Absentee ballots submitted by Brooklyn residents – and others including in Monsey and Lakewood – who own vacation homes in upstate Fallsburg, N.Y. helped put the challenger in the race for town supervisor over the top in a hotly contested election.
Long-time incumbent Steven Vegliante had challenged a portion of those ballots in court after the count of local votes had put him in the lead by some 406 votes after the November 2 election. Some 990 absentee ballots were cast, and Vegliante, an attorney, claimed a bevy of irregularities regarding 402 of them.
In the lawsuit, Vegliante alleged that some voters were double-registered, in both Fallsburg and New York City; that some ballots listed incomplete or incorrect addresses; and that some of the voters had obtained ballots after missing the application deadlines. According to the State Board of Elections, five people were found to have voted in both places, and those ballots were discounted.
Last Friday, Acting Supreme Court Justice Mark Meddaugh of the State Supreme Court in Sullivan County ordered the board of elections to complete its canvass of all the disputed ballots. That count resulted in a victory for Republican Katherine Rappaport, a school board member, by a margin of 271 votes.
Rappaport heralded “a new day in the town of Fallsburg” and called for unity. “The old ways of doing business, with just a few seats at the table, are over,” she had said.
“I was never confident I was going to win; I was confident in my team and the ability of what we can get done,” Rappaport told The Jewish Press. “I was confident in my belief that a positive message about a future would resonate with the voters.”
New York State law allows those with two homes, typically a primary residence as well as a vacation, weekend, or summer home, to choose either – but not both – as their official residence for voting purposes.
In a 2008 case, Willkie v. Delaware County Board of Elections, the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court ordered the Delaware County Board of Elections to reinstate eight weekend homeowners who had been stricken from the voting rolls. All that is required under the Election Law, the court noted, is for voters to have a “legitimate, significant, and continuing attachment” to their secondary residence. Provided this condition is met, they may request absentee ballots to be sent to their primary residence and then vote in local elections in their other domicile by mail.
A group of Brooklynites, led by Abraham Rosenberg and Abe Rutner, had mounted a campaign to encourage those with second homes in Fallsburg to vote in the election by mail. While Fallsburg has a year-round frum population, the Jewish summer residents, who pay their share of the town’s high property taxes, sought to oust Vegliante because of his perceived hostility to their needs and interests, including his tendency to deny construction permits. He was also blamed for stopping renovation work on the Woodbourne Shul. And in a decision that angered many frum down-staters, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Vegliante prevented local camps and bungalow colonies from opening for the summer by suspending their certificates of occupancy.
“We got second-home voters to vote,” Rosenberg told The Jewish Press.
“We’ve been registering voters going back quite a few years – since about 2016 / 2017. Someone had told me, ‘Your voices are not being heard. Elected officials look to see who votes and that’s how they take care of people. Switch your registration from New York City where your voice doesn’t really count.’”
Rosenberg said that one vote in New York City has the electoral power of 50 votes in Sullivan County, and one vote in New York City is the equivalent of 400 votes in the town of Fallsburg.
He noted that the voters with second homes in Fallsburg live year-round not just in Brooklyn, but in Lakewood, N.J., and in Rockland County, N.Y., as well.
“This is not the first time we’ve done this. We’ve gotten judges elected. State Senator Mike Martucci was the only Senate seat to switch from Democrats to Republicans in last election. He won by, if I recall, about 1369 votes, and received over 1,400 votes from [absentee voters we had set up].”
By now Rosenberg and Rutner have helped register well over 1,500 absentee voters throughout Sullivan County – with about 830 of those living in Fallsburg and voting in the town supervisor election.
Since the election was called for Rappaport, Vegliante has continued to maintain that her win was “gathered through immoral practices” and vowed to demand further investigation.
Ezra Friedlander, CEO the Friedlander Group, served as a consultant to Vegliante during the campaign.
“There was a tremendous amount of misinformation, and negative portrayal of Steve during the campaign,” he said, “based on false allegations – that he was anti development or anti the Jewish community. Those charges couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Explaining why many Jewish homeowners in Fallsburg voted against Vegliante, Friedlander said, “Sometimes people are too parochial in the way they look at the issue as it pertains to them and only them. And they don’t understand the more complex picture.”
He added, “Anyone who pays taxes is obviously entitled to a vote. I see no problem with that. Hopefully people will like the new town supervisor. I congratulate her and wish her well.”
Rosenberg countered the accusations of impropriety in the voting. “We ran a 100 percent clean election. I’m very proud of it.”
Pointing to one example, Rosenberg said that Vegliante had claimed that some people voted out of a grocery store. Rosenberg said that the grocery store in question, Skopps Supermarket, at 404 Laurel Ave. in South Fallsburg, N.Y., shares the same address as Harmony Hills, a summer-home development, but the two are separate parcels of property. It was out of the latter that some people voted.
“The Board of Elections is not stupid. When you register they do their due diligence. Shame on them. It’s called voter suppression and voter intimidation.”
Rosenberg has a second home in Thompson, N.Y., and Rutner has one in Liberty, N.Y.
“I am not a developer,” Rosenberg said, “Rutner and I have zero real estate there beyond our second homes.
“I do not represent developers. I represent every Jewish person who has an interest in Sullivan County.”
(Additional reporting by Baruch Lytle)