Feb. 15, 2021 By Christina Santucci
A growing number of City Council candidates vying to get on the ballot in Queens have pledged not to contest the signatures gathered by their opponents– as they collectively look to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19.
All of the candidates vying for the 22nd Council seat currently held by Costa Costantinides — as well as at least 11 candidates seeking the 26th District seat occupied by Jimmy Van Bramer – have pledged not to challenge the signatures of the competitors, which they all need to appear on the ballot.
City Council candidates currently must collect 270 signatures from registered voters (Democrats if running in the Democratic primary) who live in the district in order to appear on the ballot. Typically, candidates running for office aim to gather at least twice the number of signatures required in case the validity of the signatures are contested by their opponents.
The candidates who have made the pledge say that collecting these signatures– that often requires going from door-to-door– puts the public at risk. By promising not to challenge the signatures, they believe it will put less pressure on candidates to go out and get well in excess of the 270 required, thereby reducing the health risk.
Julia Forman, who is running for District 26, released a statement Saturday, saying she and fellow candidates Amit Bagga, Jonathan Bailey, Tavo Bortoli, Glennis Gomez, Hailie Kim, Jesse Laymon, Brent O’Leary and Emily Sharpe have all pledged not to contest petitions. In addition, Julie Won and the campaign manager for Badrun Khan confirmed Sunday that they both would not object to opponents’ signatures.
Candidates can start getting signatures March 2, and petitions with the signatures must be filed with the board of elections from March 22 to 25.
Won also said she would like to further reduce in-person contact. She created a petition to lobby officials to allow signatures to be collected digitally, and supports bills in the state Assembly and Senate that would authorize the creation of an online petitioning system.
“Even if every candidate in our race collected the minimum number of signatures that would still put nearly 5,000 voters at risk,” Won said. There are 18 candidates vying for the 26th Council seat.
Meanwhile, all of the seven candidates for Astoria’s District 22 — Leonardo Bullaro, Tiffany Cabán, Edwin DeJesus, Catherina Gioino, Evie Hantzopoulos, Felicia Kalan and Nick Velkov — have said they will not contest signatures on petitions.
Cabán noted that her petitions had been challenged leading up to her unsuccessful bid for Queens district attorney in 2019. “It was undemocratic then, [and] it’s undemocratic now, especially in the midst of a pandemic,” she tweeted.
Previously, some political candidates, elected officials and community leaders have asked for petition requirements to be suspended entirely because of COVID-19 concerns. Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo lowered the number of signatures needed last month, some candidates said the measure was not enough.
Dozens penned a letter to Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other political leaders on Jan. 27 calling on officials to cancel the signature requirements.
And more than 100 candidates and supporters also filed a lawsuit Feb. 8, saying that petition requirements for the June primary were unconstitutional due to health risks.
Van Bramer, who is running for Queens borough president, and Council candidates Hantzopoulos, Kim, Laymon, Maruf, and Sharpe – as well as Andrew Sokolof, who is gathering signatures for Carolyn Tran, Tiffany Cabán, and Juan Ardila — are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The suit argues that the process would violate a part of the constitution requiring New York to provide for “the protection and promotion of the health of the inhabitants of the state.” The document also asks the court to force the defendants – Cuomo and de Blasio – to figure out an “alternative, constitutionally sound method” to be created for certifying candidacies.
Forman said she hopes more political candidates promise not to contest opponents’ petitions – to lessen in-person interactions should the signature requirement remain.
“Anything we can do to prevent further deaths, we should be doing,” she said.
I want to thank the candidates in district 26 who have publicly pledged to not challenge signatures of other candidates should we still be required to petition. @jesselaymon @Jonathan4Queens @hailie_council @brentoleary @amitsinghbagga @sunnysideyards @TavoBortoli @GlennisGomez pic.twitter.com/Zk4wcbiik5
— Julia Forman for City Council 2021 (@julia_forman) February 13, 2021