By George Joseph and Yoav Gonen, THE CITY
“This is not my signature” said a young voter whose name and supposed sign-off are on papers filed to throw a political newcomer off the ballot. His neighbor says the same thing.
Reon Sealey, 21, writes his name in a hasty, hard-to-read scribble. So on Friday, when reporters from THE CITY visited his Brownsville, Brooklyn, apartment, he was surprised to see a document with a clear cursive signature purporting to be his — and misspelling his last name, without the second “e.”
The document is an official filing submitted to the city Board of Elections, aimed at knocking a Democratic candidate running for a low-level party position off the June primary ballot.
“This is not my signature, 100% it’s not,” said the young man, wearing a hoodie on a windy day outside his apartment building.
His upstairs neighbor, Osasogie Airhiavbere, told THE CITY she too didn’t sign that form, which showed a tidy version of her signature right beside Sealey’s.
“It’s definitely fraud, and it’s not good,” said Airhiavbere, a 38-year-old administrative staffer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The neighbors join two other registered voters in Brownsville and East New York who swore in affidavits last week that their signatures were forged on similar election-related documents, THE CITY previously reported.
All four of the residents’ contested signatures appear on ballot objection forms that list a top attorney for the Brooklyn Democratic Party as the point of contact.
The two affidavits alleging fraud formed the basis of an official complaint filed with the New York City Board of Elections last week by Rep Your Block, a volunteer organization that helps Brooklyn residents run for county committee seats.
These are entry-level party positions, about 4,000 across the borough for two-year terms that start in September, that are unpaid but pivotal in selecting Democratic nominees for special elections and voting on rules that impact the party’s finances, transparency and powers.
Rep Your Block said the allegedly fraudulent paperwork is part of a larger bid by Brooklyn’s Democratic party — under chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, a state Assembly member — to consolidate power, including by preemptively knocking off committee member candidates who aren’t aligned with party leadership.
All six of the Rep Your Block-assisted candidates for county committee in the 55th Assembly District had their petitions challenged, while none of the 159 party-aligned candidates did, Board of Elections records show.
Party officials are also trying to take out dissident district leaders, who are mid-level party officials, by running County-backed Democrats against them — a rarity in past years. In another maneuver against challenges to her power, last year Bichotte Hermelyn declined to recertify the party’s growingly progressive youth arm.
In response to the fraud allegations, Brooklyn Assemblymember Maritza Davila, who has feuded with the party’s county leadership in recent years, demanded the Brooklyn Democratic Party drop “its challenges” to rival candidates’ ballot petitions in light of what she called “potential criminal actions.”
“The actions of the Kings County Democratic Party leadership are a blatant attempt at intimidating everyday Brooklynites — including senior citizens — who want to represent their communities,” Davila tweeted on Friday. “It comes as no shock they are stooping to such tactics to hold on to power.”
‘Should Be Dismissed’
In its complaint to the Board of Elections, Rep Your Block called on the board to throw out the allegedly fraudulent forms and dozens of other signature objection forms targeting county committee, district leader and other candidates that listed Anthony Genovesi Jr., the Democratic party’s law chair, as the point of contact.
Genovesi works at Abrams Fensterman, a large Brooklyn law firm that’s close to Mayor Eric Adams and where Adams’ current chief of staff, Frank Carone, was a partner for years.
The “filing of these objections with your agency amounts to the criminal act of filing a false instrument,” the group asserted in the complaint. “These objections and any resulting specifications should be dismissed by your agency.”
Genovesi didn’t respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Bob Liff, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Democrats, said the allegedly fraudulent objections were not filed by the party. In a subsequent statement, he attributed the objections to the actions of individual candidates, but did not explain how the party’s top lawyer ended up on their objection forms as a designated point of contact.
“The contact person is not the objector, is not the filer and is not someone who vets the objections,” he said. “The proper venue for addressing these questions is the Board of Elections.”
Henry Butler, district leader for the 56th Assembly District 56th AD, and vice-chair of the Kings County Democratic Executive Committee, sent a statement to THE CITY asserting that it’s Rep Your Block that’s in the wrong.
“They submitted many signatures that did not meet the requirements, and subsequently also filed objections to candidates who did do the hard grassroots work. Rep your Block wants to get on the ballot by not following the rules,” he stated.
Board of Elections officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Borough Hall protest
THE CITY’s coverage of the fraud allegations on Friday sparked immediate reaction from elected officials and progressive activists who are planning a protest Monday evening on the steps of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall.
Rita Joseph, a former teacher who recently beat Bichotte Hermelyn’s preferred choice for the Flatbush City Council seat, took issue with the Democratic party’s conduct.
“If the actions alleged in the article are true, then fraud is being committed,” she tweeted.
Over the weekend, Ali Najmi, an election lawyer for Rep Your Block, received five bundles of certified mail from Abrams Fensterman, the firm with close ties to Mayor Adams, as part of the ongoing legal process to formally challenge the signatures of a host of primary candidates. Najmi alleges that several of the documents, which again list Anthony Genovesi Jr. as a contact person, contain further proof of forgery.
The mail included dozens of new “objection specifications,” a second, more detailed ballot challenge in which individual objectors spell out the alleged errors in candidates’ balloting petitions that they flagged in their original objection.
One of the objection specification forms again includes signatures that purport to be those of Sealey and Airhiavbere, the two Brownsville residents who told THE CITY they had never signed any such forms.
In them, someone, using the names of Sealy and Airhiavbere, challenged eight of the 17 signatures gathered by John J. Joyner, Jr., a Brownsville county committee candidate who is trying to get on the ballot with the help of Rep Your Block.
As in the first ballot petition, the form misspells Sealey’s last name, dropping the second “e.” It also lists Sealey as living on the third floor of his building in the same unit as Airhiavbere, although he lives on the first floor.
In a phone call Sunday, Sealey said he was troubled by his name being used yet again without his consent in this intra-party squabble.
“It’s really strange that they think that they can get away with this. It shows they have no integrity,” said the 21-year-old, who is bound for Hunter College this summer. “It sort of makes it hard to trust anything that they have to say in this whole process. There should be someone else who is making sure it’s going about in the right way.”
Najmi said the Board of Elections will decide on the petition challenges at a hearing scheduled for later this month.
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