While village elections may be less than two weeks away, who exactly will be on the ballot is currently up in the air and in the hands of the courts.
On Feb. 19, Friends of Westbury mayoral candidate Joe Masiello, along with trustee candidate Lou Neziri, filed an Order to Show Cause to have the Action Party candidates removed from the March 18 ballot alleging they failed to "acknowledge" the acceptance of their nominations. The suit, filed in Supreme Court Feb. 20, specifically names Action Party mayoral candidate Peter Cavallaro and trustee candidates Joan Boes and William Wise, as well as Village Clerk Ted Blach and the Action Party Committee to Fill Vacancies (which includes Mayor Ernest Strada, Trustee Steve Corte and attorney Lawrence Boes); two Nassau County Board of Election Commissioners were also named but have since been removed and the vacancy committee is also seeking to be dismissed as unnecessarily named parties.
Under Article 6 of New York State Election Law, candidates of an independent party (i.e. The Action Party) must submit their nominating petitions and, once accepted, "acknowledge" their nomination. An acknowledgement is more than a standard notarization but rather something more specific through which a notary certifies the identity of the person and execution of the document.
In their lawsuit, petitioners Masiello and Neziri, who are being represented by Kenneth Gartner, argue that the Action Party's acceptances were not "acknowledged" and that failure to do so on their part makes their nomination null and void. A court ruling in favor of Masiello would mean that Action party candidates Boes, Cavallaro and Wise would be eliminated from the ballot.
Kenneth Gray, the attorney for the Action Party, is arguing that his clients complied with Article 15 - not Article 6 - of the New York State Election Law, which pertains specifically to village elections and that the phrase "acknowledge" is intentionally omitted from that Article for a reason. Additionally, Gray told The Westbury Times that, in his opinion, Article 6 applies to all articles of the election law "to the extent there are no inconsistencies."
"Apparently, that is not the case here. Article 6 and Article 15 are inconsistent and therefore Article 6 should not apply to the village election on the issue of acceptance because there is a distinction between a village election and a [general] election," said Gray.
Westbury Village officials confirmed that, over the course of the past 15 years, candidates have followed Article 15 and submitted signed, not acknowledged or notarized, acceptances with two exceptions - the Friends of Westbury's acceptances this year and Masiello's four years ago (at which time he ran for mayor in a three-way race).
While Masiello's lawsuit questions the Action Party's right to remain on the ballot, the Action Party is questioning the timeliness of Masiello's lawsuit.
According to election law, a lawsuit cannot be brought forth more than seven days after the deadline date to file nominating petitions with the village clerk. In this particular case, the deadline to file petitions for the March 18 election was Feb. 10, which means Feb. 17 would have been the last day to institute the proceeding, according to Gray. Masiello's lawsuit was filed and received by the courts Feb. 20.
Repeated requests for comment from Masiello and his attorney Kenneth Gartner were denied. In court last week, Masiello told this newspaper that all requests for comment should be obtained from his attorney. When called, Gartner deferred comment to a spokesperson for the Friends of Westbury Party who told The Westbury Times they had "no comment on the pending litigation."
Last week, this newspaper reported that the village filed an objection to the nominating petition and cover sheets of the Friends of Westbury Party with the
Nassau County Board of Elections. The Feb. 17 objection, brought forth by Mayor Ernest Strada, Trustee Steve Corte and resident Bridget Zaino, questioned the validity of Masiello's residency as well as the legitimacy of the party's petition signatures. Board of Election commissioners deemed the Friends of Westbury Party's petitions to be adequate but were split on the residency issue. Had the village wished to pursue the residency matter further it would have had to do so through the courts, which the village elected not to do.
As of press time, Supreme Court Judge William LaMarca had requested additional information from both sides be submitted by day's end Feb. 27. A decision is expected this week in order for either side to take the case to the appellate court, should they wish, by the March 6 deadline. The decision will appear in next week's Westbury Times.