His petitions contained signatures from at least three dead people — but Fernando Cabrera’s bid for a west Bronx state senate seat is still very much alive.
So ruled a Bronx Supreme Court judge Friday, August 15. Judge John W. Carter ruled that Cabrera — a city Councilman who is challenging Senator Gustavo Rivera for his 33rd district seat — can stay on September’s ballot, dispite evidence that Cabrera’s campaign forged signatures of at least three deceased persons, and included signatures of five people who testified that the campaign never approached them.
State senate candidates vying for a spot on the Democratc Party ballot in New York are required to collect at least 1,000 signatures from registered Democrats living in the district. Campaigns must also provide lists of “witnesses” who were present when thesignings occured.
Cabrera’s campaign produced 1,252 signatures by the Board of Elections’ July deadline. But Rivera’s campaign filed a complaint with the board soon after, when they found faults with the signatures provided by one Cabrera witness, Helen McDonald.
McDonald’s 31 pages of signatures, 481 in total, contained many that appeared to be in the same handwriting, Rivera’s campaign charged. Rivera staffers also found death certificates for three people who supposedly signed petitions which McDonald witnessed, and tracked down five people, who testified at a court hearing to disqualify Cabrera’s petitions, that the signatures collected by a Cabrera campaign volunteer were not theirs.
Escape by thinnest of margins
Rivera’s team had wanted the judge to throw out all of McDonald’s signatures. Such a decision would have dropped Cabrera’s valid signatures to under the 1,000 threshold and disqualififed him for the September 9 primary election.
But the witness in question never testified in court, because Rivera’s legal team were not able to serve McDonald with a subpoena in time, ruled Carter in his decision.
Judge Carter instead wrote in his decision that though some of McDonald’s signatures were fake, her work was not “permeated with fraud” enough “to justify the invalidation of her entire work product.”
Only 10 out the 31 pages of signatures McDonald witnessed “were found to contain evidence of fraud,” wrote Carter. And mixed with the fake signatures were many valid ones, he wrote.
The court’s referee did end up removing 88 of McDonald’s signatures. But the court ultimately ruled that Cabrera’s team still had 1164 valid John Hancocks — over the 1,000 minimum — and thus allowed Cabrera to stay on the ballot for the primary.
Questions linger for Cabrera
The signatures squabble is only the latest case of Cabrera facing scrutiny for not following campaign rules. In July, the city campaign finance board ordered him to return $33,000 he had rolled over from his city council campaign account into his state senate race fund.
“While the judge refused to consider a number of our objections on technical grounds, this much is certain: Fernando Cabrera’s campaign repeatedly forged petition signatures from voters who testified that they had never signed; and callously signed under the names of deceased people,” wrote Rivera campaign spokesman Karthik Ganapathy in a statement after the decision was handed down. “This fraud, like Mr. Cabrera’s decision to illegally transfer taxpayer money into his campaign account, show just how little actual support he has for this race.”
Cabrera’s team fired back with their own statement slamming Rivera for using public resources to pursue the fraud allegations in the first place.
“Mr. Rivera has failed in his attempts to deny the voters the right to issue a judgment on his four years in office,” wrote Cabrera in a statement issued by his campaign. “Mr. Rivera invested huge sums of money hiring lawyers, staff hours, and taxpayer dollars in his failed attempt to remove me from the ballot.”