Challenge to Thai’s petitions not racism — just politics, insiders say

The challenger to Charlie Ragusa for committeeman in the 47th Assembly District claims the incumbent and his allies are trying to kick him off the ballot in order to keep Asian Americans out of politics, but Democratic party operatives say it ain’t racism — it’s just politics as usual.

Upstart Billy Thai got 2,200 signatures on his nominating petition, but three people have challenged their legitimacy with the Board of Elections, records show. Thai’s camp claims the operatives have ties to the incumbent and that he and his ally Assemblyman Bill Colton (D–Bensonhurst) “wants Chinese out of politics.”

“They really, really don’t want Chinese to be on the ballot,” said Thai rep Warren Chan. “To try to deny a Chinese is wrong, just plain evil.”

But politicos say challenging petitions is common practice — indeed more than 120 individuals filed the so-called “records of objection” for races across Kings County, public records show. And Ragusa and Colton’s alleged efforts to undermine Thai’s campaign are less about race and more about simply keeping his job, another insider said.

“It’s common for incumbents within the party organization to do things like that,” said former Bay Ridge committeeman Ralph Perfetto. “I think they don’t want any outsiders, period.”

The party would not condone marginalizing the borough’s Chinese community — a group ripe for registration as Democrats, a spokesman for the county machine said.

“We are committed to expanding the franchise, bringing new voters into the Democratic party, and reject any suggestion to the contrary,” said Kings County Democratic Party spokesman Bob Liff.

The three who challenged Thai’s petitions are Asian-Americans. But one — who works for Ragusa ally Councilman Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island) — couldn’t say why her name is on Board of Elections documents challenging Thai’s signatures.

“I don’t know anything about him,” said Wah Fung, declining to comment further.

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An Arab American will run to replace term-limited Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) in 2017, Arab American Association of New York director Linda Sarsour told our pals at Brooklyn Paper Radio last week. The rumored-to-be-running community leader would not announce her candidacy, but said someone from the community will make a bid.

“I’m not confirming that I’m running, but I’m also not sure that I want to do it right now,” said Sarsour. “I will confirm this: Someone who is Arab-American is definitely running in 2017. If it ain’t me, it’s definitely going to be someone from our community.”

No Arab American has ever held a seat on Council.

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City records confirm Canarsie pastor Nicholson Pierre is challenging Brooklyn Democratic party boss Frank Seddio for committeeman in the 59th Assembly District and newly elected Assemblywoman Jaime Williams (D–Canarsie) for her seat in the district. We printed the rumor last week before Pierre had filed his ballot petitions, but he has since sent them off to the Board of Elections, records show.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.