By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
If Councilmember Una Clarke had the chutzpah of a Bush Republican, the message in her next campaign ad about BrooklynRATSpoliticians who eat anything to stay alivewould read: Your last meal smelled of poison. Of course Clarke has been chewed up before, but the 'RATS always seem to spit her back out. This time she hopes she sticks in their craw.
Shortly after Clarke's crushing loss to representative
Major Owens in last Tuesday's Democratic primary, advisers began urging the feisty 64-year-old to "redeem the dream" of being elected to Congress by running on the Liberal Party line in November. Clarkewho because of term limits cannot seek reelection in next year's council raceconfirms she has been exploring a rematch for the 11th Congressional District seat following an election marked by allegations of violence, intimidation, and voting irregularities.
"I think my victory was stolen by last-minute dirty tricks," Clarke charges. Owens, a nine-term incumbent, defeated Clarke 54 to 46 percent. Owens did not return Voice calls for comment, but a secretary in his Washington, D.C., office, who seemed annoyed by Clarke's allegation, asked: "What does she expect the congressman to do about this?" Throughout the raucous campaign, Clarke, once an Owens ally, stressed her Jamaican roots in a district that has seen a surge in West Indian immigration. Owens compared Clarke to Hitler, claiming Clarke tried to exploit prejudices within the black community. Clarke accused Owens of being anti-immigrant.
Third-party backing can be critical in New York elections. The Liberals, who bill themselves as the nation's oldest existing third party, have backed Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and other candidates of various political affiliations. In June, party boss Ray Harding, who is a close friend and adviser of Giuliani, threw his support behind Democratic Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton after the mayor withdrew from the race to battle prostate cancer. Harding told the Voice that Clarke is the Liberal nominee for Congress in the 11th District and that "the party is fully prepared to stand with her." He and Clarke were scheduled to meet this week.
Meanwhile, Una Clarke 2000 campaign workers have begun inspecting voting machines and reviewing electoral districts where margins were slim. "We have 46 percent of the vote right now, and were it not for what some felt were voting irregularities I would be a clear winner," Clarke says. Clarke's candidacy will hinge partly on a massive voter-information drive because Democrats can't vote for her by a simple flip of the lever. "We want these Democrats to understand that I am still a Democrat and they would have to vote for me first on the Liberal Party line then go back to the Democratic Party line to vote for Al Gore and Hillary Clinton," she explains. "It takes a lot of voter education and a lot of persuasion that if I win I'll be going to Washington as a Democrat and not as a member of the Liberal Party."
Dismissing criticism that she is a sore loser, Clarke alleges there were numerous incidents of intimidation and fraud. Around 5:30 a.m. on election day, Dexter McGregor, a Clarke campaign worker, was attacked on his way to monitor a polling site in Flatbush. He was struck in the face and knocked down. McGregor was taken to Kings County Hospital, where he was treated for bruises and a fractured ankle. Police are investigating.
In addition to the attack on McGregor, Clarke has turned over to the Voicea stack of complaints from voters and polling-place inspectors and observers alleging irregularities. Some of Tuesday's disruptions were attributed to broken voting machines, a "missing" lever next to Clarke's name, "questionable paper ballots and affidavits," voter intimidation (some voters arrived to find that their names were not on the list), and disputes between supporters of Clarke and Owens. "Some people told me they were threatened," Clarke adds. "There was a whole lot of person-to-person confrontations. People described those who tried to intimidate them as thugs."
Some of Clarke's Jamaican American supporters say that the clashes are reminiscent of the often fatal political battles between backers of the People's National Party and the rival Jamaica Labor Party in their homeland. "Thank God no one died," says a self-described "JAmerican" who voted for Clarke. Among those accused of voter intimidation is Assemblyman Nick Perry, the Jamaican-born politician who is one of Owens's most aggressive boosters in West Indian neighborhoods in the district. (Perry, who represents the 58th Assembly District, is a member of the Coalition for Community Empowerment that warned Clarke not to challenge Owens.) According to a complaint filed with Board of Elections inspector Marilyn Kelleher, Perry entered P.S. 198 in East Flatbush at about 11:30 a.m. and "began to speak to various voters." Perry, the complaint continued, told a man named Ralph Jerimiah "that he was speaking to the voters to make sure that they voted for the right person and that Major Owens needed help in that area." Campaigning at a polling site is a violation of election law. Perry then left. After consulting with Ingrid Dacon and Tracey Grant, two attorneys who were volunteer poll watchers, a city elections inspector "was told that if Nick Perry returned he should be escorted off the premises by the police."