Queens District Attorney candidate Betty Lugo, a former prosecutor, is being sued for allegedly breaching her contract with her former lead campaign petitioner Robert Hunter, a longtime political campaigner, a retired teacher and Vietnam War veteran.
The small claims suit against Lugo is for nearly $3,200 for unpaid services to Hunter and three other campaign petitioners, according to the over 30-year veteran political campaigner.
Queens County Politics reached out to Lugo for comment but did not get a response about the lawsuit.
Problems between the two former Brooklyn residents started with the beginning of the campaign during February.
A federal lawsuit in 2012 resulted in non-state or gubernatorial primaries being moved to June.
For Hunter, 73, that meant having to petition in the dead of winter in order to help Lugo get on the ballot in April.
“The first day that we did petitions it was five degrees and snowing,” said Hunter. “The first day that we did petitions we got eight or nine signatures. Nobody wanted to talk to you. It was cold, it was bone chilling cold.”
When Hunter was hired he received a retainer and a contract to help with Lugo’s campaign. The $1,500 retainer was for helping to develop a game plan to get as many signatures as possible throughout Queens.
The $1,500 to Hunter was accounted for in Lugo’s campaign financial disclosure, according to the New York Board of Elections’ website.
“I started working way before you started doing petitions because there is a lot of prepping that you have to do,” said Hunter, who in the past concentrated his campaigning efforts in Brooklyn. “I had to look up which trains we were going to, what sites we were going to be at, what hours we would work and determine who was working them.”
Hunter moved to Far Rockaway approximately five years ago and felt that campaigning in Queens was a completely different beast than what he was used to in Brooklyn.
“It takes time. Mind you I’ve got Queens and I don’t know it that well, but it took me a long time to map it out, identify where the hot areas [that the voters were] at, what subways stations to go, what the bus stops were and what malls we should go to. You got to do your homework. Then that’s where you put your best folks at.”
Hunter also had a $2,000 contract with Lugo for the physical legwork that took place in mid-February where he would also help to get signatures and manage 13 to 14 other petitioners on the ground. The petitioners were hired to work on average four hours a day for six days a week and get paid $20 per hour. The goal was to get close to 20,000 signatures before the April deadline. The minimum required is 4,000 signatures.
Hunter had hired the additional petitioners as per his contract, but because some of his team was from Brooklyn and weather reports the day before petitioning had mentioned the frigid temperatures, only seven members made the trek to Queens.
“Petitions were usually done in the summer months,” said Hunter. “She hired me to get 14 petitioners and to get x amount of signatures in 30 days. We were not thinking about it being the dead of winter. On average you usually get 60 signatures, but in the cold, we were getting 20.”
After a week, Hunter realized he was not going to make the quota with just seven others and set out to hire another team to help collect signatures, but before he went about that he hired Gary Tilzer, a Queens’ campaigner who was familiar with the bylaws of elections in the borough to properly have the signatures laid out on a cover sheet, or an official document to present to the state BOE.
There were no problems with the 561 signatures that were collected by his small team, according to Hunter. However, the form Tilzer sent had Lugo’s Maspeth home address wrong.
“The committee blamed me for the error even though I gave Mr. Tilzer the correct address,” said Hunter. “It was just that one thing. Even though it was wrong we could cure it and how you cure it is like how you clean petitions. You cross out the address, put the correct address and initial both sides of the letter. The candidate, not understanding politics said they were no good and said you had to throw them out.”
While correcting the form, Hunter reached out to Ronald Maurice Bean also known as Allah Mathematics, a hip-hop producer for the Wu-Tang Clan who resides in L.I., that brought in over 40 petitioners to help with Lugo’s campaign.
“I contacted him knowing I was in trouble and that time was running out and we needed at least 30 people,” said Hunter. “We had a large meeting in St. Albans making it nearly 50 people altogether.”
Bean and his team were hired promptly and Hunter and his team were fired, according to the war veteran.
Bean received five payments from March to April that totaled $29,502 under his stage name, according to campaign finance records. Lugo had filed 9,741 and 5,605 were considered valid, according to the BOE.
Some of Hunter’s team took checks from Lugo for less than what they were owed, few were paid the correct amount, one person was overpaid, but the retired teacher and three other petitioners refused to get less than what they had worked and filed a lawsuit April 15.
“I don’t think they should take it. Nobody should take it,” said Hunter of some of the petitioners.
Hunter had hoped to quietly settle for what he and his team was owed without interest, but they have not received an offer for settlement from Lugo and he intends to take his claim to court.
“I did not want to do this. I held off as long as I can,” said Hunter. “You’re talking about wanting to be the district attorney and you can’t pay people who worked for you in five degrees weather. I wouldn’t vote for her if she was running for dog catcher.”
The Queens District Attorney race is June 25th.