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Letters to the Editor — July 1, 2021
Fix the NYC Board of Elections or face endless mayhem
An ex-con busted for robbery as a teen is among a group of employees of New York City’s embattled Board of Elections who cashed in with massive overtime payouts last year, records show.
The BOE, embarrassed by a huge gaffe in the vote count for the mayoral race, forked over $107,031 in overtime pay to Alvin Samuels in 2020 on top of his salary of $106,627, according to records compiled for The Post by the Empire Center for Public Policy.
“That’s just extraordinary, bringing in that much overtime. I can’t imagine what he’s doing for that much overtime,” said Ken Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College and a former Democratic district leader.
Samuels, an administrative associate, was among 10 BOE employees pulling in more than $60,000 in overtime last year at the agency which has long been assailed as a patronage mill.
Antonio Ortiz Jr., a senior systems analyst, worked a whopping 2,342 overtime hours and took home $164,791 in extra pay, dwarfing his regular salary of $116,128. The payout was not an anomaly. The previous year he got $139,475 in overtime.
Abiodun Ogunwale, a computer specialist, got $114,440 in overtime in 2020; Arturo Martinez, a senior computer programmer, received $96,739; and William Cardona, an associate staff analyst, took home $95,128.
Samuels is a prime example of a worker landing a gig with the BOE because of political connections — and in spite of his past.
He joined the agency in 1993 shortly after serving six years in state prison for his role in the armed robbery of a store clerk who was killed in the stickup, according to state records and a published report.
Samuels was initially charged with second-degree murder, though he was not the triggerman, according to Newsday, which noted in 2001 that he was then the BOE’s highest overtime earner.
He got the job with the help of a Democratic district leader in Manhattan who knew him from the neighborhood and wanted to give him a second chance, the paper reported.
But Samuels was back in the clink in 1997 after he allegedly beat up his girlfriend, also a Board of Elections employee. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and possession of a 9mm handgun.
He kept his job while serving nine months at Rikers Island, and got paid $7,624 in leave during his stretch behind bars, Newsday said. He was named as the acting deputy chief clerk in the Manhattan office in 2014.
Samuels told The Post he was the manager of the board’s Manhattan office and opened and closed the facility, but had nothing to do with the mayoral vote count. He said he had to work extra hours last year to oversee the implementation of pandemic safety measures.
He declined to address his past, referring questions to a BOE spokeswoman.
Overtime was so hefty it made up 16, 23 and 19 percent of total wages in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively, the Empire Center found.
All that extra work did not stop the agency from botching the presidential primary when it was unprepared to process the number of mail-in ballots, and some 80,000 votes were disqualified.
Tim Hoefer, the center’s CEO, said the overtime pay was way above what might be considered sound management.
“Overtime costs that hover at, or around, 20 percent of total payroll is eye popping. Ultimately, taxpayers pay the price, so BOE should explain these exorbitant costs,” he said.
The Board of Elections has been under scrutiny since it was forced to scrap the tallies it released Tuesday with the results of ranked choice votes in the mayor’s race, saying “human error” caused about 135,000 test ballots to be included in the count.
The agency is overseen by 10 commissioners who are selected by the Republican and Democratic parties. The staff has been led by a deputy, Dawn Sandow — described by one insider as “a disaster” — after its executive director took a medical leave.
“It’s just totally appalling and ridiculous and embarrassing,” said Ruth Messinger, the former Manhattan borough president, of the BOE’s mismanagement.
“It’s been this way forever — a partisan clubhouse with nepotistic appointments with no overruling expertise.”
Valerie Vazquez, a BOE spokeswoman, defended the overtime saying the agency has a limited staff “who are willing to work around the clock when necessary” and that 2020 was a historic year because of the presidential election and the pandemic.
“NYC BOE never once closed its doors and our heroic employees — essential workers — worked throughout this time to ensure that we met our statutory mandate to conduct all required elections,” she said.
She did not address Samuels’ employment.
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