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Nomination of NYC Election Commissioner Spurs Legal Battle

The speaker of the New York City Council was hauled to court Monday by party leaders over her nomination of a friend as election commissioner.

MANHATTAN (CN) - The speaker of the New York City Council was hauled to court Monday by party leaders over her nomination of a friend as election commissioner.

Filed by attorney Arthur Schwartz of Advocates for Justice in Manhattan Supreme Court, the petition says it is laid out in the New York Constitution that county party representatives are supposed to provide the name for the Council to vote on.

Instead the council voted on Nov. 21, 2017, to recommend Illinois attorney Andy Praschak to the position of election commissioner. 

“The state constitution says that the local, the county legislature or New York City Council shall vote on a nomination of the county party,” Schwartz explained in an interview about the case. “It doesn’t say they can make their own nominations.” 

Schwartz said the petition against the council and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito

is the first of its kind, to his knowledge. 

Election Commissioners typically spend four years in the position, overseeing the election process to conduct “fair and honest elections.” Each of New York City’s five boroughs has one Republican and one Democratic commissioner.

Barry Weinberg, who serves as executive director of the Manhattan Democratic Party, explained in an interview that the logic of nominations is to “ensure that neither party could dominate the other and that both would be treated fairly.”

“Who’s to stop a local legislative body like the City Council from installing someone as a commissioner who’s technically a Democrat but … who’s really ready to work with Republicans?” he asked. 

Though the City Council’s office has not returned a request for comment, New York election law says a party has 30 days to provide another name if its nomination isn’t appointed within 60 days.

It is uncertain whether the speaker here recommended Praschak because the Manhattan Democratic Party had delayed its nomination of a second candidate.

According to the petition, the Manhattan Democratic Party nominated attorney Jeanine Johnson in November 2016. Johnson corresponded with the Council in early 2017 about a “timeline” for next steps but got no concrete answers, the petition says.

On Nov. 29, 2017 — eight days after the Council had chosen Praschak — the party nominated its second candidate, attorney Sylvia DiPietro.

Democrats say Speaker Viverito called a vote on Praschak’s nomination the next day, but the vote was rescheduled because fewer than 10 of the council’s 47 members showed up. 

Monday’s petition argues the state constitution should take precedence over the 30-day rule. “That 30-day waiver language in Election Law 3-204 … has no basis in the N.Y. State Constitution,” it states. 

This is not the first time Viverito has chosen her own candidate for election commissioner. In July 2014 the party nominated attorney Lenore Kramer to the position, but the Council approved Alan Schulkin in September.

The petition says Schulkin marked “the first time a commissioner was not a nominee of the Manhattan Democratic Party.”

Now, “with less than 30 days left in her position, [Viverito] is desperately trying to cling to power, even if it means moving to prevent transparency and openness in government,” Weinberg said. 

Viverito is expected to reschedule the vote by Dec. 10, according to the petition. The City Council’s office did not immediately confirm that date.

Categories / Politics

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