So Many Lawsuits, So Little Time

Assembly Members file legal challenges to determine candidates on June ballot

01 May 2020 | 04:21

Two incumbent New York State Assembly members representing the Upper East Side have taken legal challenges against the Board of Elections to the Manhattan Supreme Court — one attempting to reinstate their name on the ballot and the other attempting to disqualify their opponent from the race.

On Tuesday, a judge will give a decision in each lawsuit being brought respectively by Assembly Members Dan Quart and Rebecca Seawright. The two cases involve separate legal issues, but both will determine who appears on the ballot come June.

Quart, who is simultaneously running for reelection in the 73rd District and to become the next Manhattan District Attorney, is arguing that Cameron Koffman, his opponent, did not maintain residency in New York the five years prior to his candidacy, as the state’s law requires.

Koffman, 22, the great-grandson of real estate tycoon Samuel LeFrak, grew up on the Upper East Side and recently graduated from Yale University. Quart says that since Koffman registered to vote and voted in Connecticut during his college years, he essentially became a Connecticut resident.

“As a simple matter of law, Mr. Koffman — who voted in four general elections in Connecticut, though not in the primaries because he wasn’t a Democrat in 2015, 2016, 2017, or 2018 — is ineligible to run for office,” said Quart about his suit.

Additionally, Quart said the fact that Koffman registered to vote in New York in October 2017, and then voted in Connecticut one month later, amounted to voter fraud. He said Koffman shouldn’t be excused because of who is family is.

“The bigger issue at play here is this: no matter who you are, no matter the wealth or connections of your family, the law still applies to you,” said Quart. “This may come as a surprise to Mr. Koffman but he can’t pick and choose which laws he wants to abide by. Any candidate for public office who doesn’t believe the law applies to them — like our lawless President, like Mr. Koffman — sets a dangerous precedent that undermines the rule of law and our constitution.”

"I Paid My Taxes Here"

Koffman has rejected Quart’s argument outright, saying Quart’s suit is a “manifestation of typical Albany politics.”

“I've lived in this neighborhood my entire life,” said Koffman. “I served jury duty here. I paid my taxes here. I got my mail here. I had a driver's license here. I have so many ties to this community.”

On his first day at Yale, Koffman did indeed register to vote on campus, but he said he never viewed himself as a Connecticut resident and listed his New York address as his mailing address.

Two voters have come to Koffman’s aid and have a filed a suit against Quart of their own, claiming that the assembly member’s suit is impeding on their constitution rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. In their suit, the plaintiff’s say that they “seek representation in Albany that is not beholden to the Democratic Party establishment and that will put the interests of district constituents first.”

Koffman said that if a candidate goes about the process correctly and gets the correct number of signatures that they should be on the ballot.

“Voters deserve a choice. That's how our democracy should work,” said Koffman. “I'm going to be on the ballot on June 23. I'm looking forward to giving the voters their first choice since 2002.”

No Cover Sheets

Seawright is bringing her case to court after a blunder of her campaign’s own making. Last week, the Board of Elections voted to unanimously to remove Seawright off the Democratic and Working Families Party lines on after she failed to include cover sheets with her ballot petitions.

Without Seawright on the ballots, Democrats will be without a candidate come November, giving the Republican candidate, Louis Puliafito, a 62-year-old doorman, a clear path to represent the 76th Assembly District.

Seawright says that during the petitioning period in March, she was suffering from viral syndrome, a contagious and infectious virus, which she previously described as having “COVID-like” symptoms. But despite this, she sent in the needed signatures, but left off the cover sheets to the petitions.

“Over 1,000 supporters signed my petitions, nearly eight times more than required, and they were all duly filed,” said Seawright.

Independent Bid

Puliafito, the Republican candidate, has also filed with the court to ensure Seawright remains off the ballot. But the assembly member is exploring every avenue open to her to reinstate her name on the ballot, including as an independent candidate.

However, due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order making signature gathering illegal during the stay-at-home order, an independent bid might also prove fruitless.

Nevertheless, Seawright is moving forward, saying it would be “unjust” if she was not allowed back on the ballot.

“The prevention of my access to the election ballot would disenfranchise the voters of the Upper East Side, Yorkville, and Roosevelt Island. This is shameful. Pandemic politics must be resisted,” said Seawright. “We are pursuing Democratic, Working Family, and independent lines. We will be on the ballot in November.”

The judge is expected to submit written opinions on both assembly members’ cases Tuesday.

“Over 1,000 supporters signed my petitions, nearly eight times more than required, and they were all duly filed.” Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright
"No matter who you are, no matter the wealth or connections of your family, the law still applies to you.” Assembly Member Dan Quart