Several candidates for a southeast Brooklyn City Council seat say former Democratic Party boss Frank Seddio is playing politics by challenging their petitions to appear on the ballot. Seddio defended the petition challenges in the District 46 race, saying he is acting in the interests of the candidates his club endorses.
“We proudly filed them, and we’ll be filing more on Monday,” said Seddio, president of the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club, which filed the petition challenges. “We treat politics like war. We do everything we can to get our candidate elected.”
The 10-candidate race for District 46, which encompasses Canarsie, has drawn several Haitian-American contenders, including Mercedes Narcisse, Shirley Paul, and Gardy Brazela.
Council candidates needed 270 signatures from fellow party members in their district by Mar. 25 to get on the ballot for the Jun. 22 primary election, according to state law. Registered voters in the district have through Mar. 29 to object to signatures on any candidate’s designating petition.
Late evening on Mar. 25, Narcisse’s lawyer informed her of an objection to her petition from the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club, she said. Objections have also been filed against Paul, Dimple Wallabus, and Donald Cranston, all of them Democrats.
“That’s the game they play so they can hold power,” Narcisse said. “Now we’re going to organize, because all the other candidates called me [and] we’re putting ourselves together to say no.”
Based in Canarsie and founded in 1955, the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club is considered by Brooklyn media to be one of the oldest and most powerful political clubs in the city.
In the race to replace term-limited District 46 Council Member Alan Maisel, the club has endorsed two candidates in the race: Judy Newton and Brazela. As part of routine procedure, the club plans to challenge the eight candidates it has not endorsed, Seddio said.
Filing a general objection gives the filer six calendar days to submit a specific complaint or a claim that a candidate broke a specific rule in obtaining signatures. Hearings on petitions to determine if a candidate should remain on the ballot are scheduled to start Apr. 13.
With COVID-19 still a major health crisis, the candidates affected are speaking out against the petition challenge. While challenges are a common practice, the candidates say they are uncalled for amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which made it harder to gather signatures in-person. Three candidates, Narcisse, Paul, and Dimple Wallabus planned to hold a press conference Mar. 29, in front of the Thomas Jefferson Club’s headquarters.
Furthermore, numerous politicians in citywide races have pledged not to challenge collected signatures, as a way to prioritize the public’s health.
“Tell them ‘Fuck them, this is a business,’” said Seddio, who is also a Democratic Party District Leader in Assembly District 59, which includes Canarsie. “If you want to [run against] the big guys, then play the big guys’ game.”
Candidates criticize political games during pandemic
To obtain signatures, candidates and their campaign volunteers typically go door-to-door or approach district residents in public spaces.
State lawmakers this year reduced the number of signatures candidates need to obtain, due to the pandemic. Candidates citywide have unsuccessfully pressured lawmakers to remove the requirement for collecting signatures altogether. In February, more than 100 city candidates also filed a lawsuit, claiming the petition requirements during COVID-19 were unconstitutional.
Despite the pledges, objections had been filed against 105 candidates across multiple citywide races as of 3:30 p.m. Mar. 26, according to the city’s Board of Elections office.
“During COVID, it was already tough for us to get [signatures], and we were exercising caution,” said Paul.
Paul is confident her signatures are valid, she said. She and Narcisse both said they face the prospect of spending money on legal fees and taking time away from the campaign trail, due to the petition challenge.
While she conceded that objecting to signatures is standard practice, Paul said the press conference will be a show of solidarity with other council candidates citywide, who agreed not to challenge each other.
“We find it to be inappropriate to challenge at this time,” Paul said. “We’re going to do it to stand in unison with the other candidates throughout the city that are making people’s health number one.”
Seddio, a former cop, assemblyman, and judge, has been a part of the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club for over 50 years. Renowned for hard-nosed political tactics and loyally backing political allies who were eventually convicted of crimes and jailed, the former chairman of Brooklyn’s Democratic Party resigned from the post under a legal cloud in January 2020 and was quoted in December expressing his desire “to overcome these fucking progressives” who are insurgent in the party’s Kings County branch.
“Frank Seddio is behind the machinations in the Brooklyn Democratic Party machine,” said Mercedes Narcisse, unloading on the man challenging her. “He is orchestrating everything. He had to step down as local party chairman, and we still don’t know why. He has to stop bullying our community. We are awake. There’s a reason the signature threshold was lowered from 900 to 270. We’re in a health crisis. Furthermore, our district is in deep trouble, with crime and guns over the top. The money he’s wasting to mount this challenge, he should invest it in the community and stop playing with people’s lives. This is not democratic, and everyone has a right to run. Enough is enough.”
An earlier version of this article was published in the Haitian Times. Additional reporting by Kim Ives.