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Cuomo must call special election for Grimm seat immediately: lawsuit

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo is violating the U.S. Constitution by refusing to call a special election to fill the House seat left vacant by disgraced Rep. Michael Grimm, a lawsuit alleges.

A Staten Island lawyer is suing the governor for dragging his feet in setting a date to elect a new representative for New York’s 11th Congressional District, saying that according to the Constitution, Cuomo should have issued a Proclamation of Election as soon as Grimm resigned on Jan. 5.

Instead, Cuomo is playing politics and disenfranchising voters in Bay Ridge and the Rock, the attorney said.

“It’s a two-paragraph proclamati­on,” said lawyer Ronald Castorina, who is representing pro bono eight plaintiffs living in the district. “It’s not the most difficult — or involving a very cerebral set of decision making processes — thing to do. You have a constitutional mandate and are 42 days delinquent in your mandate, your duty, your obligation.”

A spokeswoman from the governor’s office acknowledged the suit, but did not comment on allegations the governor was playing politics.

“The governor’s office will review the suit and we are fully aware of our obligations under the law,” said spokeswoman Dani Lever.

The governor has more leeway when to hold special elections for the state legislature, but when it comes to filling federal vacancies, he has to act immediately, according to Castorina.

“Circuit courts have maintained and clarified the law to indicate that the mandate for the governor to call the election is upon vacancy — that’s the triggering event,” he said.

Grimm resigned the seat on Jan. 5, just days after pleading guilty to tax fraud stemming from a business he owned before taking office.

Grimm could face up to three years in prison. The tax fraud allegations were part of a larger, 20-count indictment that also alleged he hired undocumented workers and perjured himself.

The governor is dragging his feet on the election in order to put the Democratic party on a better footing, said Castorina, a Republican who has served as a Staten Island GOP Board of Elections Commissioner. Castorina said that his lawsuit is not politically motivated.

Democrats initially floated Assemblyman Bill Colton (D–Bensonhurst) and Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) as contenders against Republican-nominated Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan. Castorina believes Democratics see both Colton and Gentile as weak contenders, and delaying the election would give the party time to find a better nominee.

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, Castorina said.

The empty seat leaves 750,000 people in Brooklyn and Staten Island without representation in Washington, Castorina said.

“People have sons or daughters who wants to go to military academy, and it’s budget season — a lot is happening in Washington,” he said. “We’re left to wait with bated breath as to whether or not [Cuomo is] going to call it.”

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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