Losers charge Levergate scandal in assembly race

The scandal over the Bronx election for an assembly seat continued to fester as charges flew against the Bronx Democratic machine and the city Board of Elections.

Party-backed Victor Pichardo, a relative unknown in the west Bronx 86th Assembly District, was leading with a 72-vote margin against former district leader Hector Ramirez to fill the seat of disgraced former assemblyman Nelson Castro.

Ramirez and other candidates on the Tuesday, Sept. 10 ballot leveled a number of charges, including voting machines missing levers for Ramirez and the others; Pichardo’s mom, Luisa Duran, appointed by Party Boss Carl Heastie as a poll worker at a key site, sending voters away; Pichardo’s treasurer charging him with corruption; a surprise candidate suddenly on the ballot.

With the Board of Elections saying it had completed the count of paper and emergency ballots, the vote stood at Pichardo – 1,215 (23.64%), Ramirez -1,131 (22%).

Ramirez and the other candidates have called on Gov. Cuomo to set a rerun. They also are calling on city, state and federal investigative agencies to probe the Bronx Democratic Party and city Board of Elections.

They’ve said it would be too costly to launch their own lawsuit, which could run up to $40,000 in lawyer and court costs.

Ramirez, joined by candidates Haile Rivera and Keny Nunez outside the Bronx Board of Elections office on the Grand Concourse on Friday, Sept. 13, charged that the primary was riddled with fraud.

“We are demanding that the Board of Elections and the authorities hear us and then help us to have a fair election,” said Ramirez. “I want a run-off for the candidates.”

“This is a candidate that we never heard of in our district,” Rivera said of Pichardo. “We demand a new election.”

The most symbolic image of the election was a photo of one of a number of voting booths missing levers for all but Pichardo and a minor candidate.

Poll workers did not take the machines out of service or warn voters. Many voters did not bother to fill out emergency ballots, the candidates charged, while others were turned away for various reasons by poll workers, one of them being Pichardo’s mother. Witnesses said she told them they had to go to the Bronx Board of Elections, rather than just filling out a paper ballot at the site.

Among the allegations:

•BOE officials refused to let candidates inspect the machines, right up to election day, only to find an unknown last minute candidate, Melanie Johnson, on the ballot.

•Carlos Morales, Pichardo’s former treasurer told the Daily News that Pichardo committed “fiscal improprieties and fled out of state during the race “to avoid being served with legal papers.”

“We know the Board of Elections is incompetent,” one neutral political operative said of the vote operation, “but they’re not THAT incompetent.”

“There were no emergency ballots. They were letting people vote on broken machines, with 33 votes, but only 11 showing,” said Milady Leonardo, a Ramirez poll watcher at a senior center polling site. “I asked the supervisor to stop the machine and she refused. She also kept going behind the machines and taking votes out. They left a bag of votes on a window instead of remaining in the machine – that’s illegal.”

Pichardo, a former staffer for state Senator Gustavo Rivera who had the heavy backing of the Bronx political machine, denied the charges.

Should he ultimately be declared the winner to fill the remaining term for Castro, who pleaded guilty to city and federal perjury charges, he will face another primary next September for a full term.

Heastie spokesman Patrick Jenkins said “Any allegations of the party’s involvement in voter fraud are baseless and ridiculous.”

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