By Mark Hallum
Paul Graziano, Democratic contender for City Council, has dropped a lawsuit challenging the petition signatures of his opponent for city government, Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside).
After attempting to have the incumbent knocked off the ballot, Graziano cited a lack of campaign funds as the reason he was withdrawing the suit, but said he would continue to press the issue involving the lawmaker’s petitions.
The suit, filed in Queens Supreme Court, alleged Vallone’s campaign did not collect the required number of petition lines 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.
“While I have found clear and disturbing evidence over the past few weeks that supports my claims, it is with great reluctance that I ended my court challenge today due to lack of campaign funds,” Graziano said. “Although I have received the maximum amount of public matching funds – $100,000 – this funding cannot be spent on legal action, particularly related to challenging the validity of an opponent’s petitions.”
Vallone had a different view of Graziano’s withdrawal of the suit Tuesday.
“[The withdrawal] confirmed exactly what we knew, which is that it was a frivolous lawsuit based on a frivolous campaign,” Vallone said. “This type of wasteful action and lawsuit is the perfect example of the clear differences of our campaigns. We stand with support of the entire community and he stands with no one. You launch frivolous lawsuits that are withdrawn or dismissed and that’s pretty much what happened today.”
Vallone accused Graziano of using deceptive tactics to misinform voters, but faltering when it came down to arguing his case against a judge.
Graziano’s complaint alleged that Vallone had used the annual Fourth of July celebration at Fort Totten, organized with funds from his office, to gather signatures. Vallone claimed it was not a crime.
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 Vallone in a five-way Democratic primary in competition for the seat vacated by then-Councilman Dan Halloran, who declined to run for re-election after he was indicted on corruption charges. Halloran is currently serving a 10-year sentence behind bars.
Vallone’s campaign collected more than 2,000 signatures, while Graziano filed about 750, both meeting the required 450 minimum.
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 expressed criticism in the past for his opponent’s method of collecting signatures prior to a July press conference at which he was endorsed by Avella.
Vallone was elected in 2013 and has been a supporter of schools since then, 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