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Esposito charged with stiffing staffers

For campaign workers, numbers aren’t adding up, and it has nothing to do with votes.

This week, four former employees for Gerald Esposito, who were hired during the final month of the Democratic primary to help in his failed bid for the 34th City Council District (Williamsburg), submitted a formal complaint with the city’s Campaign Finance Board(CFB), claimingthe campaign failed to pay them for the hours they worked,despite reporting surpluses to the CFB.

“Whatever communication breakdown may have occurred, we feel that in addition to a violation of their pay contract with staffers, such uncertainty regarding campaign finances by high level staffers on the Gerry Esposito campaign may signal a more grievous mismanagement of campaign funds,” Joanna Greenberg, one of the former employees who filed the complaint on September 21, said in a release sent to this paper.

Interviews with several workers who canvassed for Esposito during the last month of the campaign revealed a similar story regarding delayed and inconsistent pay, arguments with staff members, and miscommunication. About 40 canvassers were hired just after Labor Day for the campaign’s final push, with the promise of earning $15 an hour at 60 hours per week.

During their initial pay cycle, campaign workers received checks for the hours they worked, but they began to notice warning signs that they would not be paid at previous levels. Several workers said that Evan Burr, a consultant hired by the campaign, informed them that they were expected to work 16-hour days, and if they left their polling site on election day, their pay would be cut from $15 to $10 an hour.Several calls made to Burr’s cell number and Campaign Manager Gary Tilzer’s number were unreturned.

“After the polls closed, Mr. Burr announced that workers would receive a flat rate of $200 for the entire day’s work,” said Andy Zuercher, one of the complainants.

On September 17, two days after the primary, many campaign workers received an e-mail from Julie Androshick, a senior Esposito campaign organizer, saying that she was not authorized to hire workers at $15 an hour that the campaign had “less money than was supposed,” when workers were hired, and that pay would be cut to $10 an hour for future checks.

“This will most likely upset you, so please feel free to vent. I know most of you worked very, very hard and had an expectation of a certain amount,” said Androshick in an e-mail sent to 16 campaign workers.“At the end of the day, our feeling is that it was better to be paid a lower rate than tell some people they would not be paid.”Androshick did not return several calls for comment.

Esposito, who has been raising funds for his Council run since December 2007, has spent $111,730 while reporting $91,424 in private funds, $85,195 in public matching funds as of September 22, leaving him with a surplus of $64,889.All candidates must file their final report for campaign spending on September 25.Esposito, when reached through his Community Board 1 office, where he is still district manager, referred all comments to his campaign spokesperson, Morgan Pehme.

According to Pehme, “Everyone has been paid or their check has been sent to them in the mail.”

Some workers are starting to receive their final checks, but for less than what they were owed.One complainant, Diane Wah, received her check on September 22 for $504, which she says is less than half of what she is owed.

Other workers who used vehicles, including Greenberg, noted that the campaign did not take reimbursements for gas money used during canvassing.

“On September 13, I was told to simply add extra hours onto my time sheet rather than submit documentation of my gas expenses,” said Greenberg.

Renee Kendall, a canvasser who is not among the four complainants, just wants to receive her checks.

“We haven’t had any communication from the campaign, as far as I know,” said Kendall. “On (September 18), I got a text message to not come into office, and that our checks have to be mailed. I haven’t received a check in the mail yet.”

Eric Friedman, a spokesperson for the CFB, did not confirm whether the Esposito complaint has been received yet and said that the Board does not speak about complaints.

“We take every complaint we receive seriously and it is our responsibility to follow up and investigate the facts,” said Friedman.

Wilson Karaman, a campaign advisor with Doug Biviano’s unsuccessful City Council bid in the 33rd District, said that while he has heard of City Council campaigns running out of money and not paying their workers, it is not a typical practice.

“Usually budget is the number one culprit,” said Karaman.“You can only pay what you can afford.As long as it is told to the canvassers up front, it’s not an issue, unless they are blindsided.”

That is what Greenberg and other canvassers are claiming.She just hopes the payment issue is handled quickly and is giving Pehme, Burr and Androshick the benefit of the doubt.

“We’d like to give them the chance to resolve it without resorting to litigation,” said Greenberg.

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