Over the past year, Savely Kaplinskiy, a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor, has been in and out of hospital.
The Brooklyn resident escaped the Minsk ghetto in Belarus as a young man, suffered two strokes, underwent brain surgery and saw his English repertoire limited to around 100 words, according to his son.
But as Kaplinskiy struggled with his health, his name — unbeknownst to him — appeared on petitions submitted to the city’s Board of Elections last month to run as a candidate for Brooklyn Democratic Party office.
And he was not alone.
The executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, a 24-year-old financial technology worker and at least 17 other residents of southern Brooklyn and Staten Island were nominated as candidates for the Brooklyn Democratic Party seats without their knowledge, these said. people or their relatives. THE CITY.
Their names appeared on petitions in Brooklyn’s south 46th Assembly District to run for the county committee of the Democratic Party – a body of about 4,000 unpaid, junior party officials across the country. boroughs that select candidates for special elections and vote on party rules. .
The petitions were submitted to the Board of Elections last month in pamphlets bearing the name of Brooklyn Democratic Party Secretary Aaron Maslow.
The phantom names alarm dissident Democrats THE CITY spoke to, who point to recent precedent to warn that placing these ostensible candidates in party office could allow party leaders to grab voting power from members who don’t even know they were elected.
Party reformers have accused the county leadership of bending rules and even resorting to fraud in recent years to retain power in the face of growing internal opposition.
“These people who run who have no knowledge, they [party leaders] can use them to fill their proxy votes at organizational meetings so they can change the rules, they can appoint officers and they can pretty much do whatever they want,” said Julio Peña III, a district leader of Sunset Park allied with the New Kings Democrats insurgent group.
Naming people without their consent may also be illegal, according to New York courts, if it’s more than a stray name here or there. Last year, appeals court judges covering Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island upheld the dismissal of a ballot request – finding him “impregnated with fraud” due to several candidates appearing on the list without agreeing to run.
Peña added that inserting such “ghost” candidates defeats the purpose of having county committee members, who are ostensibly elected to serve as hyper-local party representatives for their communities.
“I feel like we’re losing what that vision of an engaged Brooklyn Democratic Party is,” Peña said. “It’s being used to seize power instead of actually engaging in our local democracy.”
The allegations of fraud follow a series last month by THE CITY identifying five Brooklyn residents whose signatures were forged during Board of Elections challenges – related to the establishment of the party – which sought to evict potential rivals from the county polling committee.
Two of those complaints from registered voters resulted in a formal complaint to the city’s Board of Elections and a lawsuit filed by an attorney for Rep Your Block, a group representing several of the targeted candidates.
Spokespersons for the Brooklyn Democratic Party did not respond to half a dozen emailed questions early Wednesday.
“I hope it’s a mistake”
Murad Awawdeh and Dina Morra were once active members of the Kings County Democratic Party. In 2018, the couple executed successfully for the Bay Ridge County Committee, their district at the time.
But in February 2020, Awawdeh, a prominent defender of the rights of immigrants, had to give up his post. He was under consideration for a official position of the city, could therefore no longer play the role of a low-level political party. The following year, Awawdeh and Morra moved to Staten Island, making them ineligible to represent their old neighborhood.
That’s why last Friday, the couple were surprised when THE CITY informed them that their names appeared on a 2022 petition form submitted to the Board of Elections using their former Brooklyn address as potential candidates for the committee positions. county they had left behind.
Morra said the list left her confused. “It’s not something I agreed to or signed off on, so it’s weird,” she said.
“I hope it’s a mistake and not something nefarious,” Awawdeh said.
In years past, Brooklyn county committee races have generally been uncontested affairs — which leaves the names of the candidates off the ballots and obscured from the general public.
But as the borough’s Democratic Party establishment faced increasingly organized primary challenges across all districts, committee seats — which are up for grabs every two years — have become increasingly criticism for Brooklyn party chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn as she fights to hold onto power.
