WEST ORANGE – Driving west from Newark, the fastest way to get to West Orange is to take Route 280. To have a place on the ballot of this year’s mayoral election in the 46,000-person Essex County township, candidates have to file 280 ballot petitions. These petitions have now created a burgeoning controversy in West Orange before its November non-partisan election.
Mayoral candidate Eldridge Hawkins claims that at least 50 of the petitions submitted by incumbent Mayor Robert Parisi have alleged irregularities that could result in Parisi being thrown off the ballot.
The Hawkins campaign stated that the township clerk’s office provided them with the 303 ballot petitions submitted by Parisi on Wednesday, of which 284 were authorized. The Hawkins campaign claims that after they inspected the petitions, they found at least 50 with problems.
“We are asserting that at least 50 petitions are fraudulent or incorrect, and should be thrown out,” said Eric Dawson, communications director for the Hawkins campaign. “If the clerk certifies Mr. Parisi, we will pursue this matter in court.”
Dawson pointed to several alleged irregularities to back up the Hawkins campaign’s claims.
“We have one petition from a person who is apparently deceased,” Dawson said. “We have at least one with the wrong address. We have multiple signatures that are signed by the same person in the same household. We have dozens which have been filled out by a person other than the person who signed it. When you look at the signatures, the signatures are different.”
PolitickerNJ attempted to interview West Orange Township Clerk Karen Carnevale, but was rebuffed and told she had obtained legal counsel.
Parisi, who is seeking re-election with a mayoral field that includes Hawkins, Councilman Joe Krakoviak and Rodolfo Rodriguez, strongly refuted the Hawkins campaign’s claims.
“There is absolutely no problem, but we’ll end up in court, I’m sure,” said Parisi, who was elected in 2010. “Mr. Hawkins is alleging that we have petitions with forged signatures. Besides the fact that he wants to bring into question my character, he’s questioning the character of what my records show are 70 people who signed my petitions, which is shameful. We did not forge signatures, period. A claim that we forged signatures is beyond contemptible. But we’re going to get through this and get on with the campaign.”
Hawkins is no stranger to controversy. After serving as mayor in neighboring Orange from 2008 to 2012 and surviving a recall effort because of his controversial leadership and administrative style, Hawkins declared his candidacy for West Orange mayor earlier this year.
A former West Orange police officer, Hawkins recently lost a discrimination lawsuit against his former employer, following almost seven years of legal battling.
Nonetheless, the Hawkins campaign is ready for another legal skirmish if necessary.
“We want the clerk to do her job,” Dawson said. “We’re confident that if the petitions are properly looked at, a lot of them are going to be thrown out. If they are not properly examined, we’ll go to Essex County court tomorrow.”
Parisi also appeared ready for a court fight.
“We’re going to provide the documentation if necessary in court, and we’re going to dispose of this,” Parisi said. “We’re going to answer the questions and move on. We’re prepared to go to court.”