Judge Rebukes NYC Speaker for Closed-Door Maneuvering

MANHATTAN (CN) – A Manhattan judge ruled Tuesday that attempts by New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to nominate a personal friend as election commissioner were likely unconstitutional and in violation of state law.

On Tuesday, New York County Judge Alexander Tisch granted the Manhattan Democratic Party’s request for a preliminary injunction restraining the City Council from “proceeding with or voting on” the appointment of a commissioner until they comply with provisions set forth in New York State public officers and election laws,” Tisch wrote.

“It would appear that the City Council is not adhering to the tradition, spirit, and the letter of the process for designating a commissioner as contemplated by the Constitution and the election law,” Tisch wrote in his ruling.

In a statement, Manhattan Democratic Party County Leader Keith L.T. Wright – and one of the petitioners – agreed.

“It was clear that the City Council and the speaker had overstepped their bounds and violated the New York State Constitution,” said Wright.

“The Manhattan Democratic Party looks forward to seeing its nominee to the Board of Elections confirmed expeditiously.”

However, a New York City Law Department spokesman said late Tuesday an appeals judge had temporarily stayed Tisch’s order. The law department is representing the City Council in the action and filed the appeal.

Petitioners’ attorney Arthur Schwartz of Advocates for Justice wrote in the Dec. 5 lawsuit that county party representatives are supposed to provide a name for the council to vote on for election commissioner.

The party provided the name of a nominee, attorney Jeanine R. Johnson. In November, the council recommended Illinois attorney Andy Praschak, a friend of Mark-Viverito. Eight days later the party nominated a second candidate, attorney Sylvia DiPietro. The council did not vote on Praschak’s nomination because it could not wrangle a quorum.

In an unrelated press conference this week, Speaker Mark-Viverito defended the council, implying “politics” were at play in the case because Judge Tisch was doing a favor for Wright, whom she said had “put forward” Tisch’s name as a judge.

“We believe it’s going to be vindicated in court eventually,” Mark-Viverito added. “This is about protecting a decision, independent decision, that these councilmembers had the right to make, and I stand by that, and I’ll continue to stand by that.”

Schwartz celebrated the decision in an emailed statement Tuesday afternoon.

“I can say on behalf of every district leader in Manhattan that we appreciate the decision of Judge Tisch, which is a vindication of the Democratic process,” he wrote.

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