This year, efforts to maintain party control have included questionable techniques that critics say are unethical at best and potentially even fraudulent.
In the case of the five forged signatures on the ballot challenges previously identified by THE CITY, a party-backed mid-level official — 55th Assembly District Leader Anthony T. Jones — took responsibility. He admitted the faulty signatures came from his Democratic club, although he said he did not know which of its members was to blame.
Now, several of the unwitting county committee nominees interviewed by THE CITY have suggested similar unsavory tactics are being used to take advantage of unsuspecting residents, this time in lower Brooklyn.
Igor Kaplinskiy, son of Holocaust survivor Savely, said his father’s condition had deteriorated significantly over the past year – to the point that he would not be able to apply for a job party.
Kaplinskiy, 61, said his father had come closest to engaging in party politics during his previous work as an election worker. He said his father knew nothing of his name appearing on local petitions and was confused by the whole situation.
“He’s never heard of anything like this before,” the younger Kaplinskiy said. “It’s not credit card fraud, of course, but it’s still not good if your name is used to access something.”
Few of the “ghost” candidates contacted by THE CITY had any idea how their names ended up on ballot petitions that were circulated on behalf of 46th Assembly district leaders Dionne Brown-Jordan and Michael Silverman .
Silverman was appointed to replace outgoing district chief Mark Treyger last month, while Brown-Jordan was elected to the seat in 2020.
But a common thread among a number of unwitting candidates is that they had previously served as election officers – hundreds of whom are recommended by district chiefs to the Board of Elections each year.
As of Wednesday, 14 of 20 “ghost” candidates identified by THE CITY remained county committee nominees according to non-final voter records, including Morra. Six candidates, including Kaplinskiy and Awadeh, had been struck off due to conflicting records of name, address or party affiliation kept at the BOE.
Overall, 130 candidates remain on the ballot for county committee positions in the 46th District — including a small number who are not aligned with party leadership.
Brown-Jordan did not respond to a phone call and text message seeking comment, and Silverman did not return a message left for a staffer in his office.
One of the candidates whose name appeared on the petitions without her knowledge said she did not know of any connection between her and the party or its district leaders.
“I don’t like someone using my name for something that I didn’t agree to,” she said, asking that her name not be published. “These people should not be allowed to do what they are doing. As far as I’m concerned, it’s illegal, it’s fraud.
500 back pocket proxy votes
The irregularities in the 46th Assembly District are just the latest chapter in a growing battle for control of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, one of the largest and most influential party apparatuses in the state.
A constant theme is how party leaders have tried to use so-called proxy votes – which are passed from absent county committee members to their delegates – to retain power.
In September 2018, it was only by proxy that party leaders were able to prevent the resurgent faction from gaining enough control to reform party rules and have a say in the establishment’s preferred judicial appointments.
While reports at the time said the vast majority of in-person attendees opposed the political platform of then-party leader Frank Seddio, he held more than 500 proxy votes in his back pocket for win the day.
More recently, in late 2020, as COVID-19 gripped New York, Democratic Party leaders in Brooklyn again attempted to benefit from the proxy system – beginning by instituting an emergency provision that automatically transferred the votes of absent county committee members to the party leadership unless consent was withheld in writing.
At the start of what would turn into a two-part Zoom meeting that lasted 26 hoursparty leaders attempted to appoint hundreds of people to vacancies on the county committee, which would have allowed them to garner a massive number of proxy votes.
This decision was blocked by a state judge.
In an initial vote count at the same meeting to determine whether to pass incremental party rule reforms that included changes to the proxy system, then-leaders said they had enough vote to prevent amendments.
But a recount revealed that one of the party-aligned district chiefs received more proxy votes than he deserved. When those votes were deducted, the insurgents seemed to have won their bet to pass the reforms, which aimed to decentralize power within the party.
However, during the second part of the meeting, a parliamentarian installed in the county canceled the voting results are invalid. A lawsuit filed last year challenging the cancellation was dismissed on procedural grounds.