Questions surround third-party candidacy of Andrew Hardwick

Andrew Hardwick, candidate for Nassau County executive, attends Andrew Hardwick, candidate for Nassau County executive, attends a hearing at the Nassau County courthouse in Mineola. (Oct. 8, 2013) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

Two Newsday stories Wednesday raised troubling questions about the third-party candidacy of former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick.

A State Supreme Court judge has yet to determine whether Hardwick, who is seeking to run for Nassau County executive on the third-party "We Count" line in November, makes it onto the ballot.

But Kathleen Rice, Nassau's district attorney, has a job here too: Sifting through allegations that a Roosevelt man was intimidated after testifying that Hardwick paid him per signature -- a violation of election laws -- for every name collected on nominating petitions.

Randy White, 29, filed an allegation of witness intimidation with the district attorney's office after he was arrested by Nassau County police days after testifying in State Supreme Court that Hardwick paid petition-carriers $1.25 for each signature they got.

White gave that testimony -- which Hardwick vehemently denies, saying he paid workers per hour -- before Justice F. Dana Winslow last Wednesday.

Three days later, police boarded a Roosevelt-to-Hempstead bus to arrest White for failing to pay a $250 fine after pleading guilty earlier this year to selling bootleg DVDs.

Was it a coincidence?

And if so, why then did police feel it necessary to pull White, a nonviolent offender, off a bus rather than arresting him at the house he shares with his family?

Hardwick, in interviews with Newsday, has said he wants to join the race for county executive as a third-party candidate in part because former County Executive Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat seeking his old job, has neglected the minority community.

Democrats -- including White's attorney, Robert McDonald, who also is first vice chairman of the Nassau party -- contend that Hardwick is in the race at the behest of supporters of Republican incumbent Edward Mangano to draw minority votes away from Suozzi.

Wednesday, Brian Nevin, a spokesman for Mangano's campaign, said, "We have nothing to do with Hardwick's campaign."

Asked in an interview whether Mangano or anyone from his campaign or fundraising effort had a hand in asking county police to arrest White, Nevin said, "Absolutely no."

It will be up to Rice, who co-chairs Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Moreland Commission investigating public corruption, to sort it through. A spokesman for the district attorney could not be reached for comment.

Any allegation of witness tampering is troubling, but the complaint in this case -- that the county's police department might have been pulled into a political dispute -- should be resolved. A police spokesman would say only that the department was doing its job by acting on the bench warrant.

Complicating matters is the relationship between Hardwick and one of Mangano's key supporters, Gary Melius, who hosted a major fundraiser for the incumbent county executive this week at Oheka Castle.

In testimony before Winslow last week, Hardwick said he did not know where his campaign contributions came from. In court on Tuesday, a Democratic Party attorney accused Hardwick of lying, saying he was aware that Melius, owner of the Oheka Castle catering hall in Huntington, had bankrolled his entire campaign.

According to a Newsday report on Tuesday, the entire $23,138 that Hardwick raised between July 26 and Sept. 5 came from one source: Melius.

Melius told Newsday that he was friends with both Mangano and Hardwick.

The race between incumbent Mangano and challenger Suozzi -- and maybe, down the line, Hardwick -- increasingly is becoming heated. At a debate Tuesday night, Suozzi and Mangano traded jabs over issues including county finances and Nassau's property assessment system.

Negative campaigns tend to annoy voters to the point of suppressing turnout.

The judge will clear up the ballot challenges; the DA should move, as quickly as is practical, to clear up the rest.

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