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Posted Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Haitian-Born Candidate Wins Again in Brooklyn
By Jonathan P. Hicks

In a highly unusual second special election yesterday to fill a vacant City Council seat in central Brooklyn, Mathieu Eugene was once again the winner. The election paves the way for him to become the first Haitian-born member of the Council.

In the three-candidate race, Dr. Eugene, a physician who runs a youth program in Brooklyn, won with 51 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results supplied by the New York City Board of Elections. The second-place candidate, Harry L. Schiffman, had nearly 25 percent of the vote, and Wellington Sharpe received 24 percent.

“We have made history today,” Dr. Eugene told supporters last night at a large catering hall in the Flatbush section of the district. “The road we have traveled has not been an easy one. But we never quit.”

The Council seat in this heavily Caribbean-American enclave of Brooklyn became vacant after the incumbent, Yvette D. Clarke, was elected to the House of Representatives last fall. The congresswoman was a strong supporter of Dr. Eugene, as was her mother, Una S. T. Clarke, who was the first Jamaican-born woman elected to the Council. Dr. Eugene was also heavily supported by 1199 S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East, the politically influential health care union.

Yesterday’s nonpartisan election capped a turbulent political period in the 40th Council District, which includes Crown Heights. Dr. Eugene was the winner of a 10-candidate special election on Feb. 20, but questions about his residency arose immediately after the election. Dr. Eugene maintained that though he had lived in Canarsie, he had signed a lease and moved into an apartment in the district soon after Feb. 1.

The City Charter is silent on residency requirements, and the state’s Election Law and Public Officers Law are also vague. Indeed, that first election of Dr. Eugene sparked widespread debate on the point at which a candidate must establish residency. The debate involved everyone from Council members and lawyers specializing in election law to the state attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo.

In the end, Mr. Cuomo said that under his interpretation of the law, a candidate must establish residency by the date of the election. And Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, adopted that view.

Dr. Eugene refused to sign an affidavit — a new requirement following the attorney general’s pronouncement — saying simply that he met residency requirements.

He declined to provide a copy of the lease and other information to the Council. And the Council said he could not be sworn in unless he provided a host of information substantiating his residency claims.

Rather than fight the matter in court, Dr. Eugene declined to take the seat, leading Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to declare the seat vacant again and call for a second special election. Dr. Eugene immediately announced that he would run in the second special election. Mr. Schiffman and Mr. Sharpe had also run in the first special election.

Despite his victory, it seems that Dr. Eugene will not be able to take office for several weeks.

Maria Alvarado, a spokeswoman for the City Council, said that the Councilman-elect would not be sworn in until the Board of Elections certifies his election. By that time, she said, the Councilman-elect must also provide a signed affidavit stating that he meets the requirements for holding the office, including residency.

Valerie Vasquez-Rivera, a spokeswoman for the New York City Board of Elections, said the results would not likely be certified until “the second or third week of May.” She said that all the outstanding paper ballots must be counted before the results are certified.

The campaign of Dr. Eugene said yesterday that he will sign the affidavit this time. “He intends to cooperate with whatever the City Council determines to be their process for someone taking his seat in the Council,” said Scott Levenson, a political consultant to Dr. Eugene’s campaign.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, New York Region, of Wednesday, April 25, 2007.

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