Replacing Miguel Martinez
by Courtney Gross
Jul 20, 2009
A little after 10 a.m. Monday, Miguel Martinez's re-election campaign conducted its last official duty: It delivered approximately 3,000 signatures to the city's Board of Elections, presumably to get the councilmember on the ballot for a third term.
Two days later, the campaign broke out the "white-out."
Sub in: former councilmember Guillermo Linares, freshly resigned as the city's commissioner for immigrant affairs, who swooped in a day after Martinez's resignation to take his signatures and, more importantly, his place on the ballot.
Martinez resigned on Tuesday and pleaded guilty on Thursday to fraud and money laundering, making him the first elected official to fall from the City Council's slush fund scandal. His abrupt departure triggered an obscure section of election law, which spurs a three-member committee, all appointed by Martinez, to select a replacement candidate.
The move in some areas of the Upper Manhattan district promises to create ballot warfare as opponents claim Linares' latest candidacy is illegal and misrepresents the intent of thousands of voters who signed petitions for the now shamed Martinez.
For more on how the city's petition process works, play Gotham Gazette's latest game: Bump.
A Legal Replacement?
About 306 pages, each with 10 John Hancocks, would now go to Linares. Representatives for the lead insurgent candidate, Ydanis Rodriguez, say they should all be thrown out.
"The petitions are circulated and they say Miguel Martinez on them," said Leo Glickman, Rodriguez's attorney. "No one that signed that petition was interested in putting Guillermo Linares on the ballot."
Reportedly, the Martinez camp was shopping for a new candidate last week, which could call into question the intent behind the campaign's petition filing on Monday -- three days before the deadline. Already his opponents are questioning whether the petitions filed early last week were ever meant to ensure a Martinez candidacy.
"Councilmember Martinez knew this was a possibility," said Glickman, referring to the former elected official's plea bargain on Thursday. "Rather than being honest they are trying to trick the public."
The Rodriguez campaign is formally challenging the petitions at the Board of Elections in hopes of getting Linares thrown off the ballot. Glickman said he expects the board will have a hearing on the challenge next month.
Other candidates in the district, which stretches across Inwood and Washington Heights, agree that the inclusion of Linares on the ballot makes the race unfair.
"This is not the right thing to do," said Cleofis Sarete, who had tried to get on the ballot. "If he wants to come back and run for City Council, he should go through the process. He should go and collect his own signatures."
But the state's election law may differ. According to the city Board of Elections, a selection committee is tapped if a vacancy occurs after a candidate's petitions have been filed (in Martinez's case it occurred a day later). As long as the petitions are accurate and there are enough valid signatures, this three-member committee can select anyone to fill the spot -- regardless of the circumstances triggering the vacancy.
Calls to Linares's reported spokesperson at the Mirram Group went unanswered, and his election lawyer, Henry Berger, refused to answer questions about his candidacy.
Linares Versus Martinez
Last triggered following the assassination of City Councilmember James Davis in 2003, this particular section of election law doesn't raise as much ire among good government groups as it does among the district's candidates. Though the circumstances revolving around this incident differ greatly from the Davis vacancy, some voting and good government organizations say there still should -- in all circumstances -- be a back-up plan in case a candidate can't run or, as in 2003, dies.
"There is always a committee on vacancy," said Gladys Krasner, co-chair of the League of Women Voters of the City of New York. "Anything can happen. They can drop dead. It doesn’t have to be a scandal."
Filling a vacancy on the ballot is not like filling a vacancy in office, advocates say. The final decision is still left up to voters.
That final decision may now be affected by the connection between Linares and Martinez. Even if Linares stays on the ballot, his road back to 250 Broadway could be a rocky one.
The vacancy committee that selected Linares, which includes Even Marie Santana, Placido Rodriguez and Agusto Diaz, was hand-picked by Martinez. The connection, some say, could taint the candidacy of Linares, who was the first Dominican elected to the City Council in 1991.
"There is certainly going to be an albatross around Linares's neck," said Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
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