Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
When Democrat Connie Kepert appeared last week at a Brookhaven Town Board organizational meeting, Supervisor Edward Romaine remarked, "It's odd to see you on that side of the table."
Kepert, an eight-year town board member, spoke from the audience because her fate as a town official remains unclear. The state's highest court in Albany has yet to decide whether to review her disputed town board election. At the moment, Kepert leads her GOP opponent, Michael Loguercio, who also was in the audience, by only two votes.
"Obviously, I'd prefer to be sitting at the dais," Kepert told her former and perhaps future colleagues. "But due to delays, unfortunately the people of the 4th District have no representation." She then questioned board members from the floor on pending changes to the town budget.
The Court of Appeals could decide as early as this week whether to hear a Republican court challenge. If the court takes the case, the seat will stay open even longer.
"On TV, people see an arrest by the first commercial, and the trial by the second commercial and the appeal is done by the end of the hour," said Tony Parlatore, a lawyer and Brookhaven Democratic chairman. "But . . . in the courts, time stands still."
To recap: On election night Nov. 5, unofficial returns had Loguercio ahead 4,309 to 4,215, or 94 votes. Kepert lost a challenge to the vote count in State Supreme Court. But Justice Carol MacKenzie, in ruling on disputed absentee and provisional ballots, found that Loguercio's margin had shrunk to only four votes.
An Appellate Division panel in Brooklyn reversed that ruling, finding that Kepert led by two votes. Because the Appellate ruling was unanimous, Republicans have asked the Court of Appeals whether it will even consider the case.
GOP attorney Steve Losquadro says he is hopeful the high court will take up the appeal because the lower court rulings were diametrically opposed. "When the conflicts are irreconcilable, the Court of Appeals sometimes wants to take a look to provide clarity," he said.
Loguercio, 55, an insurance broker from Ridge and a decadelong member of the Longwood school board, said he has an even shot at winning the election. "At first, you get anxious and want finality," he said. "But courts have a job and it's inappropriate not to respect that."
He acknowledges he did not mount a major effort to circulate absentee ballots to those who would be out of town or unable to get to polls on Election Day, but instead concentrated on "knocking on hundreds and hundreds of doors." He noted that many backers from Coram and his home community of Ridge told him they tried to vote for him, only to find they lived just outside the district.
While the case remains unsettled, Parlatore said Kepert has remained stoic, even though an adverse ruling has made the race far closer. "It's like we're playing with house money," he said. But the town leader added, there "must have been some pangs" for Kepert as she attended the year's first town board meeting as an outsider.
Should Kepert retain the seat, Republicans see a rematch. "I think he's in it for the long haul," Losquadro said of Loguercio. "Getting literally half the votes of the district against a well-known official, I'd have to assume he'd go again."