A Queens district attorney candidate is attempting to cull the competition in the crowded race by waging a line-by-line paperwork fight — claiming thousands of petition signatures collected by the campaigns of three of her rivals are invalid.
If Mina Malik succeeds, the field would drop from seven to four. She’d also become the only former prosecutor in the contest – which she apparently hopes would boost her chances against bigger names like Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilmember Rory Lancman and Tiffany Caban, a public defender trying to ride a progressive wave.
The seven candidates are vying to make it onto the ballot for the June 25 Democratic primary and ultimately replace retiring DA Richard Brown in the first competitive election for the post in nearly 30 years.
Malik’s challenge takes aim at the signatures filed by three other contenders: Jose Nieves, Greg Lasak and Betty Lugo. Election laws require each candidate to collect 4,000 valid signatures from registered Democratic voters in Queens to get on the primary ballot.
A Malik spokesperson said it was “important to Mina that we maintain the integrity of the election process,” adding that the candidate filed more than 11,000 signatures.
Decision Due April 26
While petition challenges are not unusual, her line-by-line attack — called a specification of objection — has the targeted candidates scrambling to shield themselves from a Board of Elections decision, scheduled for April 26.
Anticipating a challenge, Lasak filed a petition in Queens County Supreme Court on April 10 to have his signatures validated. Lugo filed a court petition on April 12.
All of the challenged candidates happen to be former prosecutors — Lasak in Queens, Nieves in Brooklyn and Lugo in Nassau County.
Malik — a former Queens assistant district attorney, ex-deputy attorney general for the District of Columbia and a lecturer at Harvard Law School —announced her candidacy in February, months after Katz and Lancman declared.
In March, the Forest Hills resident told THE CITY she had raised about $350,000. By that time, top fundraisers in the race, including Katz and Lancman, had well over $1 million in their campaign accounts.
The petition challenge is not the first time Malik has pursued legal action that gained notice.
She made headlines in 2016 when, as executive director of New York’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, she filed a lawsuit alleging retaliation after she lodged a complaint alleging that then-board chairperson Richard Emery used offensive, sexist language to describe her and a female colleague. Emery resigned the next day.
‘Nowadays, It’s Not as Litigious’
Petition rules, adopted by the city Board of Elections in accordance with state election law, lay out dozens of possible reasons for invalid petitions, including illegibly written addresses, incomplete dates, instances of alleged forgery and signers residing out of the district.
Election lawyers said that while general objections are common, specifications of objections are now filed less often because petition rules have relaxed over the past few decades.
“Nowadays, it’s not as litigious as it used to be,” said Aaron Maslow, an attorney who said he’s kicked more than 1,000 candidates off the ballot in New York City. “In those days, organizations would challenge every petition. It’s not that way anymore.
Still, he acknowledged that obtaining a sufficient number of valid signatures remains a challenge for some candidates. “Four thousand signatures countywide. I would not say it’s an easy task…. The more signatures you need, the more mistakes you can make.”
Bill Driscoll, Lasak’s campaign manager, called Malik’s challenge a “misguided attempt to take the only qualified candidate out of the race” and predicted his candidate’s petitions would pass muster. A campaign spokesperson had previously told THE CITY that 10,000 signatures were filed on April 4. Malik’s team counted 8,472 signatures on Lasak’s petition and alleged 5,073 are invalid.
Nieves previously told THE CITY he filed more than 10,000 signatures. Malik’s counsel counted 7,824 and alleged 5,671 are invalid.
Nieves said in a statement that it’s “very sad that my opponents are trying to take away the Queens voters’ right to choose a qualified candidate as their next district attorney,” adding he will defend his petitions in court if necessary.
A Lugo spokesperson said “it is shameful that people want to bring back old-fashioned political gamesmanship in attempting to eliminate candidates off the ballot on technicalities.”
“She believes that the voters should decide on who the next DA would be on the merit,” the spokesperson added.
Malik’s counsel counted 9,684 signatures and claimed that 6,513 are invalid.
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