“We pride ourselves on always getting our candidates on the ballot,” boasted a Brooklyn Republican leader in conversation recently.
“Ok, but after all that effort, what about after they get on the ballot?” I asked.
“Oh, c’mon, it’s not like any of these people are going to win anyway!” he exclaimed.
“So what’s the point in getting people on the ballot who you know are just going to lose and when no one really is going to do anything about that?” That question remained unanswered.
This brief exchange reveals a lot of about the unfortunate mentality of the current Brooklyn Republican Party leadership, and that of many other Republican leaders throughout the state when it comes to petitioning.
In fact, I was told that, at one petitioning cleanup session, after realizing that a last-ditch effort to get a candidate enough signatures to qualify to be on the ballot succeeded, Brooklyn Republican Chairman Craig Eaton exclaimed, “Well, we’ve won the battle to go on to lose the war!”
And so, it perplexes someone like me–who has been out there collecting signatures for Lucretia Regina-Potter,Michael Grimm and Joe DioGuardi–and many others to hear things like this: the highest compliment that Chairman Craig Eaton could pay the late Brooklyn Republican District Leader from the 51st Assembly District, Leonard Silver, at his funeral last year was: “Lenny was always good for hundreds of signatures. I never needed to worry about him getting me signatures to qualify candidates for the ballot.”
Is that all that the life of a good, honorable, loyal, and dedicated Brooklyn Republican activist is worth? A proverbial pat on the back for collecting signatures for candidateswill lose anyway?
As we begin yet another round of petitioning for State and Federal office, it is the perfect time to evaluate the petitioning process, how deeply flawed it is, and figure out why any party leader would kill themselves to collect signatures for candidateswill lose.
The petitioning process is one of the most grueling, and least rewarding, experiences in politics, especially for Republicans in Brooklyn.
Most people don’t know what it actually takes to get a candidate on the ballot, and I’m sure if more people did, they would be mortified to the point of insurrection against their elected officials (a threshold we are almost at now for many reasons, I believe). I shall endeavor to write a brief explanation of the process for those unfamiliar with it, but I’m pretty confident if you’re reading this right now, you probably know something about it already.
In order to appear on the ballot as a potential nominee for public office in New York State, you must collect a number of signatures that is equal to 5% of the registered voters in your party in the political unit (Assembly District, City of New York for Mayor, etc.), or a certain set number, whichever is less, in order to qualify for appearing on the Primary Election ballot. Whoever wins the primary automatically gets to appear on the General Election ballot in November. If you run as a independent, you have to collect a number of signatures that equal 5%, or a certain set number, whichever is less, of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.
Essentially, outside of local village elections, we’re talking about needing hundreds to thousands of signatures for races as low-level as City Council or State Assembly.
But here’s the kicker: these numbers are assuming that every signature that you collect is the essence of perfection: the person is a registered voter of your party, at the address stated at the Board of Elections, no one uses a first initial, no one uses a different but perfectly acceptable name for the street on which they live, no woman writes only part of her hyphenated last name, you personally witnessed the signature, the person personally identified themselves as the exact same person who is the voter on file at the Board of Elections, and so forth. Everything must be perfect, and as we know,.
Then the war of objections, lawyers, courtrooms, party bosses, and their handpicked patronage hacks, who make decisions at the Board of Elections, all combine to determine whether a candidate, otherwise qualified to run, can survive the government-sponsored capture of ballot access by political bosses (who, by the way, have never really appreciated losing full control over the composition of the ballot in the reforms passed in the late 19th century).
Moreover, as many, many candidates and campaign aides can attest, it is actually easier to stay on the ballot bythe signatures of voters accompanied by perfect replication of all the necessary information (because of the punitive legal fees and court procedures to prove fraud) than it is to actually and honestly collect the signatures from the voters directly! This is completely corrupt, undemocratic and un-American!
Even with this knowledge, along with thousands of other people throughout New York State, I, too, was the victim of this deeply flawed and arcane ballot access process in my City Council race that provided political appointees in the courts and the Board of Elections tremendous discretion over the standing of perfectly valid signatures on my petitions, simply because it was a priority for the political bosses to reduce the number of candidates on the ballot in favor of the bosses’ preferred candidates.
Now that I’ve told you how much control (albeit not absolute control) the party bosses have over the ballot, now we must answer why Republicans, using their institutional advantages to the fullest extent possible, knowingly place on the ballot candidates in whom they have zero confidence.
How many dollars did it take for Brooklyn Republicans to trade up the Republican label to far-from-Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg? $125,000.
What famous Queens Republican Party operative, who is notorious for his ubiquitous presence at the NYC Board of Elections, and frequent moonlighting as a petitioning organizer, was recently indicted by the Manhattan D.A.’s office for allegedly stealing $1.1 million from the Bloomberg 2009 campaign? John F. Haggerty, Jr.
Get it yet? Ballot access is the
But, the moral of the story is this: if you see some poor soul knocking at your door, or buzzing your apartment bell in the lobby asking for a signature for a Republican petition, check first to see if it is one of the independent grassroots Republicans running to fix our party and our government, and then do the poor soul a favor and give him or her your signature. Your signature just might be the one that makes all the difference in whose name gets on the ballot and whether that person can go on to defeat a lousy Albany or Washington incumbent this fall.