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Senator's accusation of fraud against candidate Taiba Sultana rocks Easton-area Pa. House race

Taiba Sultana.jpg
Taiba Sultana for Pa.
The nominating petition for Taiba Sultana, a candidate for Pennsylvania's 136th House District, contained a questionable signature belonging to a Lisa Boscola.

EASTON, Pa. — The local 2024 election cycle got off to an ugly start Wednesday after a candidate for state representative turned in an apparently forged signature as part of her candidate petition earlier this week.

Taiba Sultana, an Easton city councilwoman, officially entered Pennsylvania's 136th House District race Monday. She's expected to face longtime Democratic incumbent Robert Freeman in the April primary after turning in more than 600 signatures — more than double the amount needed to make the ballot.

But Freeman and state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton/Lehigh, are crying foul over one of those signatures in particular.

Sultana's petition contains the signature of a Lisa Boscola just two slots below Sultana's own signature. The Boscola on the petition provides an address of 203 Jungstown Road, Bethlehem. There does not appear to be a Jungstown Road in the district.

Boscola said it's neither her address nor her signature.

“Getting on the ballot is a serious responsibility for any candidate seeking public office, and knowingly turning in petitions with fraudulent signatures should be a disqualifying act,” Boscola said in a news release.

"Taiba Sultana should be ashamed of herself for submitting a nominating petition containing my forged signature."
State Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton/Lehigh

A staple of Lehigh Valley politics for three decades, Boscola is one of the best-known public officials in the region. Some statewide media outlets have ranked her among the most influential people in state government for her status as a senior Democrat known for bucking her party line.

Sultana suggests 'prank'

Boscola said no other registered voters in Northampton County share her name. She noted she does not even live in the 136th District, and that if she did, she would be supporting Freeman.

"Taiba Sultana should be ashamed of herself for submitting a nominating petition containing my forged signature," Boscola said.

Candidates and campaign workers who collect signatures are required to sign the petition affirming that — to the best of their knowledge —those listed are qualified primary voters in the district. The page containing Sultana's signature and the disputed Boscola signature was affirmed by Nadeem Qayyum, Sultana's husband and a former political candidate himself.

In a phone interview and a follow-up written statement, Sultana said her campaign did not knowingly submit a false signature. She attributed its appearance to a prank someone played on an unwitting volunteer going door-to-door.

At the same time, Sultana swung back hard at Boscola and Freeman. She accused the two of telling their supporters to provide her volunteers with false signatures. This one oversight has given her opponents an avenue to discredit her campaign, she said.

"May the voters remember your betrayal every time that Mr. Freeman and his partners in crime take pride in being so close to a 'Democrat In Name Only.'"
Taiba Sultana, referring to state Sen. Lisa Boscola

When asked by a reporter, Sultana said she had no evidence to support the claim.

"I take great issue with our local gerontocracy trying to convert this into some kind of world-ending calamity," Sultana said, using a term for a form of government where the elderly rule.

Sultana said Boscola and Freeman have grown used to power and are fighting to protect their authority by any means against her upstart campaign. She accused Boscola of abandoning Democratic principles to court Republican backers.

"May the voters remember your betrayal every time that Mr. Freeman and his partners in crime take pride in being so close to a 'Democrat In Name Only,'" she said.

Freeman reacts

As for Freeman, she noted he has gone years without a Democratic challenger in primary elections. She accused him of manufacturing an issue with the signatures rather than defeat her at the polls.

"He's never been primaried. He's never knocked doors. This is the first time he's fielded an opponent," she claimed.

Freeman rejected the claim, saying Sultana is living up to a reputation for making baseless accusations and failing to take responsibilities for her actions.

The Freeman campaign is reviewing her petitions; he said they've questioned the legitimacy of 190 to 200 so far. One page — bearing Qayyum's signature as both a voter and a petition circulator — appear to be photocopied from another page included in the petition, Freeman said.

Freeman's campaign has not yet determined if it will challenge if she collected enough valid signatures to make the ballot, he said. More than 300 would need to be thrown out for Sultana to be removed from the ballot. He implied that law enforcement may want to investigate it for fraud.

"Submitting fraudulent signatures on a nominating petition further amplifies questions about Ms. Sultana’s fitness for her current office, let alone her fitness to become a member of the state House," Freeman said.

Sultana has been no stranger to controversy since her election to Easton City Council in 2021. She is slated for trial in April on charges she assaulted her teenaged son in a domestic incident over the summer.

In the fall, Easton City Council erupted into heated discussion after she introduced a motion to call for a cease-fire in the war in Gaza.