Challenger claims incumbent’s staff forged signatures
The race for Melrose’s and Hunts Point’s seat on the City Council became a whole lot more heated in late July, as the challenger, Julio Pabon, publicly alleged incumbent Maria del Carmen Arroyo stood by while her campaign staff forged large numbers of signatures to get her on the ballot.
At a July 25 press conference in front of 1274 Lafayette Avenue, Pabon and his lawyer announced they will ask a judge to remove Arroyo from the ballot for the council’s 17th district seat next week in State Supreme Court.
The apartment building on the corner of Hunts Point Avenue is one of several in the neighborhood where Pabon says Arroyo’s paid petition-gathering staff falsely claim to have rounded up signatures, but instead forged those signatures or had others do so for them.
“These are crude and obvious forgeries,” said Pabon’s Mott Haven-based lawyer Donald Dunn, while showing photocopies of multiple pages of the petitions on the sidewalk in front of the building.
Dunn explained that when Pabon’s volunteers began looking over Arroyo’s 3,300 petitions last week, following the submission deadline set by the Board of Elections, they began noticing something strange. Among the names on the petitions were those of celebrities, none of whom are known to live in Hunts Point: Yankee star Derek Jeter, sportscaster Joe Buck, British supermodel Kate Moss and long-deceased Latin jazz pioneer Tito Puente, among others.
That prompted the candidate and his volunteers to cross check all the names and addresses on Arroyo’s petitions against an official list of registered voters and their addresses. They found that names and addresses didn’t match, names were misspelled, and suspiciously similar writing styles reappeared over and over on the signatures. Jeter’s signature was accompanied by a 1274 Lafayette Avenue address.
“It’s a disgrace to the democratic process,” Pabon told a small gathering of his supporters and curious onlookers from the building as they came and went. “The process of collecting signatures is not a joke.”
Leonardo Belgiovine, 33, who lives on Manida Street, was surprised when one of Pabon’s campaign volunteers approached him last week and showed him his name, signed on one of the petitions.
“It wasn’t my signature,” he said. “It’s serious. Who is behind all of this?”
The name of his wife, Santa, appears on the same petition, with a signature, though she claims she was never approached to sign anything.
“If I ever see her, I will tell her what she is doing is wrong,” she said of Arroyo. “She has done this to a whole community of people.”
Dunn says he thinks the Arroyo petitions are sufficiently “permeated with fraud” to convince a judge to keep her off the ballot when the case is heard next Tuesday, and adds that “a candidate cannot claim ignorance of the process” to shield themselves from campaign infractions committed by staff.
Arroyo, however, is not conceding anything to the upstart.
“The petition challenge is part of the election process,” she said in her office on 149th St., adding, “I expect I will be on the ballot for the September primary.”
Arroyo says she has always followed the advice of party lawyers who say it is “advisable” to maintain distance from staffers who take signatures during the petition-circulating process.
“What I do well is listen,” she said.