Ruling May End Long Dispute in a Queens Neighborhood

A lengthy battle that divided the Jackson Heights business community and swallowed the Queens neighborhood’s Diwali festival in the process may be finally nearing an end.

On Friday night, a court-appointed referee announced a winner in the long-disputed election of the Jackson Heights Merchants Association, a group that carries much clout in the local South Asian community.

The vote was so close that, after months of reviewing the ballots, the winning candidates prevailed by 2 votes out of more than 400 cast, according to Stephen D. Hans, a Queens lawyer who served as the official referee.

For nearly two years, rival camps of jewelers, grocers and sari salesmen have feuded over control of the once-vital organization, which has been left basically dormant as legal challenges to recent elections have wound through a series of judges’ chambers.

The two sides have accused each other of ballot-stuffing, election fraud and voter intimidation. In a 2009 ruling, Justice Charles J. Markey of State Supreme Court in Queens ordered Mr. Hans to oversee a new election, held last March, and to declare a final winner once and for all.

Mr. Hans said that he spent months reviewing every vote, and expressed confidence that his 65-page decision would hold up to any future legal challenges. The camp referred to in the legal documents as Slate A won two seats on the three-seat board, while the losing side, Slate B, won the remaining seat.

The Jackson Heights Merchants Association began about two decades ago as a coalition to press for more attention from the local police precinct. In the years since, it grew into a neighborhood institution that organized the annual Hindu Diwali festival, which was canceled last year because of all the acrimony.

To those involved, the association was a source of prestige, a vehicle to gain respect in the neighborhood, to host mayors and other politicians for ghee-soaked lunches, and to play a role, however minor, in the swirling jumble of New York politics.

Sunil Patel, a jewelry store owner who played a major role in the dispute, said it was easy to understand why tempers had gotten so heated. “It’s ego,” he told a reporter late last year.

Joseph P. Goldberg, the lawyer representing the losing slate of candidates, said he did not anticipate a challenge to the decision.

“We’re obviously disappointed,” he said. “We think probably the best result is for the community to start the healing process.”

Joseph P. Goldberg, the lawyer representing the losing slate of candidates, said he did not anticipate a challenge to the decision.

“We’re obviously disappointed,” he said. “We think probably the best result is for the community to start the healing process.”

The next election will be held in March 2012.

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