Battle for the 10th Congressional District Heats Up

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He did not do it in 2006 when Charles Barron and Roger Green bid for his seat. He did not do it in 2008 when Kevin Powell commenced his first run for Congress. This year, Congressman Ed Towns is challenging the petitions of his opposition – Kevin Powell.

Powell sees this tactic as a sign of desperation in Towns’ camp. “Mr. Towns is fighting behind a lawsuit,” said Powell. “It is obvious he and his campaign are afraid of waging a real campaign.”

A source close to Powell’s campaign said Towns’ challenge to his petitions is 15 pages of general objections. Towns’ lawsuit is against Powell and the Board of Elections, as if the allegations of signature fraud also extend within the board itself. Though Powell was served at his address within the district, the lawsuit alleges he does not live within the 10th congressional district.

On Monday, both sides met to do battle in Brooklyn’s Supreme Court. Bernard Alter, Towns’ attorney, admitted in court that he found 2600 signatures; Powell needs 1,250 signatures to gain ballot status. He asked for a line-by-line review, and said pending the results, they will be more prepared to allege specific fraud. Powell’s attorney asked the judge to dismiss the case due to “inaccuracy, falsehoods and lack of specificity.” The judge said it was “too early” for that, and directed both sides to conduct a line-by-line review of Powell’s petitions. Both sides will return to court on August 9. At that time, the judge will determine if a trial is warranted.

The entire presentation took less than 10 minutes. Outside the courtroom, Aaron Golembiewski, Policy Director and Co-counsel for the Powell campaign, had stacks of petitions in both hands. Holding up his left hand, he said, “These are 1,300 signatures that we have, by their own count. We only need 1,250.” Holding up his right hand, Golembiewski said, “These are extras.”

The battle is being waged in newspapers and online.

The Daily News online bog, Daily Politics, reported this from Towns’ spokesperson Hank Sheinkopf, “There were so many serious problems with his petitions that our campaign believed we needed to protect the voters from being victims of this possible fraud. If indeed Mr. Powell followed the law, then he has nothing to worry about and will be free to lose again.”

On Observer.com, Towns himself weighed in. “It’s a lot of fraud,” Towns said. “I tell you I’ve been in this business now 40 years. These are the worst petitions I’ve ever seen in my 40 years of being involved in electoral politics. It’s ridiculous. And I generally don’t challenge people. This is a fraud on the people of the district to allow him to just get on the ballot with this stuff.”

The HuffingtonPost.com has published several articles written by Powell asking why Towns is challenging him.

Powell “finds it very sad and contradictory that Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns, a 27-year Democratic incumbent here in Brooklyn, New York’s 10th Congressional District, is suing me. Like him, I am a lifelong Democrat. Like him, I was born in another state but came to Brooklyn at a relatively young age and served my community in a variety of capacities before seeking public office. And like Mr. Towns, now age 76, and someone who lived through the Civil Rights Movement, I am African—American.”

Referring to the history of African—American voter disenfranchisement, Powell said, “The entire spectacle of Mr. Towns suing a fellow Democrat to prevent me from being on the Democratic primary ballot on Tuesday, September 14, 2010 is sad and contradictory. Sad because it says that Mr. Towns and his team are now so nervous about my congressional campaign that they are resorting to the same kind of legal maneuvers that once prevented Blacks like him from voting in America.”

Some say having petitions challenged is the “cost of doing business” in Brooklyn electoral politics. Incumbents challenge selectively. And so has Towns. In 2006, Towns did not challenge Barron’s or Green’s petitions. Common knowledge is multiple challengers split the vote, canceling each other out. (In 2006, Charles Barron received 15,345 votes; Roger Green got 6,237 votes; and Ed Towns emerged the winner with 19,469 votes. Presumably, Towns did not challenge Powell in 2008 because it was his first campaign. (In 2008, Kevin Powell received 11,558 votes on his first try; Towns retained his seat with 24,405.)

During the intervening years, Powell has gained momentum, which might be why the Towns campaign has decided to challenge his petitions.

“They are attempting to have the legal system, instead of the people, decide who the next Congressperson is going to be,” Kevin Powell said. “That is not democracy.”