Howell Democrats filed suit yesterday to block two Republican candidates for Howell Township Council, Fred Gasior and Susan Fischer, from reaching the June primary ballot after neither submitted enough valid signatures on their nominating petitions.
Gasior originally submitted 50 signatures and Fischer 52; in each case, enough were determined to be invalid to push them below the required 50 signatures. Acting Howell Municipal Clerk Allison Ciranni approved the two candidates anyways, however, because a third Republican candidate running on the same party-endorsed slate, Ian Nadel, turned in 80.
“Under the totality of circumstances, it is clear that that [sic] Fred Gasior, Susan Fischer and Ian Nadel did in fact file as a slate of candidates,” Ciranni wrote in response to an objection from Howell Democratic chairman John McCabe. “Therefore, there were sufficient signatures for the slate of candidates, and your objection is denied.”
But while Gasior, Fischer, and Nadel submitted their signatures in tandem, they did not collect them together, and each of their individual nomination petitions only listed their own name. In fact, as the lawsuit filed yesterday notes, one Howell resident, Tina Smilek, has specifically said her signature on Gasior’s petition was meant for Gasior alone.
“I was told the petition I filed was for [a] single candidate and now see it says several,” Smilek wrote in an email to the clerk’s office. “My signature is only for Fred Gasior.”
If Nadel had wanted the signatures he collected to count for Gasior and Fischer, plaintiff John Hughes argues in the suit, he would have had to disclose that information on the petition itself.
“Defendant Ciranni has utilized the highest total signatures from Nadel’s sheets to include the other candidates despite Nadel’s failure to disclose those candidates on his forms,” the lawsuit says.
Should Gasior and Fischer fail to make it to the ballot, they can each run write-in campaigns for the nomination, where they’d need to receive a minimum of 50 votes (the same number as the signatures required for ballot access) to count as valid candidates. But complicating matters is the presence of a fourth off-the-line Republican candidate, Michael Bernstein, who would presumably be able to block either Gasior or Fischer from victory unless they mount a truly exceptional write-in campaign.
Of the three at-large seats up this year, two are held by retiring Republican incumbents, Councilwoman Pamela Raymond and appointed Councilwoman Suzanne Brennan, while Democratic Councilman John Bonevich is running for re-election to the third seat.
This story was updated at 12:13 p.m.; Councilman Thomas Russo has already resigned from the council, and it is his appointed successor, Suzanne Brennan, who is not running for re-election.