Preston's petitions contain forged names

Lawmaker still has enough signatures to run, judge says

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Two residents of Allegheny County's 24th Legislative District said Thursday they had never signed nominating petitions for longtime state Rep. Joseph Preston, D-East Liberty.

Carol Owens described herself as angry over what she called the forging of her signature on one of Mr. Preston's petitions. Janet Johnson-Kacprzyk said it was disconcerting to find her name on a document she had never seen.

The two women spoke at a news conference called by Edward Gainey, who is running against Mr. Preston for the Democratic nomination.

Mr. Gainey, who lives in Pittsburgh's Lincoln-Lemington neighborhood, said he had evidence that 90 of the 806 names originally submitted on Mr. Preston's petitions were forgeries.

Those 90 were among the 498 names challenged and withdrawn by Mr. Preston's campaign. Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini ruled March 20 that 308 of his petition signatures were valid, giving Mr. Preston enough names to keep him on the April 24 primary election ballot.

State law requires that candidates collect a minimum of 300 names from among registered voters living in their districts. Mr. Gainey's campaign collected 811 unchallenged signatures.

At his news conference, Mr. Gainey presented statements from 16 people whose names appeared on Mr. Preston's petitions, swearing that they had not signed the documents. He also had a letter from handwriting expert Michelle Dresbold concluding that "with a reasonable degree of professional certainty" that the handwriting for many of the names and addresses on the petitions was from the same person.

The Gainey campaign turned over six affidavits from people who said they never signed Mr. Preston's petitions to the county elections division. The elections office does not have an investigative unit, manager Mark Wolosik said. He has since turned over Mr. Gainey's material to county police.

Mr. Preston did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Mr. Gainey, 42, has challenged Mr. Preston, 64, in the past. Two years ago, he lost a three-candidate primary contest by 93 votes. Mr. Preston has been a state representative since 1983.

Mr. Gainey said Mr. Preston's petition problem was evidence that the longtime representative had lost touch with his constituents.

"Collecting valid signatures of voters in the district is not easy work, but it is important," he said. "When my campaign collected signatures, I personally went door to door with volunteers, spoke to residents ... and had the opportunity to hear the issues that were on their minds."

The 24th District takes in several of Pittsburgh's eastern neighborhoods, including East Liberty and Homewood, as well as Wilkinsburg.

Len Barcousky: or 412-263-1159.


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