BY JAMES FARRELL
City Council candidate Paul Graziano withdrew a court challenge on Tuesday against his opponent—Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside)—that alleged many of Vallone’s petition signatures that allowed him to run on the Democratic Party line were fraudulent.
“While I have found clear and disturbing evidence over the past few weeks that supports my claims, it is with great reluctance that I ended my court challenge today, due to a lack of campaign funds,” Graziano said.
Despite withdrawing the complaint, Graziano intends to bring forward his “detailed” analysis of Vallone’s petitions at a press conference on Aug. 14, saying in a statement: “I believe the residents and voters of the 19th Council District deserve to know how Paul Vallone and his campaign have obtained access to the Democratic Party ballot.”
Graziano initially filed a complaint with the Board of Elections regarding Vallone’s petition signatures on July 24 in a bid to remove Vallone from the Democratic Party line. In court papers, Graziano, represented by election lawyer Martin Connor, laid out a series of allegations that he argues render Vallone’s petition signatures invalid. Among the complaints are signatures lacking addresses or including incomplete, untrue or nonexistent addresses; signatures by individuals not registered to vote or from outside the 19th district; illegal alterations to the petition; individuals signing the same petition multiple times; and incorrect witness information.
Additionally, Graziano claims that he witnessed “a large number of under 18-year-old high school students” illegally collecting signatures during a June 28 fireworks show at Fort Totten that was funded by Vallone. He also accuses Vallone campaign manager Patrick Jordan of forging signatures.
Candidates are required to collect at least 450 petition signatures, and Graziano argued that the alleged fraud brings Vallone’s count below that number.
Vallone was quick to issue a statement after Graziano withdrew the lawsuit, decrying the claims as “phony,” pointing out that the lawsuit had not even been argued in a courtroom before being withdrawn.
“As we’ve said all along, his lawsuit and his campaign have no merit,” Vallone said. “This was confirmed today when the self-proclaimed urban lobbyist immediately withdrew his objections before ever stepping foot into the courtroom. When you’ve done nothing, you have to rely on lies, deceit and shameful tactics.”
Graziano argued that he has received the maximum $100,000 possible through the city’s public matching-funds program, but that public funds can’t be used to pay for legal action or petition challenges. In an interview with the Queens Tribune, he said that he spent three days poring over Vallone’s signatures, and after discovering the alleged fraud, decided to raise money to fund the legal action, despite the expenses that hiring a lawyer and litigating could accrue.
“I was concerned about it from the beginning, but my response was ‘I’ll be able to pull it off,’” Graziano said.
But Graziano said that he had two weeks to raise money for the litigation after filing the lawsuit—and after raising $5,000, he would still need a significantly larger amount that would be too difficult to attain. He argued that his campaign donors are “almost entirely in small donations” from average people in the community, while Vallone has “deep pockets,” lined with money from real estate developers.
He also conceded that there was no guarantee that he would win in court, “no matter how good my stuff is.”
“It was very painful for me to drop this,” he said. “It’s not your garden variety fraud and forgery. It’s very, very serious stuff.”
He also suggested that there was a benefit to withdrawing the case—not going to court would allow him to bring forth the evidence to the public, instead of having it locked up in court.