By Mark Hallum
Democratic City Council candidate Paul Graziano has filed a lawsuit challenging Councilman Paul Vallone’s (D-Bayside) petition signatures.
In the suit filed in Queens Supreme Court, Graziano claims Vallone did not collect the required number of signatures of voters because many of the signers were outside his district, alterations were made after the signatures were collected, lines were not filled out to completion, petition sheets were damaged, or the person signing had already signed on a different sheet.
This will be the second time Graziano has run against Vallone in the 19th Council District, which spans the area from Little Neck and Douglaston in the east to College Point in the west. In 2013, Graziano lost to the Vallone in a four-way Democratic primary in competition for the seat vacated when then-Councilman Dan Halloran was indicted on corruption charges. Halloran is currently serving a 10-year sentence behind bars.
Vallone brushed off the accusations as having little potential to derail his bid for re-election.
“His lawsuit, like his campaign, has no merit and will be dismissed,” said a spokesman from Vallone’s office. “The Council member is proud to receive unified and overwhelming support, as well as over 2,000 signatures to appear on the ballot; almost five times the amount required.”
The complaint additionally alleges that Vallone’s campaign used this year’s July 4th fireworks celebration at Fort Totten, funded by the councilman’s office, to gather signatures.
“On June 28, 2017, a large celebratory event was held at Fort Totten with hundreds of people in attendance,” the complaint said. “At that event, a large number of under 18-year-old high school students were observed collecting signatures on designating petitions for [Vallone].”
Graziano’s campaign was able to collect about 750 signatures, according to the candidate.
The suit also contends that witnesses for the Vallone signatures were added later and dates were changed. The complaint details an event where signatures — including that of U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) — were gathered at a soccer practice at Cunningham Park weeks before the June 28 date witnessed by one petitioner for the Vallone campaign.
The petitions allegedly had been collected by Christine Coniglio, the head of the Auburndale Soccer league and a part-time representative of Vallone, and her name replaced by the witness signature of a James M. Lynch.
Graziano, a northeast Queens native, land use expert and civic activist, is known for fighting against over-development by working with elected officials such as state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) to adjust zoning laws. Graziano is also responsible for having the Broadway Flushing neighborhood — 1,330 buildings in total — added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Graziano had expressed criticism for his opponent’s method of collecting signatures prior to a July press conference in which he was endorsed by Avella.
Vallone was elected in 2013 and since then has been a supporter of schools with a significant amount of city funds being allocated toward educational programs in his district, which has been a city leader in participatory budgeting. He recently declared a victory in arranging the purchase of land owned by Cord Meyer and Bay Terrace co-op owners.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall