The Brooklyn Democratic Party submitted paperwork with at least two forged signatures to the city Board of Elections as part of a bid to knock fellow Democrats off June primary ballots, a grassroots political organization alleges.
On Thursday, Rep Your Block, a volunteer organization, lodged a complaint with the board, citing sworn affidavits from two registered Democrats in Brownsville and East New York who said the signatures on ballot challenges to candidates filed in their names weren’t theirs.
The “filing of these objections with your agency amounts to the criminal act of filing a false instrument,” the complaint to the BOE states. “These objections and any resulting specifications should be dismissed by your agency.”
Rep Your Block, which aims to get more residents to participate in the borough’s Democratic party, also communicated to THE CITY concerns about the validity of at least a half dozen other signatures submitted on formal objections to candidates’ ballot petitions filed with the board.
They point to a similarity in the handwriting among the signatures, obvious discrepancies between the submitted signatures and voter signatures already on file at the Board of Election, and even misspellings of some of the names.
“We just want to be a part of our own political party. It shouldn’t be that hard. And to have to go to a criminal end to block us is just shocking,” said Maggie Moore, campaign director for Rep Your Block. “It’s really, really unfortunate and disappointing.”
The flagged challenges were among dozens linked to the Brooklyn Democratic Party targeting the ballot petitions of nearly 200 candidates who are seeking party positions.
Both opponents and allies of the party leadership described the wave of objections to candidates, mostly for low-level party posts, as part of an effort to consolidate power under county party chair Rodneyse Bichotte, who is also a state Assembly member.
The organization’s attorney, Ali Najmi, said the alleged fraud constitutes a crime and calls into question the validity of all the challenges submitted by the Brooklyn Democratic Party — which he asked the Board of Elections to toss.
“Here they’ve committed actual fraud on multiple ones,” said Najmi, an election lawyer. “They should strike them all.”
The ballot challenges in question all listed Anthony Genovesi Jr., an attorney who serves as law chair for the Brooklyn Democrats, as a “contact person.”
Genovesi Jr., who is also a partner at Abrams Fensterman, a law firm with close ties to Mayor Eric Adams and the Brooklyn Democratic Party, did not respond to an email seeking comment. A call transferred via Genovesi’s office directory was disconnected after a reporter for THE CITY identified himself to the man who answered.
Adams’ chief of staff, Frank Carone, is also a former partner at Abrams Fensterman and the former law chair of the Brooklyn Dems.
Bob Liff, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Democratic Party, said in a statement on Friday after this story’s publication: “Claims that the Party knowingly filed a false instrument are fallacious, and frankly libelous. Any allegations of fraudulent activity should be investigated through the proper legal channels.”
Michael J. Ryan, executive director of the city’s BOE, did not respond to requests for comment.
‘This Is Fraud’
John Booker is one of the two Brooklyn residents who swears his signature was forged on ballot objection forms.
The 66-year-old makes a living selling hats, handmade bead strings and other knickknacks outside the Broadway Junction train hub. After years of pushing a cart with his merchandise, Booker injured a finger on his right hand, making it difficult for him to write.
So when the street vendor saw his name written in elegant cursive on a ballot objection form, he knew it was a fraud, he said.
“I couldn’t possibly sign this neatly,” Booker told THE CITY on a hot afternoon standing next to his table. “My signature is more of a scribble.”
Booker insisted that he did not and could not have accidentally signed the form on April 6, the date that appears next to the signature. He said he is always careful about what he signs, and would have no interest in a blind effort to kick fellow residents off the ballot.
“Because I don’t know these people. I don’t know what they represent, what their platform is,” he said. “So I wouldn’t, you know, I just would never do this. April 6th? Wasn’t that like last week? No, no, believe me, this is fraud.”
The other voter who signed an affidavit stating that the signature on the petition challenge wasn’t his is an 85-year-old retired maintenance worker who originally hails from Guyana, and who asked that his name not be published.
He confirmed to THE CITY that an electronic copy of the signature shown to him by a reporter wasn’t his.
Moore, of Rep Your Block, said she found something fishy among the objections in the 55th Assembly district that includes Brownsville and East New York because all six of the Rep Your Block-aided candidates’ petitions for county committee had been challenged.
That district has 208 county committee seats in all for the coming term.
Challenges of petitions for those posts are often difficult to secure because the objector needs to be a registered Democrat who lives in the same small election district — typically the size of a few blocks — as the candidate.
