True or false with Stewart support

The Brooklyn Paper
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The newsletter in which City Councilmember Kendall Stewart printed the now-infamous list of false endorsements may itself be a violation of state election law.

Stewart’s claims of endorsements from some elected officials were exposed as untrue by the New York Daily News, which contacted some of the politicians listed on the back page of The Stewart Record, a 16-page tabloid, as having expressed support for his re-election.

According to the paper’s August 19th article, those who told the News that they had not endorsed Stewart, despite his claim, included four Brooklyn pols -- State Senator John Sampson, Assemblymember Nick Perry, and City Councilmembers Bill de Blasio and Mathieu Eugene -- as well as Councilmembers John Liu, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Rosie Mendez and James Sanders.

Indeed, Mendez was one of three elected officials to stand on the steps of City Hall, the day after the News article was printed, to endorse one of Stewart’s challengers, community organizer Jumaane Williams. Also endorsing Williams, at that time, were Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries and City Councilmember Charles Barron. In addition, in conjunction with the news conference, Assemblymember Karim Camara issued a statement of support for Williams.

The possible issues with the newsletter revolve around who actually published it.

Citizens for Community Action, identified on page one as the publisher, is not listed with either the New York State Board of Elections (BOE) or the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) as having been authorized by Stewart to make expenditures on his behalf.

In the meantime, numerous boxes throughout the tabloid newsletter refer the reader to Stewart’s campaign website, While they may not be related, there are three expenditures for printing amounting to $3,000 in Stewart’s July, 2009, filing with the city’s CFB.

The publication may represent a violation, said John Conklin, a spokesperson for the state BOE. “If there’s a committee with that name authorized to make expenditures on behalf of Kendall Stewart, that would be legitimate,” Conklin told this paper. “If there’s no such committee or the committee is not authorized to make the expenditures, those are potential violations.” Whether the committee only operates on behalf of Stewart, or is a political action committee (PAC) operating on behalf of a group of candidates, “It would be listed, and shown as authorized to expend money on a candidate’s or (several) candidates’ behalf,” Conklin said.

Election attorney Terry Hinds said that, in his view, the newspaper’s origins can legitimately be queried.”They’re basically not stating who paid for it, and how it is being paid for,” he explained, citing the tag line on radio and TV campaign ads -- “I am candidate x and I approved this message” -- as what is required of campaign advertising, whatever form it takes. “It’s probably being paid for directly by the campaign, so it doesn’t look good for them,” he added.

However, Martin Connor, an election attorney and former state senator, said that the name of the organization credited with producing the newspaper not being listed with either the city or state is not necessarily an issue. If the group is one created by the campaign, he opined, it “means nothing. Using a group like that is pretty common,” Connor went on. “Campaigns form different committees, but they don’t have to register if the actual registered committee is paying for it (the piece of campaign literature).”

There would also be no issue, Connor said, if the group independently published the newsletter, without coordinating with Stewart’s campaign or being requested by Stewart’s campaign to publish it. “Then it’s an independent expenditure, but it has to meet the test. He couldn’t cooperate in making the piece,” Connor stressed.

The Citizens for Community Action is “ a group of concerned citizens in his district,” explained Michael Roberts, a campaign spokesperson for Stewart. “It’s a private organization that has every right to produce a newspaper,” he contended.

Stewart himself said it was up to CFB to make the determination as to whether the newsletter is in accordance with the state’s election laws. Under those circumstances, he added, “We’ll see whether there are violations or not, if something is being paid for by campaign funds, It shouldn’t be your problem.

“Everything in there is factual, other than a couple of my colleagues who were bombarded by the Working Families Party (which is backing Williams) to change their endorsement,” Stewart went on. “That’s not the issue. The issue is what has Kendall Stewart done for the district? Granted, they did not endorse, but does that change the facts? It doesn’t change the fact that they (the Williams campaign) are grasping at straws. The people of East Flatbush aren’t stupid. They know what I’ve done, and they’re going to stand by me.”

Besides Williams, there are four other challengers to Stewart on the ballot: Ernest Emmanuel, Erlene King, Dr. Dexter McKenzie and Sam Taitt.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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