SOUTH BLOOMING GROVE – An attorney defending the village mayor and and a trustee against an election petition challenge is accusing the two challengers of being “straw people” for others.
Lawrence Garvey, who is defending Mayor James LoFranco and Trustee Sue Anne Vogelsberg in Orange County Supreme Court, brought a counter-claim against George Kalaj and LaShanta Stephenson for abuse of the election process. Kalaj and Stephenson had filed challenges in court Feb. 14 against the incumbents, attempting to invalidate signatures on petitions to appear on the March 18 ballots for the two-year seats.
Court will reconvene at 11 a.m. Thursday.
“I believe they’re being put up by others,” Garvey said. “We brought a counter-claim for abuse of process because we believe these two are straw people for someone else.” He didn’t speculate on who that might be.
The challengers are just trying to enforce election law, said Daniel Szalkiewicz, attorney for Kalaj and Stephenson. They initially challenged roughly 90 signatures collected for the People First party, the candidates of which were LoFranco, Vogelsberg, and James Mullany, who died Feb. 25. After a conference Wednesday in court, that challenge was trimmed to 20 signatures and 22 technicalities, Szalkiewicz said.
He denied that he was retained by anyone other than Kalaj and Stephenson.
“I spoke to the candidates prior to this case being brought,” he said. “The candidates are my clients and I represent them. We believe some signatures are invalid. I have no horse in the race whatsoever.”
Election law requires that a candidate have at least 100 valid signatures on a petition in order to appear on an election ballot. Petitions generally contain 20 signatures per page, and each page is signed at the bottom by the “subscribing witness,” or the person who carried the petition and watched signatures being made. On Tuesday, six subscribing witnesses for the People First petition were subpoenaed to appear in court. None was asked to testify, Garvey said.
“That’s their whole process of trying to bully people off the ballot,” he added, saying it costs time, money, and frustration when cases like this are brought. Similar cases were fought in Rockland County last year, in Airmont and Pomona, and were decided against the municipalities; Garvey vowed it wouldn’t happen again.
“They’re banking on this ‘permeation of fraud’ claim. They believe if two signatures on a petition are invalid, all of it should be thrown out. This is an attempt to disenfranchise the voters of South Blooming Grove.”
If the incumbents were to lose in court, they could mount a write-in campaign. In fact, ads for their slate now include Patricia Morrice as a write-in to fill Mullany’s vacancy.