly identified by THE CITY, who asserted that his signatures were forged on multiple documents submitted to the Board of Elections.
Edward Alston McDuffie said signatures on two petitions to get district leader Anthony T. Jones onto the June primary ballot weren’t his. Nor, he said, were signatures on two separate documents that sought to kick a Democratic candidate for county committee from the ballot.
“That’s all fraud,” McDuffie said after viewing photos or screenshots of the signatures on the four documents.
McDuffie, who is working to set up a recycling business in Brownsville called WERECYCLENYC, said he never signs paperwork on the street unless the candidate whose name appears on the petition is actually there in person.
He said the signatures are obviously not his because he “never” signs his middle initial, and he said the capital “M” in the last name of his purported signatures is nothing close to how he writes it.
“Do it the proper way — you don’t need to scam nothing. You can call people and tell them what you want to tell them and hope they believe it and sign their name on the dotted line,” he said after confirming the signatures were forged. “You don’t have to put somebody’s name like they signed.”
McDuffie is the fifth resident from Brownsville or East New York who has told THE CITY his name was forged on ballot challenge forms.
Jones, the incumbent 55th Assembly District leader, has acknowledged that the faulty signatures originated from within his Democratic club in Brownsville, but said he doesn’t know who filled out the forms.
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