Sasson accuses Stavisky camp of voter intimidation

Sasson accuses Stavisky camp of voter intimidation
Isaac Sasson displays a sign that he maintains was posted outside a polling station in the 16th State Senate District to scare Russian voters away. Photo by Connor Adams Sheets
By Connor Adams Sheets

The Sept. 14 Democratic primary has come and past for most voters and candidates, but Isaac Sasson, who came in second in the race to replace state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), had not yet thrown in the towel as of Tuesday afternoon.

The state Lottery winner from Flushing and former president of the Holly Civic Association said Tuesday he was upset about what he describes as “intimidation” of Russian voters in the 16th Senate District, particularly in Forest Hills and Rego Park.

He blames the intimidation on Stavisky’s campaign, but Stavisky vehemently denies the accusation.

As such, he said he will not admit defeat — though unofficial numbers released last week showed him losing 45 percent to 34 percent to Stavisky, with Oakland Gardens attorney John Messer pulling in the remaining 21 percent of the vote.

“I haven’t officially conceded because I want to make sure all the absentee ballots are counted. There was a lot of voter intimidation going on, particularly in the Russian communities,” Sasson said. “We’re getting it privately looked at and we’re going to turn it over to federal election officials.”

It is not likely that the counting of absentee ballots could sway the election in Sasson’s favor, but he does not plan to concede until the vote tally is finalized.

Sasson alleges that a number of posters were posted throughout Forest Hills and Rego Park, that there were no Russian translators at many polling sites despite the fact that his campaign provided elections officials with a list of 31 translators and that phone calls were made to Russian voters. The calls and posters were in Russian only and, Sasson said, were designed to discourage Russian voters — who Sasson and two political observers said likely would have voted heavily for Sasson, a Syrian-born immigrant who grew up in Lebanon.

“Illegal voting is a crime which is punishable by fine or imprisonment,” Sasson said a translation of one of the signs read.

Sasson said he believes Stavisky’s campaign was directly responsible for the intimidating posters and calls because keeping Russian voters away from the polls would benefit her campaign the most.

“There needs to be a federal investigation. There’s no doubt in my mind who did this. It doesn’t benefit anyone else,” he said.

Stavisky said she and her campaign had nothing to do with the posters and that she did not see any campaign signs written in Russian or post any herself anywhere in the district. She said she also did not do any phone calls in Russian.

“I had a piece of literature, I believe, in Spanish, and one in Chinese from [city Comptroller] John Liu. That’s the limit of my foreign policy experience,” she said. “I didn’t see any signs in Russian, period. I have no idea what he’s talking about.”

Sasson said that no matter who put the signs up, they do not belong in open elections in a democratic country in 2010.

“People were intimidated by the phone calls and posters in Russian, and Russian voters turned away from the polls. They come from a Soviet society and they turned away,” he said. “This absolutely should not be acceptable in this day and age.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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