The state’s highest court knocked three-term Upper East Side Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright off the Democratic and Working Families ballot lines amid the coronavirus pandemic for failing to file cover sheets with her paperwork – opening the door for Republican candidate and residential doorman Louis Puliafito to secure the seat.
The Court of Appeals, in a 5 to 2 decision released Thursday, said the coronavirus pandemic could not be used an excuse from timely file cover sheets with her designating petitions to qualify for ballot status.
The decision reversed two lower court rulings that restored Seawright to the ballot in the 76th AD covering the Upper East Side, Yorkville and Roosevelt Island after she had been disqualified by the Board of Elections for the errors.
The elections agency said the Seawright campaign failed to timely file the cover sheet for the designation petition for the Democratic Party line and the acceptance sheet to accept the nomination of the Working Families Party.
“Applying the Election Law, we have repeatedly held that the failure to timely file required papers in connection with a designating petition, including a cover sheet or certificate of acceptance, is a `fatal defect that cannot be excused,” the majority decision, which included Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said.
“Strict compliance with the Election Law, we have held, `reduces the likelihood of unequal enforcement,’” the judges said, adding, “notwithstanding a candidate’s unique or extenuating circumstances.”
Seawright said she was sick with a coronavirus-like viral infection during the petition filing period that was condensed to help contain the outbreak.
Associates Justice Jenny Rivera wrote one of the two dissenting opinions.
“The sole cause of the delay was the respondent’s illness and quarantine….. the delayed filings here are not fatal defects warranting invalidation of the designating petitions. The legislature could not have intended to deny the right to ballot access under these circumstances,” Rivera said.
Puliafito’s camp applauded the ruling.
“One law applies to all candidates,” said Puliafito’s lawyer, Lawrence Mandelker.
But Seawright vowed the fight is not over and intends to run on an independent ballot line. Some political experts said she could still win if she secures ballot status.
The decision “will not be the last word,” the assemblywoman said.
“We must assure freedom of choice for the voters of the Upper East Side, Yorkville, and Roosevelt Island. We are taking all necessary steps to avail ourselves of our legal right to run for re-election on an independent line,” she said
“The Republican Party has thus far forced a Soviet Union-style election with a sole hand-picked candidate. We will continue to fight for ballot access so that the voters will have a choice this November.”
Meanwhile the state’s highest tribunal also booted veteran Bronx Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo off the ballot after an opponent, Amanda Septimo, accused her of petition fraud. The decision reversed lower court rulings.
“The lower courts should have concluded that this is one of those rare instances in which the designating petition is so ‘permeated’ by fraud ‘as a whole as to call for its invalidation,’” the judges said.
Arroyo was first elected to the Assembly in 1994.