Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign has paid lawyers, consultants and canvassers more than $650,000 to knock Conservative Party mayoral candidate Tom Ognibene off the Republican line, according to submissions filed with New York City’s Campaign Finance Board. That figure may prove to be a partial total, since a Bloomberg campaign spokesman said that expenditures are only disclosed after a bill is received and paid.
Ognibene filed a lawsuit against the New York City Board of Elections and its state counterpart in federal court, challenging signature requirements in an attempt to force a Republican primary in this year’s election. The former Queens councilman’s complaint asserted that Bloomberg’s objections to the validity of Ognibene’s signatures were “hyper-technical” and invoked “unsupportable standards,” but the court sustained the 7,500-signature requirement, ending any hopes for a 2005 Republican primary.
Recent filings revealed that Bloomberg hired a team of high-priced legal hit men to quash potentially damaging competition on the Republican line—all in the name of voter’s rights, according to court documents.
A memorandum filed on August 18, 2005, in support of Bloomberg’s motion to intervene in the lawsuit complained that Ognibene sought “to overhaul the mayoral election process” which Bloomberg’s brief argued “would severely impact” the rights of the city’s voters and “other members of the Republican party.” Yet Bloomberg, in 2003, tried to end partisan elections in New York City altogether.
The memorandum was submitted and signed by attorneys Robert Muir, Jeffrey T. Buley, and Kenneth Gross. The Bloomberg campaign paid Muir’s firm, Campaign Research Associates, at least $418,979, and they paid Buley at least $95,169. The law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, where Kenneth Gross is a partner, has received at least $151,636 from the Bloomberg campaign.
Since when is more choices on a ballot bad for voters? According to Ognibene, that argument is a smokescreen meant to keep voters from examining Bloomberg’s tenuous connection to the Republican Party. “He really doesn’t want to be challenged on his Republican credentials, that’s the bottom line,” said Ognibene. “He’s closed the political process.”
Ognibene sees a clear reason for Bloomberg’s vehement opposition to his campaign: Being side-by-side with Ognibene would require Bloomberg to either distance himself from Ognibene’s conservative views and his Republican base, or agree with Ognibene, torpedoing the mayor’s support among liberals. “He’s tried to walk away from the Republican party, but in a stealthy way,” Ognibene said of the mayor. “He couldn’t afford to debate me.” According to Ognibene, Bloomberg’s real motivation for skipping a recent debate at Harlem’s Apollo Theater was to avoid facing his conservative rival.
Ognibene’s lawsuit was dismissed on August 25—but an appeal, which could affect future elections—is pending.