It was something between a circus and a stampede.
Soon after the circus of journalists who threw themselves at comeback politician Eliot Spitzer as he filed his petitions in the city comptroller’s race Thursday night, the New York City Board of Elections office became the scene of another mad rush: campaign staffers and candidates, some breathless and sweating, scrambling to file their petitions before the looming deadline.
“There are similarities in my mind between candidates and horse betters,” said Felicia Hakitis, a clerk working with the Board of Elections that night, who said she had previously worked at Off Track Betting.
“The politicians sit there and calculate in their minds until the last minute. Then the horse starts racing.”
Under city election law, candidates registered to partake in the citywide election this fall had until midnight Thursday to file piles of petitions on which voters had registered their support.
The stakes are high. For incumbents as well as newcomers under New York’s strict rules, those who don’t meet the deadline see their campaign suddenly collapse as their names get removed from the ballot.
Voters will not only elect their mayor this November, but also 51 members of the New York City Council, five borough presidents, the city comptroller and the public advocate.
Thursday night, as the deadline approached, staffers and candidates, piles of green petition forms in hand, could be seen nervously pacing as they waited in line to hand in the documents.
“There is certainly a lot of hustle and bustle,” Board of Elections communications director Valerie Vazquez had warned earlier that night. “I’ve heard of candidates trying to slip their petition under the door in the past.”
The polite chatter on the Board of Election’s lower Manhattan office gradually swelled into an agitated hubbub of voices as the deadline approached.
“If you’re filing please come to this door!” an employee shouted at 11:56, sending a latecomer City Council candidate in the Bronx’s District 16, Walter Newsome, into a noticeable frenzy. “You’ve got four minutes!”
“And you won’t become mayor if you don’t file,” whispered a grinning security guard.
“I got a lot of signatures today — I have to verify them,” said Newsome, his staff and family pressing him to file as he checked the papers. “Walter, come on!” said Vonnie Newsome.
Newsome would file in time. But there was more to come. At 11:59, City Council candidate in District 42, Donnezzetta Brown, donning denim overalls and an orange short-sleeved shirt, sprinted out of the elevator to a closing door.
“I got off at the wrong metro stop,” she said, huffing, puffing and sweating large drops of water.
“It’s my fault: my mother told me to stop at 10 o’clock and I pushed it till 10:15,” she said.
“I was over at the Target and they were signing, they were signing. I got greedy.”
Asked what lesson she had learned, Brown chuckled: “Listen to your mother.”