UPPER WEST SIDE — A City Council candidate in District 7 has called into question the legitimacy of signatures that got a rival on the ballot — and is taking the opponents' "scared" petitioners to court.
Zead Ramadan is suggesting that 100 of the 8,000 signatures that Mark Levine collected were ill-gotten. Citing "many instances of [Levine's] highly questionable petitions," Ramadan launched an investigation of Levine's list.
Jason Elijio, a Ramadan staffer, said Levine's list included "signatures that were nearly identical but for different names."
Candidates had to submit at least 450 signatures this month, collected by petitioners working for their campaigns, in order to appear on the ballot.
Ramadan's campaign subpoenaed a group of Levine's petitioners, who are scheduled to appear in State Supreme Court Tuesday, where the case could be decided immediately or drawn out for more subpoenas.
But the Broadway Democrats, a political club that supports him, lashed out at Ramadan and suggested that he targeted the petitioners because they were poor black women.
"This is an inexcusable attempt to harass people that are exercising their democratic rights," said Levine spokesman Alex Castex-Porter. "We expect this to be thrown out of court."
The Broadway Democrats, too, said Ramadan went too far.
"It's an effort to harass and intimidate Mark's petition carriers, many of whom are women, most of whom are minorities, and all of whom have far less money than the nasty, desperate candidate who is so outrageously hauling them into court," the group said in a email blast.
But Ramadan called the accusations "disgusting."
"It has nothing to do with race or gender," he said. "It's disgusting that they're using race baiting.
"They’re trying to have people of color turn against another person of color," Ramadan, an Arab American who was born in Kuwait, added.
One of the club's district leaders, Paula Diamond-Roman, said that while it's common for candidates to challenge each other's petitions, the strategy was unusual.
"This is the first time we have heard of somebody subpoenaing a petitioner," she said.
Diamond-Roman added that the petitioners were "scared" and "angry," and "not women who are accustomed to being subpoenaed."
The backlash stunned Ramadan, who said his campaign was simply "trying to engage in a democratic process."
"All we’re saying is there are rules to this game," he said.