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Editorial: Why is Randy White Public Enemy No. 1?

Randy White, witness in the Hardwick voter-petitions case

Randy White, witness in the Hardwick voter-petitions case in Nassau County. (Oct. 18, 2013) Credit: Sam Guzik

Late in the day on Saturday, Oct. 5, two Nassau County police detectives walked in front of a Nassau Inter-County Express No. 41 bus stopped at a traffic light near Kennedy Park in Hempstead. One of them flashed a badge and told the driver to open the doors. A third detective jumped in the back door. Holding a photo, they asked whether Randy White was on board. White identified himself, and the detectives led him off the bus in handcuffs to their unmarked car.

Police said White was detained because of an outstanding warrant for failing to pay $250 in fees from a prior arrest. Earlier this year, White was sentenced to community service for selling bootleg DVDs, a misdemeanor and not his first brush with the law. There are about 84,000 open warrants in Nassau County, with the majority classified as arrest warrants, which typically get top priority from police. Those issued for failure to pay fines are considered low priority.

Why did White become Public Enemy No. 1? Why the rush to arrest him for an offense so minor that a judge simply released him and gave him until December to pay the $250? And why are the police internal affairs division and the Nassau district attorney's office investigating what happened that weekend?

Here's a possible reason. Three days before White's arrest, he testified in a State Supreme Court case that challenged the nominating petitions of former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick, who sought to run for county executive on a minor-party ballot line that was called "We Count" in a cynical appeal to the African-American community.

White testified that he gathered signatures for Hardwick, and was paid $1.25 for each in cash, at Hardwick's home, with the candidate present. Bounties for signatures are illegal in New York, and Hardwick denied White was paid that way.

The bus arrest occurred just two days before White was due back in court to testify in the Hardwick case. This was the second time in two months that lawyers for the Nassau Democratic Party had to go to court to challenge sham minor-party candidacies designed to siphon votes from their nominee, Thomas Suozzi, who is challenging Republican Edward Mangano for county executive. Suozzi lost to Mangano by 386 votes in 2009.

In the first instance, Phillipp Negron was hired to a public works job by the Mangano administration -- a week before he submitted petitions in July to run as Green Party nominee for county executive. His candidacy surprised Green Party officials. Negron, 25, of Freeport, testified that he was not an environmental activist, but he had met with a top Mangano aide at a village diner to discuss his candidacy. After county employees, including the top aide, were subpoenaed to testify about the validity of nominating-petition signatures, Negron withdrew from the race.

In that case, 15 workers at Oheka Castle, in Huntington, collected signatures for Negron. Meanwhile, the sole campaign contribution to Hardwick for his We Count run was $23,000, and it came from developer Gary Melius, the owner of Oheka Castle. Hardwick's candidacy was thrown out, a decision an appeals court upheld last week.

About two hours before police stopped the bus in Hempstead, White said, two Hardwick loyalists, including the man who paid him, came to his home. White's father, Rassan Hoskins, a Democratic committeeman, said they told him, " 'We like Randy.' . . . They didn't want to see him get in trouble or get hurt." Hoskins threw them out. Soon after, White was arrested.

Was it all a coincidence? Or was it an attempt to interfere with an election by intimidating a witness? District Attorney Kathleen Rice, whose aggressive prosecutions earned her the co-chair of a state commission on public corruption, may have some new material in her own backyard.