Forged Signatures Found on Petitions for Candidates Backed by Queens Machine

New York Focus reached four voters listed as signatories who said they never signed. A review of other signatures suggests they might not be the only ones.

Sam Mellins   ·   June 28, 2022
Forged signatures were found on petitions boosting the bids of state Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar (left) and state Senate candidate Elizabeth Crowley (right) | New York Focus / Board of Elections; Crowley for Senate
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A canvasser for candidates supported by Queens Democratic Party leaders forged multiple signatures on nominating petitions, according to individuals who say that they never signed the paperwork their names appear on.

The petitions in question were collected to boost the bids of state Senate candidate Elizabeth Crowley, state Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar, and several candidates for local judgeships and Democratic Party positions. Per New York law, candidates must collect hundreds of signatures from registered voters in the districts they’re seeking to represent to get spots on a party’s primary ballot. Candidates for different offices can use the same signatures to reach the quota.

Rajkumar has represented her Southern Queens district since last year, and is likely to be renominated in the Assembly primary Tuesday. Crowley is currently engaged in an intense campaign leading up to the August Senate primary that pits her and much of the Queens Democratic Party establishment against several candidates including Kristen Gonzalez, a first-time candidate running with the backing of the Democratic Socialists of America and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who unseated Crowley’s cousin, former Rep. Joe Crowley, in 2018.

The cursive used for different voters’ signatures on the petitions supporting Crowley and Rajkumar was close enough that it drew the attention of volunteers for their rivals.

“What we were noticing was that the signatures themselves look very similar on these few pages,” said Aaron Fernando, a volunteer on Gonzalez’s campaign.

Last week, New York Focus reached three individuals whose names appear on the petition sheets at their homes in Ridgewood, Queens, and a fourth by phone. All four said that they had not signed the petitions. When presented with an electronic copy of their signature as it appears on the petitions, all four said that they didn’t recognize that signature as their own.

“Hell no, I did not sign that,” said Carmen Blanco, 66. “My signature has more of a flourish, especially the way like the L doesn’t connect to the A in my last name.”

Blanco added that she wouldn’t have signed a petition boosting Crowley’s candidacy, since she doesn’t support Crowley’s political ambitions. “I’ve listened to her over the years come and talk at the Democratic Club or whatever. And I just don’t think that she gets stuff done,” she said.

The three other individuals reached by New York Focus didn’t express opinions about any of the candidates on the petitions, but all denied having signed them.

“I didn’t sign that. It looks like the same handwriting on all of those signatures,” said Emily Martin, 26. “It’s strange that my name would show up there,” she added.

Edwin de la Cruz, 36, said that he “never signed any paper like that.”

Josefa Luna, 72, said through a family member translating from Spanish that she “didn’t sign anything.”

The five pages of petitions reviewed by New York Focus, containing sixty-six signatures, list the name of the canvasser who collected them as Salvadora Figueroa, and identify her as a resident of Valley Stream, a town just east of the border of Queens.

Attempts to contact Figueroa were unsuccessful. The Crowley and Rajkumar campaigns and the Queens Democratic Party did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Other clues suggest the four voters may not be the only ones whose signatures were forged.

Short of asking voters whether a certain signature is theirs, there’s no way to be certain whether petitions are genuine. But some indications can raise the possibility.

One is different versions of the same voter’s signature. The New York Board of Elections requires voters to sign their registration forms, and it keeps digital copies of those signatures on file. If the voter’s signature on the petition doesn’t resemble the signature they used to register to vote, that’s an indication that the petition may be forged. Some voters’ signatures on file with the Board of Elections differed dramatically from the signatures that appeared on the petitions.

Gladys Rodriguezs signature as it appeared on the petition, left, versus as it appeared on her voter registration form, right

Another is by comparing spellings of names. Voters are unlikely to misspell their own names when signing a petition. But two voters’ names were misspelled on the suspect petitions — an “n” dropped from “Brianna Ordonez,” which the petition spelled “Briana,” and “Alya Basley” instead of “Alia Basley.” The signatures on file with the Board of Elections used the spellings listed in the Board’s records.

Brianna Ordonezs signature had a missing n on the petition

Another name on the petitions — Daniel Casemere — doesn’t belong to any voter registered in New York City, according to Board of Elections records.

And when a New York Focus reporter knocked on the door listed on the petitions as the address of Denny Garcia, a woman who answered the door who declined to give her name said that Garcia had moved out two years prior.

The Gonzalez campaign considered filing a challenge to the potentially fraudulent signatures, but decided not to, Fernando said. “We’ve got a very limited timeframe to consider filing a challenge. These challenges can cost a lot of money,” he said.

If the signatures collected by Figeuroa are forgeries, it would hardly be the first such case in New York politics.

In April, the leader of a Brooklyn Democratic club admitted to THE CITY that members of his club had forged signatures on forms submitted to the county Board of Elections in order to eliminate rival candidates for party leadership positions.

And in recent years, individuals working on campaigns for state Assembly, New York City Council, and county judgeships have all been charged with forging petition signatures.

Fernando said that it appeared to him that the Queens Democratic party is taking a page out of Brooklyn’s book.

“With the Brooklyn Democratic Party there’s a whole controversy now where they’re faking signatures, so it makes sense that Queens would do the exact same thing,” he said.

Sam Mellins is senior reporter at New York Focus, which he has been a part of since launch day. His reporting has also appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Intercept, THE CITY, and The Nation. 
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