By Rich Bockmann
Donovan Richards is southeast Queens’ newest City Council member. Again.
A week after polls closed in the hotly contested District 31 special election, Richards Wednesday declared himself the race’s winner for a second time after the preliminary results gave him an 80-vote lead over his closest challenger, Pesach Osina.
“I can officially say I’m the councilman of the 31st District!” he tweeted just after 1 p.m. “Thank you, Jesus!”
The city Board of Elections counted 552 valid absentee ballots and affidavits Wednesday, which gave Richards a 2,513-2,487 lead over Osina, good for an almost 1 percent margin of victory. The board’s commissioners will certify the results Tuesday.
Both Richards — one of seven black candidates vying to represent the neighborhoods of Rosedale, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens and Far Rockaway — and Osina, an Orthodox Jewish candidate from Far Rockaway, had each declared himself the councilman around midnight Feb. 19 even though Richards’ razor-thin, 26-vote lead left the race too close to call.
Political observers had predicted the contest would be tight if Osina could mobilize the Orthodox Jewish community and the seven other candidates split the remainder of the votes in the majority black district.
By the time counting ended last week, Richards’ 0.3-percent margin of victory made it appear as if a winner might not be certified for some time.
According to election law, a margin smaller than 0.5 percent automatically triggers a manual recount, a process that can take weeks.
Adding to the heightened suspense, the night of the election the board said it was waiting for a memory stick with about three percent of the results from the digital voting machines to be delivered to its office, eliciting predictions as to where in the district the votes would come from and whom they would favor.
As it turned out, the voting machine had been damaged prior to the polls opening and never used, according to a BOE spokeswoman, and the memory stick came back empty.
That left the outcome of the election up to a count of absentee ballots and affidavits, which by law could not be tallied until a week later.
The count placed Jacques Leandre in third place in the contest with 13.5 percent of the vote. Michael Duncan received 11.3 percent, edging Selvena Brooks out by just three votes. Marie Adam-Ovide received 2.1 percent, Kesselley Saywalah hauled in 1.9 percent and Allan Jennings got 1.7 percent.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.