When the Court of Appeals ruled back in May that incumbent Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright was disqualified from running on the Democratic Party line because of a paperwork error, local organizer and activist Patrick Bobilin said he was worried that the Republican running for the seat would win by default. So he decided to put some skin in the game.
On July 2, Bobilin, who ran unsuccessfully to unseat City Council Member Ben Kallos in 2017, announced his independent bid to represent the Upper East Side, Roosevelt Island and Yorkville in the 76th Assembly District. But now, Seawright is also campaigning as an independent — and she’s challenging Bobilin’s eligibility to run for office in the state of New York.
“She had spent three months fighting to stay on the ballot, decrying being kicked off the ballot over technical errors as Soviet-style tactics,” said Bobilin, who in the past has helped campaign for Seawright. “And now she is trying to kick me off the ballot over technical issues, and it feels hypocritical. And it’s disappointing.”
The Seawright campaign is arguing that Bobilin has not maintained residency for five consecutive years in New York leading up to the election, which is required for candidates running for office. While Bobilin was born and raised in New York, he attended college in Massachusetts and later earned a graduate degree in Chicago, according to his LinkedIn page. The page showed that Bobilin volunteered at a Chicago arts and education organization through Feb. 2014. He would not say specifically when he moved back to New York.
“I am a fifth-generation New Yorker,” said Bobilin. “Since graduating college in 2008, I’ve had a family home upstate for more than 11 years, and I have a documented search for a residence in New York City that began in mid-2015. Accordingly, I have duly fulfilled the New York State residency requirement and am entitled to be included on the ballot for the office of State Assembly.”
Objection Sent to BOE
Seawright’s campaign said the issue was straightforward.
“The laws of the State of New York impose clear and unequivocal requirements for anyone to run for the State Assembly,” Seawright’s spokesperson Michael Arena said in a statement. “The gathering of petitions is but one eligibility requirement. The basis of the objection is that this candidate does not meet the minimum residency requirement and therefore is not eligible to run. The voters of the district are entitled to know that any candidate meets that minimum standard.”
Bobilin said there is precedent in past similar cases that will his support his claim to residency.
“Courts must look to the individual’s ‘expressed intent and conduct’ including whether the individual has ‘legitimate, significant and continuing attachments’ to his or her claimed residence,” he said.
Seawright’s campaign has sent the objection to Bobilin’s eligibility to the city Board of Elections. The BOE, though, rarely decides questions of residency. The issue will likely be taken to the Manhattan Supreme Court for a ruling.
In comparing the two candidates, Bobilin said there are clear distinctions.
“The differences between us are that I’m present and I’m on the ground organizing,” he said. “I always show up for this neighborhood.”
Most recently, Bobilin helped organize nightly vigils at Gracie Mansion in the wake of George Floyd’s death. He says that his commitment to police accountability distinguishes him from Seawright, claiming that the assembly member was absent from the Codes Committee vote in furthering the repeal of 50-a, a section of state law that had barred the public access to police disciplinary records.
A summary of the Assembly’s committee votes, however, show that Seawright was present for her committee vote and she voted to send the issue to a full Assembly vote, where she also voted to repeal the law.
He also said Seawright’s error that disqualified her from running on the Democratic Party line showed that she was not committed to fighting for issues New Yorkers care about.
“She doesn’t want to protect the neighborhood from becoming Republican,” said Bobilin. “She doesn’t want to protect our neighbors from an unaccountable police force. I see that as irresponsible.”
If he had been serving the 76th Assembly District during the current crisis, Bobilin said he would have joined Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou and Senator Michael Gianaris in their legislation to cancel rent for residents and business owners.
“I would be a tireless advocate for canceling rent right now, organizing in assembly districts around the state to make sure that there was pressure on all of my colleagues to move forward on canceling rent and giving people the relief they need,” he said.
He added that he doesn’t want to make a career out of politics and wants to be a part of a new diverse group of voices in Albany.
“I would like to show people that everyone should be involved in politics. I think it’s something that requires everyone to take part in at some point in their lives,” said Bobilin. “I plan to give voice to working class issues that plagued my family for generations, and sadly still plague lower income and working class New Yorkers today.”
“I would be a tireless advocate for canceling rent right now ... giving people the relief they need.” Patrick Bobilin