Westchester Independence Party Files Federal Lawsuit Against Astorino
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – The Westchester Independence Party and strip club owner and newspaper publisher Sam Zherka filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against County Executive Rob Astorino and about 110 members of the county’s Republican Party.
The lawsuit accuses them of trying to rig the county executive election between Astorino, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Noam Bramson, the mayor of New Rochelle.
Also named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit are Dr. Giulio Cavallo, chairman of the Westchester Independence Party, as well as party members Richard Rhoades, Irma Drace and Dhyalma Vazquez. Zherka said the case is “monumental,” adding that the plaintiffs will win it and prove to the people of Westchester County that the Republican Party is a “corrupt machine.” The plaintiffs are seeking $100 million in damages.
In August, a state Supreme Court justice threw out six of the seven members of Astorino’s re-election committee from the Independence Party, which invalidated Astorino’s opportunity to ballot petition and ended his write-in campaign for the Independence Party primary. Bramson will be on the Independence line on the ballot for the Nov. 5 election. After that, the Independence Party tried to weed out all other people that Cavallo believed infiltrated the party to get Astorino re-elected.
Astorino’s chief adviser, William O’Reilly, accused Zherka of trying to slander the county executive four days before the election.
“I don’t care if Bramson wins or not,” Zherka said. “This is an attempted raid to rig the primary election process and violate tens of thousands of Westchester County residents in the process. It took six law firms to review thousands of documents. We have tape-recorded conversations and fraudulent petitions.”
O’Reilly said the lawsuit has “zero merit” and is “absolutely baseless” and “ridiculous.” He said 4,000 members of the Independence Party asked for a primary election and added that the plaintiffs are “wrong.” O’Reilly said the lawsuit was filed because Astorino denied Cavallo a job as the county health commissioner, a claim that Cavallo vehemently denies.
“They are wasting the court’s time and they need to apologize to the taxpayers for wasting their money with a sham stunt four days before an election,” O’Reilly said. “They have made this election into a circus with a bogus lawsuit.”
One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Peter Tilem of Tilem & Campbell in White Plains, said there is merit to the lawsuit. Tilem said the lawsuit has nothing to do with politics and, as a lawyer, he wouldn’t have filed it if the plaintiffs didn’t have a strong case.
“It started when the state Supreme Court disenrolled six of Astorino’s associates from the Independence Party for perpetrating fraud,” Tilem said. “The evidence is overwhelming. Everyone knows that there is a tape recording of Astorino describing exactly what his plan was to enroll in a massive conspiracy to try to take away the vote of legitimate members of the Independence Party.”
David Carlebach of the Carlebach Law Group, based in Manhattan, who also represents the plaintiffs, said the Independence Party is tired of the “Republican establishment” working for itself and not the people.
“I find that anytime somebody tries to quelch my due process rights is because they are terrified,” Carlebach said. “They are terrified at what’s going to come out before the election.”