Najmi said he commissioned a former NYPD member now working as a private investigator to track down some of the alleged objectors. The investigator found that two, including Booker, had registered their voting address at a self-storage site near Broadway Junction.
Booker told THE CITY he uses the storage site as his mailing address.
Battle Over Control
The objection signature submitted in Booker’s name was one of nearly 70 residents’ signatures filed last week with the Board of Elections and linked to Genovesi Jr., targeting nearly 200 Democratic candidates for offices across the borough.
About half of those political hopefuls are running to join the ranks of the roughly 4,000 Democratic county committee members, who serve for two-year terms as party representatives.
While the positions are unpaid, county committee members serve critical functions that shape the party agenda and influence which Democrats get elected into state offices in Brooklyn.
They help pick nominees in special elections that take place following sudden vacancies in the state legislature, often giving county-backed candidates a leg up by putting their names on the party line in low-turnout elections in a borough where Democratic voters dominate.
Historically, the Kings County Democratic Committee has been able to maintain significant majority control of county committee members, limiting the ability for dissident opinions to be heard.
But as groups like Rep Your Block have boosted their organizing work, and with majority control of county committee members increasingly up for grabs, those races have become a key point of struggle inside the Democratic party.
In a 13-hour Zoom meeting held in December 2020, for the first time in recent memory a vote by more than 2,000 county committee members swung in favor of reforms pushed for by dissident members of the Kings County Democratic Committee — including rule changes intended to decentralize power within the party.
That rare victory was short-lived, however, after party leaders nullified the vote in a continuation of the adjourned meeting a week later. A judge tossed a lawsuit challenging the reversal based on a technicality.
The petition challenges are just part of a ground game by the party’s top leadership to push out critics. Last month, Bichotte’s communications and legislative aide at the state Assembly, Sabrina Rezzy, petitioned to run for the post of district leader in Bay Ridge despite living miles away in Brooklyn Heights.
While running for the seat out of district is allowed because of pending changes to district lines, the move was viewed by incumbent district leader Joanne Seminara as an attempt to punish her for sometimes bucking the party’s wishes.
“It’s really an obvious move by County to choose a district leader for our district, which is backwards,” Seminara told THE CITY earlier this month. “It’s the people of our district who should choose their district leader.”
Seminara’s petitions were among those challenged in the batch linked to Genovesi.
Bichotte herself challenged petitions for two candidates in her 42nd Assembly District, including an opponent for her district and legislative seats, Victor Jordan.
Targeting the Opposition
Miriam Robertson, a county committee member from Brownsville, was taken aback on Thursday when THE CITY informed her that a ballot objection filed against her included an alleged forgery.
“You just chose somebody, put their signature, and said ‘Oh, we object!,’” she said.
The objection petition reminded the 57-year-old of why she was inspired to first run for county committee back in 2020: the feeling that people in back rooms were making the real decisions.
At her day job running a cultural center inside the Stone Avenue Library, Robertson could help her fellow residents find their voices: acting in plays, performing in jazz concerts and producing stories in writing workshops.
But outside, when she would attend community and school council meetings, she saw proposals about public renovations, city contracts and space decisions in schools being rubber-stamped.
So when a friend of a friend reached out about running for county committee, saying Brownsville needed more grassroots representation in the Democratic party, she was in. She collected signatures and won her election.
As a county committee member, Robertson had to participate in long Zoom meetings where she and fellow members voted on new rules proposals. Despite how chaotic and tiring it could feel, she says it was important to participate.
“I believe when we are really sitting at the table, being part of decision-making policies, it really does improve the quality of life,” she said. “You begin to see the changes in the community.”
Though showing up to meetings was hardly a radical course of action, Robertson says she believes the party moved against her because they prefer members who sit back and follow orders.
“They want to keep things the status quo,” she said. “They don’t want change. They say they want change, but at the end of the day they want things to stay the way they are.”
The apparent forgery, she said, added insult to injury, assuming that people in Brownsville wouldn’t notice.
“You think we’re a bunch of idiots, that we don’t know anything. We’re so wrapped in our daily lives that, ‘Oh I don’t have time to worry about that,’” she said. “And that’s why we got to change the culture. We have to stop saying, ‘Oh that’s just the way things are.’ No, that’s not how things are. We have to stop and take a stand somewhere.”