Defeated Riviera Beach mayor requests look at absentee ballots


By Sally Apgar
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted March 23 2007
 
Riviera Beach Alleging "absentee voter ballot fraud" committed by his challenger's winning campaign, Mayor Michael Brown on Thursday asked the state to investigate "irregularities" that he thinks "tainted the whole election."

Brown, an attorney who lost his bid for a fifth consecutive term as mayor March 13, said: "I believe there are votes that were illegally obtained."

 Letters sent to the state Division of Elections in Tallahassee and the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections, Brown asked for the investigation.

Brown has also asked that the runoff election for three City Council seats be postponed until any investigation is concluded. He said he doubts that is possible.

Supervisor of Elections Arthur Anderson said Tuesday's runoff election could be stopped "only by court order."

Brown was defeated by Bishop Thomas A. Masters, a community activist and pastor of the New Macedonia Baptist Church.

Masters and his campaign have denied Brown's allegations.

"This boils down to sour grapes," said Richard Giorgio, Masters' campaign consultant. "There's no legal basis for Brown's allegations. And even if you threw out the absentee votes, it wouldn't change the outcome of the election."

Masters won with 3,302 votes, or 54.4 percent of the vote, compared to Brown's 2,461 votes, or 40.58 percent of the vote. A third candidate, Margaret Shepherd, had 302 votes.

Masters garnered 408 absentee ballots compared to 152 for Brown. If Masters' absentees votes were discounted and Brown's remained, Masters would still control 51.6 percent of the vote. If absentee votes were thrown out for all three candidates, Masters would win with 54.4 percent of the vote.

To support his challenge, Brown submitted affidavits from voters who said they did not request absentee ballots but received them or were given them by Masters' campaign workers. In a few cases, he alleges voters appeared at the polls and were told their ballots were already cast as absentees.

Brown alleges the Masters campaign had blank absentee ballots obtained in the name of registered voters that were then used to get Masters into office.

Giorgio denied those allegations. Masters could not be reached for comment.

Brown said that if an investigation shows there was "widespread absentee ballot abuse," it would not only taint the mayor's race but also the council races and two critical referendum questions over the fate of the Ocean Mall and the last public beach on Singer Island. Voters overwhelmingly decided that building height on the beach should be limited to five stories, which could doom a pet project of Brown and developer Daniel Catalfumo.

The project is slated to build a 28-story Marriott resort hotel and raze the Ocean Mall, replacing it with 60,000 square feet of new retail space.

Catalfumo could not be reached for comment on the project.

Brown, who has championed the Catalfumo project as the first step in a controversial $2.4 billion waterfront revitalization plan for the city, was dead-set against the referendum. Mayor-elect Masters not only supported the referendum in speeches, but he helped in the October petition drive to gather signatures to get the question on the ballot.

Brown said the campaign driving the referendum "was in with Masters."

"They were all working together using absentee ballots," said Brown.

Sally Apgar can be reached at sapgar@sun-sentinel.com or 561-228-5506.