A Democratic judge this week described Democratic state Senate candidate Regina Calcaterra as a “courageous, impressive, successful woman who overcame so many adversities” — and then threw her off the November ballot,
State Supreme Court Justice John Bivona “reluctantly” ruled Monday that Ms. Calcaterra fails to meet the state constitutional requirement of having maintained a residence within the state for five consecutive years before running for a seat in the state Legislature. The judge’s decision focused on a period of seven months — November 2005 to May 2006 — when Ms. Calcaterra, an attorney, lived in Pennsylvania while working for a Philadelphia law firm on a New York pension case.
The judge noted that during that time, Ms. Calcaterra surrendered her New York driver’s license, voted and obtained a divorce in Pennsylvania and maintained a bank account in that state. When filing her income taxes in Pennsylvania, the candidate listed herself as non-resident of New York.
After heaping praise on Ms. Calcaterra, Judge Bivona concluded his decision with the suggestion that the New Suffolk resident still had a bright future.
He wrote, “Perhaps, as William Cullen Bryant stated: ‘Difficulty is a nurse of greatness.’â”
Despite the ruling, she and her supporters remained focused on this campaign season and an appearance next Tuesday before a panel of state Appellate Division judges in Brooklyn. At that time, Ms. Calcaterra’s attorneys will argue that Judge Bivona ignored case law establishing a candidate’s right to claim more than one residence.
“She never relinquished her residence in New York,” said campaign spokesman Andrew Moesel. “She paid taxes in New York, she practiced in New York and she also maintained a residence in New York. We hope that the appellate court judges interpret the law as we believe it should be interpreted.”
A decision is expected quickly, by Wednesday or Thursday, Mr. Moesel said. Should her appeal fail, Ms. Calcaterra could petition to be heard by the state Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court. But that court could decide not to take the case, automatically affirming the Appellate Division ruling.
Should Judge Bivona’s decision stand, incumbent Republican Senator Kenneth LaValle would run without a major party opponent for the second consecutive election. One of the senior members of the Senate’s GOP delegation, Mr. LaValle is in his 32nd year in office.
His campaign had little to say in reaction to this week’s court ruling.
“Senator LaValle is busy representing the people of his district, doing the job he was elected to do,” said campaign manager Joanne Scalia. “He welcomes the debate with whoever the candidate might be.”
The Calcaterra residency issue was first raised by Democrat Greg Fischer of Calverton. His attempt to force Ms. Calcaterra into a Sept. 14 Democratic primary fell short when the Suffolk Board of Elections ruled that he had filed his nominating petitions a day late. A state Supreme Court justice dismissed his appeal. Meanwhile, he wrote the Board of Elections complaining that Ms. Calcaterra had not been a state resident for the five consecutive years required for candidacy.
After the elections board certified Ms. Calcaterra’s petitions, two Brookhaven residents, both Republicans, took the residency question to court. Although he ruled in their favor, Judge Bivona “expressly and vehemently rejects” the claim by Mary Magnifico and Maria Re-Kilmartin that Ms. Calcaterra perpetrated a “fraud” on a Pennsylvania court by pursuing her divorce in that state.
The judge also had harsh words for the Brookhaven Town residents’ attorneys, Leventhal and Sliney of Roslyn, for describing Ms. Calcaterra’s New York State Senate candidacy as a “sham.”
There was “absolutely not one scintilla of evidence” offered to support that claim, Judge Bivona wrote. “Such shameful allegations leveled against a courageous, impressive, successful woman who overcame so many adversities are totally ignoble, serving only to discredit [the two residents] and the election process.”
Raised in Brookhaven Town in homeless shelters and foster homes, Ms. Calcaterra rose to become a partner in the Barrack, Rodos and Bacine law firm of Philadelphia.
“I was born in Suffolk County, raised in Suffolk County and I pay property taxes in Suffolk County,” Ms. Calcaterra was quoted as saying in a statement released by her campaign. “The court has ample evidence that, even as I temporarily owned a home in Pennsylvania, I lived in New York, paid taxes here and represented a New York pension fund in a case that saved New York taxpayers millions of dollars.”
She has said she bought a house in New Hope, Pa., only to be able to drive easily to both Long Island and Philadelphia, where she was handling a complex legal case. It was her ownership of that house, which she sold in 2007, that gave her challengers a basis for their claims against her qualifications to run under New York State law. They noted she registered to vote there and had a Pennsylvania driver’s license for a time.
Her spokesman described the residency challenge as “another insider political trick to stop real reform in Albany.”