By Sabina Mollot
This year’s Election Day was a quiet one with only judicial candidates running in Manhattan and many uncontested.
However, in an effort to shake up what was locally a one-party election, a Republican District Leader for the 74th Assembly District sent out letters urging republicans to vote for members of their own party, anyway.
The problem? The letter ended up causing some confusion, with at least a couple of Stuyvesant Town residents who received it believing there were actually Republican candidates running.
One copy of the letter was received by a republican voter who later contacted Town & Village to ask why those candidates could only be chosen by having their names written in on an absentee ballot.
“That seems like fraud to me,” she fumed.
The letter from Robert Fiore, a resident of East 23rd Street, had said the election presented an “interesting opportunity for Republican write-in candidates due to expected low voter turnout for Democrats. Here are our Republican Write-In candidates for the Manhattan judicial races Tuesday, November 3.”
He then listed the candidates for Supreme Court justice as: Helene Jnane, Paul Niehaus, Robert L. Morgan, Robin Weaver and Peter C. Hein. Jnane, who ran a campaign for City Council in 2013 against Dan Garodnick, was also listed as a candidate for Civil Court judge.
The letter went on to say that all were attorneys and “have run for office and/or are strong supporters of the Manhattan Republican Party.” A sample absentee voter ballot was also enclosed with the letter. It had the Republicans’ names hand-written into the column for write-in candidates while the actual candidates’ names were printed out in the first column on the left for Democrats. The actual ballot allowed voters to pick any five names from the list of Supreme Court justice candidates, who were also the only five officially listed. There were no candidates listed for Civil Court, except for Jnane, whose name was written in.
The Stuyvesant Town resident who contacted T&V, who asked that her name not be used, said that after reading the letter and sample ballot, she believed the candidates were officially running. So when voting the next day, she wondered why it was that she had to hear about needing to vote on a paper absentee ballot from a private individual. Additionally, after hearing the grumbling of other Republican voters who’d voted for Democrats, because there were no Republican choices, she’d told them, “Yes, there were. There were five.”
Frank Scala, the president of the Albano Republican Club and another Stuyvesant Town resident, also got the mailing from Fiore.
Despite not being familiar any of the supposed candidates except for Jnane, Scala voted for them all on paper anyway to support the party. But he wasn’t happy when discovering they weren’t actually on the ticket.
“How did he have the authorization to do this?” he asked of Fiore.
Though it’s not unusual in Manhattan to have a race where a Democrat candidate is uncontested, Scala added that if the Republican Party was that desperate to have a name on the ballot, he would have agreed to run for office himself. He did this last year, running an inactive race for State Senate against Brad Hoylman. Despite not doing anything to promote himself, he got 14.34 percent of the vote. “If I did campaign I probably would have won,” he said, laughing.
When asked about his letters, Fiore told Town & Village he’d only sent them to neighbors and others in his party he knows through his political activism.
An insurance executive by profession, Fiore said he’d intended them as “an alternative” for voters since there were no Republicans running.
“Since there were no Republicans on the ballot I merely suggested candidates because they’ve run in the past or are Republican activists,” he said.
When asked if, in the future, he would include a disclaimer in such mailings if the candidates he was suggesting weren’t actually running, Fiore responded, “I guess I could have worded that better. It was done on the fly. People were just looking for answers and I was trying to be helpful.”
Alexandra Nigolian, first vice chair of Manhattan GOP, the Republican County Committee, told T&V the mailings “were not sanctioned” by Manhattan GOP.
But not everyone seemed to mind the rogue write-in campaign.
Jnane, who said Fiore had asked her if it was okay to use her name before sending the letters, told T&V she was happy to be on his slate.
“If someone writes your name in, you are indeed a write-in candidate,” she said. “It’s unlikely a write-in candidate would get the number of votes (necessary to win), but it was more to demonstrate that there are GOP candidates willing to serve the city and its constituents.”
In related news, East Midtown Plaza resident and former Community Board 6 Chair Lyle Frank, a Democrat, won the Civil Court, Second Municipal Court District, judge race after running uncontested.