Rory Lancman has accused Grace Meng’s campaign of planting a Jewish candidate in the NY-06 congressional race to siphon votes away from his campaign. And while Meng denies the allegation, her top campaign consultant at the center of the controversy, Michael Nussbaum, has pulled a similar trick before.
One of the people involved in the scheme during a 2009 New York City Council race in northeast Queens fessed up during an interview yesterday with City & State.
In 2009, Nussbaum, who runs the Queens firm Multi-Media, was the main political consultant for council candidate Kevin Kim. Also in the six-way Democratic primary was Tom Cooke, a wheel-chair bound war veteran who headed up a prominent group for people with spinal injuries.
Upon hearing that Cooke was having trouble collecting enough signatures to make the ballot, Nussbaum reached out to Cooke’s campaign and lent Cooke several skilled signature gatherers to help gather petitions, said Robert Giuffre, who managed Cooke’s 2009 Council race.
Nussbaum wanted Cooke on the primary ballot order to siphon off white votes from two top tier white challengers to Kim, Paul Vallone and Jerry Iannece; Kim was the only Korean-American in the race.
“Let me put it this way,” Giuffre said, “Tom didn’t get into the race because anyone asked him to, but as the race progressed, our interests aligned with the Kevin Kim campaign. And we coordinated with them and they provided some expertise.”
Giuffre said that the Kim campaign had merely provide Cooke with signature gatherers and expertise – and that Cooke had paid for the actual work out of his own campaign account.
The revelation comes as Lancman’s campaign has charged that Nussbaum planted a 70-year old Board of Elections employee, Jeffrey Gottlieb, into the NY-06 congressional race in northeast Queens to split the Jewish vote. Meng’s campaign admitted that Nussbaum had suggested another Jewish candidate Matthew Silverstein run, but insisted the suggestion was not serious. (Silverstein, meanwhile, did not deny he’d been asked to run, but declined to comment.) Meng’s campaign also denies planting Gottlieb in the race, despite the fact that Gottlieb was gathering signatures for Meng until recently.
A spokesman for Meng’s campaign, Michael Tobman, declined to comment beyond referring to past statements he has made denying involvement with Gottlieb’s candidacy.
Kim rode heavy turnout in the Korean-American community to win the 2009 primary with 30.7 percent of the vote, while Iannece got 24 percent and Vallone got 23 percent. Cooke, after being helped onto the ballot by Kim’s campaign, got 7.2 percent. (Kim ended up narrowly losing the general election to Councilman Dan Halloran, who is also running in the NY-06 race.)
Giuffre said he very well could see Nussbaum having planted Gottlieb into the 2012 congressional race, given Giuffre’s own experience in 2009.
“I honestly wouldn’t be surprised at all if that was the case,” Giuffre said.
UPDATE: April 25
Cooke called in to say he believes this article improperly characterizes him as a planted candidate (though his campaign manager explicitly says he was not in the above article.) Cooke also says that the initial conversations with Kim about lending signature gatherers came innocently enough, outside a grocery store one day where both were gathering signatures. In other words, he disputed the idea that any sort of organized “scheme” had taken place
“I think there’s a big difference between being a planted candidate — someone who’s actually not serious about running for office — and two guys having a conversation in front of a grocery store one day who are friendly with one another, about one guy lending paid petitioners to the other,” Cooke added.
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