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Golden ally issued deceptive robocalls in county chairman race

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A top advisor to state Sen. Martin Golden (R–Bay Ridge) admitted in court on May 9 to sending out deceptive robocalls during last year’s contentious Republican party county chairman contest in an attempt to tip the scales for his boss’s preferred winner.

James McClelland, a political adviser to the Brooklyn pol, sent calls to party members ahead of a Sept. 30 convention implying ballots they had previously filled out were not valid and instructing them to toss their votes — called “proxies” in political lingo — and wait for party leaders to send them the “official” ballots.

“Please do not sign and return the postcard proxy you recently received in the mail,” McClelland told party members without identifying himself during a Sept. 23 round of robocalls. “Over the next few days, your district leader or representative will contact you personally to have you sign the official proxy. Thank you in advance for your cooperation and service to the Republican party.”

It’s the latest revelation in an ongoing power struggle between former party chairman Craig Eaton and Golden that is playing out in court.

Eaton-backed former Assemblyman Arnaldo Ferraro beat Golden-backed Ted Ghorra in the Sept. 30 contest after party officials invalidated more than 400 votes for Ghorra.

Both sides claimed victory — going so far as to hold competing meetings where Ferraro and Ghorra both acted as chairman. And Ghorra took Ferraro to court over the 400 tossed votes.

But the litigative gambit backfired when McClelland admitted he helped Ghorra obtain the votes through deception. Ferraro attorney Ezra Glaser asked McClelland if the robocall — specifically with the use of the word “official” — was orchestrated to confuse people into believing they had signed an incorrect ballot and should re-sign their names on the “official” one for Ghorra.

“Yes,” McClelland said under sworn testimony.

An erstwhile Golden ally who received three of McClelland’s robocalls believes they were designed to manipulate people, he said.

“The whole purpose of that robocall was to convince people that there was something wrong with that proxy,” said former Golden political consultant Gerry O’Brien. “There are no ‘official’ or ‘unofficial proxies.’ There are valid and or invalid — but when you say, ‘Don’t sign that proxy, because there’s something wrong with it — this is the official proxy,’ it’s misleading and it’s fraudulent.”

Testimony ended May 10, and now Supreme Court judge Edgar Walker will decide the party’s next boss.

Golden declined to comment.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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