By David Schwartz
Board of Elections Commissioner Nancy Mottola-Schacher
was saying emphatically at the weekly board meeting, exactly
three weeks before the September 11th primary. "It was
to avoid confusion. That was the main thrust. Confusion."
She happened to be debating a ruling over the scramble by both mayoral
candidates Alan Hevesi and Michael Bloomberg to create a new party with the
name "Education" in it. But she might as well have been talking about all of
Campaign 2001 so far.
The Board of Elections cannot tell you the number of
candidates who have made it onto the ballot, having survived
the legal challenges by their opponents, lack of funds,
and court fights. "Go to the Web site and you can count
them," said a spokeswoman. But the Web site was down for
The Board of Elections also could not determine whether a certain candidate
was still on the ballot or not, and or even whether another one was alive or,
as rumored, dead.
Still, with time running out before the primary, the
ballot is taking shape, even if the Board of Elections
does not seem to be. Out of a total of 340 candidates,
about 60 -- as of this moment -- have been knocked completely
out of contention. Another 30 were bumped off of one party
line, but remain on the ballot because they are on another
party line (such as Liberal or Conservative or Working
This is not a final number. Candidates are still fighting in court to get
back on the ballot; some have actually won. The challenges,
counter-challenges, and legal fighting can go on up, according to the Board
of Elections, until the day before the primary.
Perhaps in New York this is all normal. But that does not make it any less
bizarre. This is the place, for example, for Campaign Tangle to issue a
correction: Heyward Dotson is not dead -- we think. He was declared dead --
literally, complete with eulogies -- but now the Board of Elections has put
him back on the ballot.
NOT AS DEAD AS EVERYONE THOUGHT
Candidate Victor Bernace was at the Board of Elections
when the board kicked one of his opponents in
district seven, Heyward Dotson, off the ballot. "He
seemed very devastated, very depressed," Bernace recalls.
"He said to me, 'I have to disappear, I can't show my
face around the neighborhood for a week or so. I'm so
The next day, at a candidate forum in Harlem, Eddie Caldwell stood up and
identified himself as Heyward Dotson's campaign manager. Caldwell told the
audience that, the night before, shortly after the Board of Elections kicked
him off the ballot, Dotson had died.
The other candidates were shocked. There was a moment of silence in
remembrance of Dotson, who had a history of heart problems. The candidates
each said a brief eulogy for him. And later, candidates left messages at his
house offering condolences. Others sent flowers to his apartment.
There is a good chance Dotson appreciated the sentiments. Apparently, he is
alive. He has been seen in a Manhattan courtroom trying to overturn a Board
of Elections ruling kicking him off. And the Board of Elections has
declared him both alive AND back on the ballot.
"Someone played a real nasty joke," District 7 candidate Jackie Rowe-Adams
said. "We were really concerned for him."
But, Dotson is still an elusive man. He has not answered his phone for the
past week, has not returned nearly two dozen messages left at his number, or
a message left with his brother. When one reporter went to court to find
him, Dotson was "Out to lunch," said a court officer. We waited. He never
After a few calls to Dotson's number, someone answers the phone. "Mr. Dotson
is indeed alive, and he had nothing to do with the rumors," said John
Harrell, who said he was Dotson's brother and the real campaign manager.
"The rumors haven't stopped him from campaigning vigorously," Harrell said.
Harrell said Dotson had nothing to do with the rumors.
So who was Caldwell, the mystery man that announced Dotson's death? "He was
just a campaign worker. We've been trying to get in touch with him, but
haven't been able to," Harrell said. Caldwell lives at a homeless shelter,
and was thus, he said, hard to get in touch with. Then again, so is Dotson.
OFF AND ON
Carol Howell has a different problem. Nobody thinks she
is dead. But they do think she is no longer a candidate.
Howell had fought hard to get on the ballot in the district
31 City Council race. She had been kicked off by the
Board of Elections after the Queens Democratic organization
challenged her cover sheet and page numbers. On August
3rd, she went to court with a fixed-up cover sheet and
new page numbers, and the Queens Democratic organization
lawyer, Frank Bolz decided not to challenge her. "He told
me, 'Congratulations, you're on the ballot.'" Howell asked
for written confirmation, but was told she did not need
it. "I thought it was done," Howell said.
More than 10 days later, though, the Board of Elections was still telling
people that she was off the ballot.
"This is ridiculous. [The Board of Elections] expects you to be perfect and
have everything exactly right, but when it comes to them reporting the truth
or an accurate statement, I haven't found that to be true," Howell said.
After supporters, opponents, and reporters from Gotham
Gazette, Daily News, and Newsday told her that the Board
of Elections was telling everybody she was off the ballot,
Howell called herself.
She asked if she was on the ballot; they said no. She said she was the
candidate, and was on the ballot. She was transferred to another official,
and, eventually, she finally got the confirmation she was looking for. Yes,
the official declared, she was indeed back on the ballot.
This is not the end of it, though.
"If you press, you get the right answer," Howell advised Campaign Tangle.
"Otherwise, they'll tell you I'm off the ballot."
Campaign Tangle tried it, and when we asked if Carol
Howell of District 31 was on the ballot, got a "no". When
we identified ourself, we were transferred to director
of communications and public affairs, Naomi Bernstein.
"I think she's off, but someone said she was back on," Bernstein said. When
told that Howell had indeed won her court case, Bernstein replied, "We don't
know that until we get notification from the court." Pressed again, she put
the us on hold. A few minutes later, she said, "She's back on the ballot.
She was put back on by our board," she said.
So why, twelve days later was there still confusion over whether she was on
the ballot? "I don't know why we were telling her that," Bernstein said.
"This has definitely hurt my campaign. People thought I was off the ballot,
and that I'm a liar. How do you build a campaign like that?" Howell said.
THE NAME GAME
Last week, the Board ruled neither Alan Hevesi or Michael Bloomberg could use
the word "Education" in new parties they are forming; otherwise voters would
Alan Hevesi changed the name from "Education Party" to "Better Schools"
party. At the regular weekly board meeting, Bloomberg's campaign argued that
since Hevesi changed the party name, Bloomberg could use his original name,
"The parties have resolved it," said Lawrence Mandelker, a lawyer for
Bloomberg. But when one board member asked him if Hevesi's campaign was ever
notified about this, the attorney avoided answering.
Board of Elections Commissioner Nancy Mottola-Schacher,
who is a Republican, was all for letting Bloomberg have
"Unless the Hevesi campaign waives Education Party
as their first choice of names ... I can't see how you
can fairly use 'Education First'," replied Commissioner
Douglas Kellner, a Democrat.
The four Democratically-appointed commissioners voted
against Bloomberg and the four Republican-appointed commissioners
voted for it. A tie meant that the Bloomberg move failed.
"I don't see what the big deal is," Mottola-Schacher quipped. 'Better' is
better than 'First.'" Nobody laughed.