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West New York Dems in court tomorrow

Roque alleges Castañeda stole petitions

By Nikita Biryukov, April 23 2018 5:13 pm

Briefs are in for tomorrow morning’s hearing on West New York county committee candidates’ petitions.

The hearing on the conflict, a microcosm of the county-wide struggle for control of the Hudson County Democratic party, will decide whether or not candidates aligned with commissioner Cosmo Cirillo and the Hudson County Democratic Organization will be allowed to stay on the ballot for the election in June.

A victory would allow many of the county committee candidates aligned with West New York Mayor Felix Roque, who, along with other influential mayors in the county, has opposed Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise’s 2019 reelection campaign, to run unopposed.

Roque claims that his former chief of staff, Jonathan Castañeda circulated petitions without names attached to them, a violation of state election law. Those petition, which Roque claims were circulated for his county committee candidates, eventually went to candidates aligned with Cirillo, who supports DeGise and is considered a likely challenger to Roque in 2019.

The Hudson County Democratic Organization’s candidates apparently have not been notified of the suit, despite the fact that it may result in their removal from the ballot.

Roque lawyers have submitted little new evidence in preparation for Tuesday’s hearing. It appears they will rely on Castañeda testimony and affidavits Roque attorney Stephen Edelstein submitted at the April 11 hearing before west New York Town Clerk Carmela Riccie.

HCDO attorney Steven Kleinman intends to discredit the affidavits by pointing to contradictions between statements made and actions taken by Claudia Blanco, Jose Ruben Mendoza and Albierto Raigosa.

The three said they would never support a candidate running under the HCDO slogan, but Kleinman claims they requested to run on the HCDO slogan before being denied.

HCDO lawyers will argue that these flaws strip credibility from Edelstein’s affidavits.

“Aside from that, Plaintiffs have presented literally zero other evidence that Mr. Castañeda or anyone else did anything wrong with respect to a single petition,” Kleinman, referring to the affidavits, wrote in his brief. “They instead focus on smearing Mr. Castañeda because he reasonably chose not to appear in response to a legally questionable subpoena.”

Despite being subpoena’d, Castañeda did not attend the April 11 hearing. He said he was not given adequate notice and needed to consult with counsel.

Much of Edelstein’s original argument hinged on Castañeda ‘s testimony, which he will likely get tomorrow, but Kleinman’s looking to blunt this approach as well.

He has procured affidavits from two HCDO candidates, Jorge Delgado and Jorge Gomez, who are running for county committee in Ward 2, Districts 7 and 8, respectively. In their affidavits, Delgado and Gomez attest that Castañeda had nothing to do with gathering signatures for their petitions. They also say that each signatory knew what they were signing.

“At a minimum, this additional evidence eviscerates their claims of a town-wide conspiracy on Mr. Castañeda’s part,” Kleinman said in his brief.

The case will certainly be an uphill battle for Roque and the other plaintiffs. Courts in New Jersey tend to favor ballot access, and the burden of proof will rest with Roque’s attorneys.

Still, Castaneda has been ordered to appear for this hearing, and his testimony could prove a boon to Edelstein’s appeal. If Castañeda did circulate candidate petitions with no names attached, as Roque’s attorneys claim, he would be in a vulnerable position when called to testify.

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