Hope for a Busted Voter
New York Daily News
November 6, 2002
By Gretchen Weber
A man convicted twice of illegal voting who says he's been unfairly targeted because of his politics has new hope now that a federal judge has agreed to hear his case.
Former lawyer and frequent Democratic primary challenger John O'Hara is the first New Yorker prosecuted on criminal voting charges since suffragist Susan B. Anthony was arrested for trying to cast a ballot in 1876, when women weren't allowed to vote.
"Obviously, it's political," said O'Hara, who has run five times against candidates backed by the Kings County Democratic organization - three times for the Assembly and twice for the City Council - and has supported other insurgents.
"Every year I was fielding candidates against the Democratic machine. When they [prosecuted] me, they eliminated a lot of candidates," he said. "It's a real Irish blood feud."
O'Hara was arrested on seven felony counts in October 1996 involving voter registration and voting in five separate elections from 1992 to 1993. Prosecutors say his crime was using an address that was illegal because it was not his permanent residence.
O'Hara said that he has kept the same Bay Ridge apartment on 61st St. since 1980, except for the year spanning 1992-1993, when he moved to 47th St. and changed his voter registration accordingly.
Accused of lying
Prosecutors have charged that because of redistricting in 1992, O'Hara lied about his residence - by claiming he moved in with a girlfriend - so that he would be eligible to participate in elections in the 51st Assembly District.
Yesterday, O'Hara denied this assertion.
His initial conviction in state Supreme Court in 1997 was overturned on appeal in 1998. A second prosecution brought by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes in 1999 ended in a hung jury, and at a third trial O'Hara was convicted again, which was upheld in a 2001 appeal.
Disbarred & fined
O'Hara was disbarred, given five years' probation, fined $20,000 and sentenced to 1,500 hours of community service. Now he works one day a week cleaning up garbage along Shore Road in Bay Ridge.
"It's extremely unusual," said Harry Kresky, an election lawyer for the past 20 years and state counsel for the New York Independence Party. Kresky said he has never seen someone criminally prosecuted for a voting offense. "I think it was a political attack," he said. "Mr. O'Hara's been a thorn in the side of the Brooklyn Democratic machine for a long time, and this was a payback."
"He was the whipping boy for the Kings County Democratic Party," said Sandra Roper, a candidate who lost in a primary challenge to Clarence Norman in September for his seat in the 43rd Assembly District.
"What was done to him was really outrageous. If there's a political challenger you don't want, then you knock them off the ballot - you don't put a felony against him and ruin his life."
Hynes has denied that the prosecution of O'Hara was politically motivated.
Federal Judge John Gleeson has scheduled oral arguments in the case for Dec. 20. He has demanded all the state court trial transcripts and briefs, and will require Hynes' office to defend its charges against O'Hara.