BY JAMES FARRELL
City Council candidate Paul Graziano withdrew his lawsuit alleging that his opponent, incumbent Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), forged his petitions.
But that hasn’t stopped him from taking his case to the court of public opinion.
On Aug. 14, nearly a week after Graziano announced he lacked the finances to continue pursuing a legal case to invalidate Vallone’s signatures, he held a press conference in his Flushing home to detail his evidence. He vowed to continue releasing additional information “every three or four days for the next few weeks.”
Since then, he’s released three packages of information, containing copies of the petitions and evidence of what he has called fraud and forgery.
“This damages our democracy,” Graziano said this week. “The silver lining of ending the court case is that the public gets to see this.”
At the press conference, Graziano accused Vallone of using underage high school kids to collect petition signatures, in violation of election law, during a June 28 fireworks show at Fort Totten. He showed video of a young petitioner for the Vallone camp who, Graziano claimed, told him he was a sophomore at the Queens High School for the Sciences at York College. He claimed that other petitioners that day were similarly underage.
In one of his informational releases, he accuses James Lynch, the sworn witness of many pages in Vallone’s petitions, of forging nearly 20 signatures on one page. He points out that the signatures don’t appear to match the signatures on the signees’ voter records. He also says that all the signatures appear to be from the same hand, and added that he hired a handwriting expert named Donald Frangipani, who agreed.
Additionally, Lynch is listed as the witness for more than 250 signatures gathered on the day of the fireworks show — a number that Graziano says is unrealistically high for a single day.
In the latest release, Graziano accuses one witness of duplicating an entire page of signatures. He shows that two petition pages, both witnessed by Whitestone resident Nicole Schmitt, have nearly identical lists of signatures, with all the same names, and only two individuals’ names going unrepeated. One resident, Richard Coffey, is listed on both pages, although in one instance, his last name is spelt “Coffee” and the handwriting is clearly different. Coffey’s address in both entries is the same — next door to Schmitt.
In response to a list of questions about the allegations, Vallone only issued a statement referencing Graziano’s Fort Totten video:
“When you clearly offer nothing and have no one to stand with, you rely on deceit and frivolous lawsuits,” Vallone said. “Graziano had his day in court and didn’t show up. What’s more disturbing is a grown man chasing after and harassing student volunteers with a video camera.”
While their truth will go untested, the allegations are still serious, according to New York City election lawyer Sarah Steiner. Steiner called it a “shame” that evidence would not be considered in court. Whether the claims would have amounted to a disqualifying offense if proven true depends on who was responsible.
“In general, it’s fair to say that many campaigns have rogue petition gatherers who do things that they should not do,” Steiner wrote in an email to the Queens Tribune. “For the wrongs to amount to something that will disqualify a candidate for fraud, there must be evidence that the candidate themself, or their campaign manager, was actually involved in the wrongdoing.”
To that claim, Graziano suggested that there is more evidence to come — that his releases are “building up to something”— and that the last release will come out next Tuesday. Without a lawsuit to yield a definitive ruling, he will continue to push the issue.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.