Running for Office Without Even Knowing It
September 16th, 2008

When Victoria Lebron decided to run for a seat on the Queens Democratic Party‘s county committee, she thought it would be a good idea to reach out to her competitor. Since the district her seat would cover in Astoria spans only about four blocks, she thought it would be neighborly. “I also wanted to see what her platform was about,” concedes Lebron, a fundraiser at New York University.

But when she contacted her opponent, Gertrude Bolkart, she learned that she had no intention of running for office. In fact, Bolkart’s name was submitted to the Board of Elections without her knowledge. “One day, I received a letter saying my name was being translated into Korean for the ballot,” Bolkart, 88, says in a thick German accent. “It was the first I’d heard about it.”

Bolkart says that she was a member of the Pocahontas Democratic Club 20 years ago, but other than that, she has no idea where somebody would even get her name from.

“If a person’s name is placed on a designating petition without her consent, it is a fraud on the voters,” says Jerry Goldfeder, election law chair at the New York City Bar Association. As a recourse for people who had their names submitted without their consent, he says they “can ask either the Board of the Elections or the district attorney to investigate how it happened and whether there was a violation of the election law or a crime.”

Insiders say that this happens regularly. “People work from old lists and pull names,” says Henry Berger, an elections lawyer. “It’s most frequently the political parties, since they control the petitioning process.”

But Mike Rice, the executive secretary for the Democratic Organization of Queens, contends that “it’s not an issue.”

“It’s happened in the past occasionally,” he says. “Sometimes somebody will put a friend’s name on the ballot without asking.”

Once elected, the committee member can resign and the party will appoint somebody to take their place.

State law requires that parties fill 25 percent of the thousands of county committee seats for each borough. The county committee members don’t have many powers, but their biggest authority comes with the power to nominate state legislative candidates during special elections. In a city where the Democratic nomination is usually tantamount to election, this is no small event. They also elect a slate of officers who then choose the county leader, as is the case with the battle currently going on in the Bronx.

On the designating petitions that carried Bolkart’s name, there were a number of other candidates. Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Sen. George Onorato, whose names were on the petitions, all declined to comment directly. But a spokesman for Assemblymember Michael Gianaris, also on the petitions, says that those petitions were handled by the party and he had nothing to do with them. His office adds that petitions circulated by the assembly member’s campaign workers generally do not include candidates for county committee.

As for Lebron, she was inspired by the New Kings Democrats, who successfully ran a slate of 50 county committee members in the Brooklyn Democratic Party. She and another candidate that ran for the same office in a different area, Ian Steinberg, have founded the New Queens Democrats, although there are less than a dozen involved. She says she wants to be accessible to her constituent’s needs. “You can call, say, Chuck Shumer, but that’s not a very direct way to have your concerns heard.” The official results for her race are due in about a week.

By on September 16, 2008, 3:46 pm
In category: Governing | 1 Comment »

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One Response to “Running for Office Without Even Knowing It”

  1. Dawna Wedner Says:
    October 16th, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    There are some interesting points in time on this article however I don’t know if I see all of them middle to heart. There’s some validity however I’ll take maintain opinion till I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we wish more! Added to FeedBurner as effectively

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