Sunday, December 28, 2003


A Touch of Florida on the North Shore

By CAREN CHESLER (NYT) 879 words

A MONTH and a half after the election, and Glen Cove residents still don't know who won the sixth seat on their City Council.

The all-Democratic mayor and council were up for re-election this year, and on Election Day the incumbents held onto everything but one council seat. Maybe. When the machine votes were counted on election night, Joseph Gioino, a 35-year-old attorney and Democrat, defeated his Republican opponent, Grady Farnan, a 42-year-old insurance adjuster, by a single vote, 3,134 to 3,133.

But in the days that followed, representatives from both parties sat in a room at the Board of Elections in Mineola poring over about 285 paper absentee or affidavit ballots with the hope of knocking out votes for the opposing party. They scrutinized every envelope, looking for postmarks that went beyond the voting deadline or signatures that didn't match those in voter registration records. They inspected every ballot, looking for errant marks that might disqualify the vote.

But in many cases, party members were dealing with sealed envelopes and didn't know how the resident had voted.

''People would hold an envelope up to the side of their head, trying to act like they know what's inside and to decide whether they wanted to object to it,'' said Drew Fonrose, one of the Republican representatives.

In the end, the Board of Elections disallowed 28 ballots and 116 more were challenged. A recount completed on Dec. 3 put the Republican, Mr. Farnan, up by a single vote. In the meantime, the Republicans began visiting people whose votes had been knocked out by the Board of Elections because the board claimed they were unregistered. The Republicans wanted to find out if these people were indeed ineligible to vote, or if they simply voted in the wrong polling place. If they were registered, the Republicans wanted them to attest to that in court.

''We went out and painstakingly went through every envelope to see if they were registered and if their vote should count,'' said Tip Henderson, chairman of the Glen Cove Republicans.

Mr. Fonrose said that he and another Republican party official, Al Evans, plied Margarita Gaston with a Thanksgiving turkey, a pumpkin pie and relish, offered her help in finding a job and gave her a ride to court so she could testify that her vote was nullified for no other reason than that she was registered under her maiden name. Justice Ute Wolff Lally of state Supreme Court in Garden City allowed the woman's ballot to be opened, and it turned out she had voted Democratic.

Another man, Joseph Maher, had his ballot accepted after testifying that was registered to vote, even though he acknowledged that the last time he voted was for George Wallace in 1968.

''If you haven't voted in the last two or four years, you're purged from the voting rolls,'' said Steven Schlesinger, the attorney representing the Democrats. ''For 36 years? There's not even a statute.''

After hearing arguments from both sides, Justice Lally knocked out three Democratic ballots and allowed an additional Republican vote, putting Mr. Farnan up by five. The Democrats have appealed her ruling and a hearing is scheduled for Jan. 7.

At this point, there are about a dozen votes in question and all of them are paper ballots, most of which are being challenged for having ''extrinsic marks.'' By law, voters must put a check or an ''X'' next to a candidate's name to register their vote. Any other marks on the form can invalidate the ballot.

Regardless of who wins, Republicans say the closeness of the race shows a rising dissatisfaction with the Democratic city government and its redevelopment plans for the waterfront and downtown, particularly the construction of two large apartment complexes that the Republicans have been calling the ''Queensification'' of Glen Cove. While the party in power seems to switch every 4 or 6 years, the Democrats have been in power for the last 10, with Thomas R. Suozzi serving as mayor for 8 of those 10 years until he was elected county executive in 2001. He was succeeded by another Democrat, Mary Ann Holzkamp. But whereas Ms. Holzkamp won the 2001 election by 1,296 votes, the margin in 2003 was only 374.

''Two years ago, when Suozzi ran for county executive, everyone was ready for a change. He won by a landslide. And (Holzkamp) won on his coattails. But two years later, there are no coattails,'' Mr. Henderson said.

Democrats say the results are a fluke. They attribute the close vote more to it being an off-election year and laziness by party locals than to any fundamental shift of support.

''It was a very low turnout,'' said Mr. Gioino, the Democratic candidate. ''And we just didn't get our people out to vote.''

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company