Demetreus Nix is serious about changing the Niagara Falls political landscape. He’s so serious he’s hired a well-known Buffalo lawyer to help him do it.
Libertarian Lawyer Represents Nix
James Ostrowski is a trial and appellate lawyer and author who is no stranger to politics. He ran for Governor of New York in 1994 on the Libertarian line, but did not get the nomination, coming in second to media personality Howard Stern.
Ostrowski filed a petition with the Supreme Court, Niagara County, on Tuesday, seeking to restore Demetreus Nix and his political ally and city council candidate Uniquia Lewis to the Democratic party primary ballot. The primary is set for June 27.
The lawsuit claims Nix and Lewis were improperly bounced from the ballot by the Niagara County Board of Elections and its commissioners, Democrat Lora Allen and Republican Jennifer Sandonato.
“Our priority was to get this case into court. The Legislature only allows for three days, which is a very short time. It’s something very difficult to do,” Ostrowski said.
Supreme Court Justice Edward A. Pace signed an Order to Show Cause calling for the parties to appear in the Lockport court next Friday, May 5.
“My clients want their day in court. We have reserved the right to challenge every ruling the Board has made,” Ostrowski said.
Election Commissioners Allen and Sandonato issued a Notice of Determination that Nix and Lewis did not submit enough valid signatures to qualify for the June election. Though the duo, branding themselves as part of the ‘We All We Got’ movement, submitted almost 800 signatures to the Board, less than 500 were legitimate, the commissioners said.
One of the issues Ostrowski says is important is notice. Nix and Lewis were not informed of the commissioner’s meeting on their petitions, were not issued a Clerk’s report, and were not privy to the Board’s line-by-line signature rulings.
“We know the Board disqualified many signatures. But beyond the specific objections, we have no notice of why they ruled the way they did,” Ostrowski said.
Justice Pace’s order directed Election Commissioners Allen and Sandonato to “appear on the return date of this petition and on any return date thereafter prepared to give testimony and evidence.”
The order also commanded that all materials related to Nix’s and Lewis’ candidacies in possession of the Board be brought to the courthouse for inspection.
Voter Registration Controversy
Attorney Ostrowski said there was an important voter registration issue likely to be explored.
During March and April, political candidates in New York State collect petition signatures from voters in order to appear on their political party’s primary ballot.
Nix and Lewis, both Democrats, engaged in a significant voter registration campaign. “Petitioners were responsible for securing the registration of hundreds of new voters in the City of Niagara Falls, many of whom chose to be enrolled in the Democratic Party,” the court documents state.
In addition, the pair solicited ballot access signatures from party members throughout Niagara Falls.
“We were out there in rain, sleet, and snow registering voters and getting signatures,” said Lewis.
The pair would collect new voter registrations from the community during the week, and each following Monday, they would drop them off at the Board of Election’s Lockport office.
Then, Nix and Lewis would wait a few days, return to newly-registered voters, and get their signatures for the ballot access petition. The candidates thought this procedure would work, because Board officials told them it was legitimate.
“Petitioners were told by the Respondent, Niagara County Board of Elections, and specifically by Commissioner Jennifer Sandonato, that new voters would be officially registered and enrolled the next business day after a new registration form was hand-delivered to the Lockport office,” the lawsuit says.
Nix and Lewis claim Sandonato also said new voters registered and enrolled in the Democratic Party could legally sign their designating petition on or after the following business day.
Based on what election officials said, the pair submitted hundreds of signatures from new voters in this way.
New Voters? Not Really.
Thirty-two-year-old Vincent Auricchio is one of the new voters Demetreus Nix enrolled. He lives in the same apartment building as Nix and has lived in Niagara Falls all his life.
Auricchio says he signed two new voter registrations, but only one went through. The Board of Elections didn’t process the first and is calling the second one invalid. His voter status is listed as “inactive” because his “identification has not yet been verified.”
“I included my address and my social security number both times,” Auricchio said.
The newly enrolled Niagara Falls native is discouraged about his “inactive” status. “This is why I don’t vote. There’s always some underlying politics,” Auricchio said.
Auricchio says he follows city meetings and is particularly concerned with the misuse of city money.
“All the money goes to the parks, and nothing goes to the youth. The downtown area is struggling. The mayor has all this money, and they don’t do nothing for us,” Auricchio said.
He believes Nix is trying to do good for the community.
“I feel like the [the Board of Elections] are suppressing us. It’s almost like they are scared to let Demetreus in. What is he going to unveil? What are they hiding?”
Johnnie Deshawn Davis, III, 21, also never voted before. Nix was the reason he signed up.
“I want to support him because he’s changing Niagara Falls. Everyone wants to see changes.”
Davis also signed a voter registration, hand-delivered to the Board’s Lockport offices by Nix. He, too, is tagged “inactive” on the Board’s website.
Davis also claims he entered his social security number on his new voter registration.
“I’m no imposter,” Davis said, producing his New York State Driver’s License.
Davis wants to vote because he wants to see the city do more with the youth and bring crime rates down. He is concerned his vote won’t count on election day because of “politics.”
Strong Words By Nix
Nix thinks the Board’s decision to exclude him from the ballot is voter suppression.
“This is voter suppression that has happened so many times before. As soon as we start to care, stuff like this happens and pushed us away. They are trying to keep our vote down because they feel the power of the awoken people is dangerous,” the mayoral hopeful said.
The candidate is happy to take this case to court. If he didn’t, he believes no one would have known about the new voter registration “funny business,” and on Election Day, “their votes would have never counted.”
He claims only he and his political allies are being targeted.
“Out of all the people who got challenged, it only was ‘We All We Got Movement’ candidates. Race is more than a factor,” Nix said.
Nix says the case is about bringing information and resources to the people. He says he is exposing what happens by the government in a Restaino administration.
“The Restainos are undercover Republicans who have been living off the public tit and holding our city hostage for many years. They like black votes, but not blacks running for office. They’re afraid we’ll shut down the Restaino family employment agency,” said the current mayor’s would-be opponent.
The Niagara County Democratic Committee endorsed incumbent Mayor Restaino. He will face former Councilman Glenn Choolokian in the June 27 primary election, with Nix potentially in the race if he wins his lawsuit.
The Democratic winner will face retired Deputy Police Chief and Air Force veteran Carl Cain, the Republican candidate, in the general election on November 7.
Nix is circulating Independent Nominating Petitions for his own ballot line in the fall.
Uniqua Lewis, along with candidate Michael Murphy, also plans to run for city council on the ‘We All We Got’ line.