Normally a political candidate challenges his or her opponent, if possible, to try to knock them off the ballot. But Melanie D’Arrigo, a would-be Democratic challenger to US Congressman Tom Suozzi (D Glen Cove), recently distinguished herself by filing legal challenges against the validity of her own campaign petitions. If successful, she would have knocked herself off the ballot.
This misfire - or publicity stunt - which has since been withdrawn, speaks to both D’Arrigo’s erratic campaign and the hurdles faced by candidates challenging incumbents during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
The source of the loopy challenges have now been identified as coming from D’Arrigo campaign operative, Peter Johnson, who is the spouse of D’Arrigo's new campaign manager Tracey Belcher.
D’Arrigo claims that her campaign’s intent was to challenge the petitions and signatures contained therein for ballot placement of her Democratic Party opponents: Rep. Tom Suozzi, and attorney Michael Weinstock. She claims that the error resulted from “new deadlines, working hard, taking care of children, and miscommunication caused by the coronavirus pandemic..."
But New York Senate Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs isn't buying it - rejecting any innocent explanation for D’Arrigo’s maneuver. Accusing her of attempting to file a fake complaint against herself so that she could then falsely “play the victim,” Jacobs called her actions “absolutely outrageous,” and the attempt to “deceive the public and make it seem like” Congressman Tom Suozzi was attacking her.
The third candidate, Michael Weinstock also fumed at D’Arrigo’s flimsy explanation. “Melanie should be ashamed of herself for pulling a stunt like this during a serious health crisis. I’m doing everything humanly possible to flatten the curve. I haven’t left my house in 10 days except for delivering groceries to senior citizens. And this afternoon I am forced to leave my house and stand around in a crowded post office,” to collect legal documents and respond to D’Arrigo’s fake petition challenge.
D’Arrigo, a first-time candidate, is running as a self-described “progressive Democrat” and claims to be a “community activist.” But she lives in a luxury home in an affluent, leafy, exclusive neighborhood in Port Washington.
Although D’Arrigo’s legal challenge to her own petitions for office may detract from the seriousness of her candidacy, it should also demonstrate the difficulties of campaigning at a time when teamworkby assembled campaign workers and officials is subordinated to coordination via email, phone, or Skype or Zoom conferencing as a result of stay at home restrictions. It also shows how miscues – or attempts at dirty tricks - can be magnified in the absence of opportunities for live campaigning and campaign events to generate normal publicity.