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Judge knocks Hardwick off county executive ballot

Andrew Hardwick, candidate for Nassau County executive, attends

Andrew Hardwick, candidate for Nassau County executive, attends a hearing at the Nassau County courthouse in Mineola. (Oct. 8, 2013) Credit: Howard Schnapp

A State Supreme Court justice ruled Thursday that former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick cannot get on the ballot for Nassau County executive because his nominating petitions for a third-party line were "permeated with fraudulent practices."

Justice F. Dana Winslow ruled that Hardwick may not have been personally involved in the fraud but he was "intimately aware" of it and in one instance paid a campaign worker $1.25 for each signature he collected.

By law, petitioners can only be paid by the hour. Hardwick has denied the allegation, claiming campaign workers were paid $10 per hour.

"This was a phony candidacy from day one and a fraudulent effort to get on the ballot," said Steve Schlesinger, attorney for the county Democratic Party, which brought the suit.

Hardwick said the court and Democratic County executive nominee Thomas Suozzi had disregarded the will of minority voters. "We won't forget what was done to us today," Hardwick said. "Let's see how the black community feels about it. This is not over."

Hardwick's attorney, Vincent Messina, said he would appeal the case to the court's Appellate Division, which he expects to hear the case next week. "This was a man against the machine," Messina said. "Andrew Hardwick ran against the Democratic Party in Nassau County."

Suozzi, who faces Republican County Executive Edward Mangano in the Nov. 5 general election, declined to comment.

Hardwick, who was running to be Nassau's first African-American county executive, collected 8,411 signatures to run on the new We Count ballot line. Democrats challenged the nominating petition, saying it contained numerous fraudulent signatures and inconsistencies. Hardwick needs 1,500 valid signatures to get on the ballot.

After weeks of examination, the county Board of Elections declared more than 2,700 signatures invalid. Democrats also alleged more than 2,100 instances of forgery. Winslow, a Democrat, said he verified more than 100 cases of forged signatures before he, with the consent of both attorneys in the case, called off the line-by-line review Thursday.

Hardwick denied all allegations of fraud.

Democrats say Hardwick is seeking to get into the race to draw minority voters away from Suozzi, helping Mangano win a second term. Hardwick said he was in the race as an alternative to Suozzi, who he said neglected minority voters while serving as county executive from 2002 to 2009.

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin did not respond to a request for comment Thursday but said previously the campaign had no connection with Hardwick's candidacy.

State Board of Election records show Gary Melius, owner of Oheka Castle in Huntington, was the only contributor to Hardwick's campaign, giving more than $23,000 between July 26 and Sept. 5.Melius has said he is friends with both Hardwick and Mangano and that he gives money to both political parties.

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