A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that if Gov. Andrew Cuomo doesn’t set a date for the special election to replace disgraced Bay Ridge Rep. Michael Grimm by high noon on Feb. 20, he will.
Grimm vacated his seat in Congress on Jan. 5 after copping a plea for tax fraud a week prior. It’s the governor’s job to issue a writ of election, requiring the State Board of Elections to break out the ballot boxes to fill the seat 70 to 80 days after the writ is issued.
But Cuomo said on Feb. 2 that he has no immediate plans to hand down the two-paragraph proclamation, so a Staten Island lawyer and eight plaintiffs from Brooklyn and The Rock sued Cuomo on Feb. 13, seeking an injunction ordering the governor to do his duty.
The federal judge who heard the case sided against the governor on Feb. 17.
“Unless the governor announces the date for a special election on or before noon on Friday, February 20, 2015, or justifies further delay at a hearing to be conducted by this court at that time and date, this court will fix the date for a special election as promptly as the law will allow,” Judge Jack Weinstein wrote in his decision.
Weinstein could force the election under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, the judge said in his decision.
The ruling sets a precedent, according to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Ron Castorina.
“This was a huge win,” he said. “This really changes the way any governor in the state of New York can look at the Public Officers’ Law.”
Weinstien surveyed discretion other states allow their governors in calling special elections for federal office and found “in general, the time to call a special election is specified and short.”
Cuomo has not been keen to call special elections in the past. Brooklyn’s 59th Assembly District was vacant for all of 2014, because former assemblyman Alan Maisel stepped down to join the Council on Dec. 31, 2013 and the governor did not call an election to fill the seat.
Castorina, a Republican, accuses the governor of dragging his feet on the election to give the Democratic Party more time to find a candidate who could beat Republican-nominated Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan. A delay could also put Donovan in a bind — if Cuomo holds the vote during the general election in November, Donovan will have to choose between running for Congress or sailing to reelection as district attorney, said Castorina, who has served as a Staten Island GOP Board of Elections Commissioner. Castorina said that his lawsuit is not politically motivated.
The governor’s office said after Weinstein’s decision that it would announce a date for the congressional special election shortly, but did not say when.
“As reflected in the state’s papers filed last week, the governor will announce the date for the special election for New York’s 11th Congressional District shortly, consistent with our constitutional obligation and in a manner that balances both the economic impact of the election as well as the need for fair representation,” spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa told media outlets.
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Issuing the writ would save the governor future embarrassment, Castorina said.
“[Weinstein] has given the governor time to issue the writ without the embarrassment of the court ordering him to do so,” Castorina said. “I hope the governor heeds the court’s guidance in this matter.”