On Thursday morning, I sat in Judge John W. Carter’s courtroom as he listened to lawyers’ rebuttal of the special referee’s report recommending denial of Petitioner’s motion in Jones v Blake, a residency challenge filed against Michael Blake, a Bronx Assembly candidate running in the upcoming Democratic Primary.
Arguing for the plaintiff, Carolyn Jones (a former co-worker from a decade ago), was Robert M. Harding. Mr. Harding told the Court that “manifestation of intent” by Mr. Blake should not begin when he decided to become a candidate.
Citing a phrase (“You’re always from The Bronx”) in the referee’s report that seemly provided the rationale for the referee’s recommendation denying plaintiff’s motion, Harding said “being from the Bronx doesn’t give a special exemption” to the state residency requirement.
Harding went on to say that when Blake’s immediate boss, Rahm Emanuel faced a residency challenge in his run for mayor of Chicago, Mr. Emanuel prevailed because he maintained an Illinois residence, voted and filed taxes in Chicago. Harding pointed out that Blake’s manifestation of intent was to be anywhere but The Bronx, NY.
In her rebuttal, Blake’s attorney Sarah K. Steiner, conceded that Blake’s various tax returns were a mess and dismissed them as irrelevant. She argued that Petitioner did not prove her case. Steiner claimed that the state constitution provides an exemption for federal service.
Steiner stated that the “best and brightest from #Bronx” shouldn’t lose state residence in order to serve the President. She went on to pull “poorest congressional district” card to explain what Blake’s return signifies. She concluded that Blake never “abandoned” his parents’ homes as Mr. Harding claimed. I half-expected Ms. Steiner to make a “prodigal son” reference.
In his closing rebuttal, Harding referred to the Calcaterra case where the Second Department Appellate Division found that Ms. Calcaterra lived, worked and paid taxes in Pennsylvania in the years prior to running for state senate.
Lastly, Harding again focused on Blake’s federal tax return for 2012 where he gave the Obama For America campaign’s Chicago headquarters as his residential address.
In her closing, Ms. Steiner reminded Judge Carter of the recent Teachout ruling which put that insurgent on the ballot in the race for governor. (As I recall those facts: Teachout lived, worked and paid yearly nonresident taxes in NYS. Mr. Blake didn’t until 2013.)
From where I sat, I could see Stanley Kalmon Schlein, the longtime election lawyer representing the Bronx Democratic County organization, squirming in his seat. Schlein was visibly anxious to be in that first chair making the rebuttal argument.
But unlike Roy Hobbs, Stanley would not come off the bench this day.
[It’s interesting to note that Judge Carter didn’t seem to come to life until Mr. Schlein took his usual place at the Plaintiff’s table in the case that followed. Judge Carter jokingly thanked Stanley for being the first to stand up when he entered the courtroom. Mutual respect???]
Chief referee, John Segretti announced that Judge Carter’s decision in all five of the election cases heard on Thursday will be handed down Friday afternoon. The rulings will be available in the County Clerk’s office.
Michael Benjamin is a columnist and blogger as well as a former state legislator who represented the 79 AD, 2003-2010.