Residency: Another Way That Incumbents Knock Insurgent Challengers Off the Ballot (Part 1 of 2)

Residency requirement rules vary from office to office; there is no one-size-fit-all standard. Rule of thumb is that you move into the district at least one year before the primary; this however doesn’t insulate you from charges of being a “carpetbagger”. Voters usually like to support those who have lengthy connections to the area they seek to represent, and as such incumbents often try to bring the residency of insurgents into play when looking for an edge or a knockout. In the current 11th Congressional race in Brooklyn, David Yassky’s residency has come up for scrutiny within the imbroglio. However, there is another race in Brooklyn where the residency factor may actually be more decisive than the voter’s choices. This race may be won or lost in the courthouse and not in the voting booth.

In the 58th Assembly District, businessman Wellington Sharpe filed petitions against incumbent Nick Perry, hoping to do what no one has done in 14 years: unseat Nick. As I predicted in an earlier column: it’s not going to be easy for Sharpe.

Nick Perry has filed to have Sharpe knocked off the ballot based on residency. Attorney Mitch Alter will have to defend Sharpe in court very soon.

The issue centers around one of at least five properties that Sharpe owns in Brooklyn. In 1999, Sharpe unsuccessfully ran for School Board from his mother’s address, and subsequently ran from the same address for the 20th State Senate District (twice/2000and2002). Until late 2002 he was always registered there as a voter-doing this immediately upon becoming an American citizen. He also ran from there for the 40th City Council District (2001). He explained that this was where he had held his residency from the time he migrated to the USA; over 25 years or so. He went to college from that address and always held it as his primary residency, even as he bought up properties in other parts of Brooklyn. He is very close to his mother, siblings and other relatives. They are a close-knit family.

Then in late 2002 Sharpe fully changed his residency to the house in which he lived in the 58thAssembly District (Clarendon Road). This was one of the properties that he owned. I can verify that I have known him for over 15 years. We have served on many boards together, and we have also held parallel memberships in various organizations over the years. Collaboratively, we have been involved in at least a half dozen political clubs and organizations, and we have worked jointly on quite a few political campaigns over these years. I have slept right there on the man’s couch, three or four times-in the heat of many a campaign- whenever I was too tired to go home. I know the house/home. I have known his wife and his two kids for years. His son is an attorney working in the DA’s office in Brooklyn, and his daughter is currently enrolled in medical-school in Guyana. Sharpe has been here most of the years I have known him.

Somewhere around 2003, Sharpe purchased a property on Schenectady Avenue in Brooklyn. It is two blocks or so, outside the 58th District. In fact it’s in the 41st AD. He totally renovated the property, investing quite a bit of money. Now, I don’t profess to know the arrangements that Sharpe holds with his mother, brothers, sisters, kids and other relatives, as it relates to properties, investments and such; it’s not my place to know these things. However, I can tell you that he did say that he was doing a lot of these “development things” for his kids and relatives, more so than for himself; but again that’s his business.

In 2004, he decided to challenge Kevin Parker for the 21st Senatorial District. There was some bad blood there between those two that could have been the catalyst for the challenge. Nick Perry was supporting Kevin Parker in that race. Between the Parker/Perry forces, word was put on the streets that Sharpe was a “carpetbagger”, and that he was put in the race to draw off black votes from Parker, in order to let Noach Dear win the seat. The fact that Sharpe had a long track record of community activism, and was also a member of the community board was minimized and trivialized. The other allegation was proven false in a court of law, after Sharpe sued Parker for slander, libel and such. These rumors-and others- hurt Sharpe’s meager chances of an upset. When the race was over, Parker was reelected. His margin of victory was three or four percentage points over Dear- who came in second. Sharpe only mustered 14% of the vote. He was pissed. Some of us felt he was going to challenge Perry next time around, no matter what; come hell or high water. He was really pissed; he felt that Perry was the architect of the rumor-mill. He even mentioned the way Perry did in Una Clarke when she ran for Congress.

Now remember that Una Clarke, Nick Perry and Wellington Sharpe are all Jamaican-born political activists, and as such they all know how to play hard-ball politics, just as it its played down on the island. Lat year, Nick Perry announced that he was running for Congress-effectively relinquishing his assembly seat if he ran. Sharpe immediately announced that he was running to replace Perry. Then Perry quit the congressional race and decided to seek re-election. And now we are here- after a skirmish or two, or three.

Perry claims that Sharpe sold one residence and moved in to the other. He also claims that Sharpe has made the Schenectady Ave. house his primary residence. Very soon a judge will render a verdict after a trial. That’s when we will know if there will be a race or not.

Stay tuned-in folks.