Independence Party tempest divides parties

Jay Jacobs, Nassau County Democratic party president, speaks Jay Jacobs, Nassau County Democratic party president, speaks at the Crest Hollow Country Club on April 15, 2013. Photo Credit: Ana Maria Rico

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997, initially as a staff writer for the New ...

The current tempest over the Independence Party emerges as remarkable -- if only for the show of disarray it creates in other political parties.

This storm started with the Democrats, when Nassau chairman Jay Jacobs urged gubernatorial candidates to reject the Independence line and so crush its ballot influence. He's been angry for years about the minor party's various dealings in his county, especially of late. In the past, Jacobs even said the state should consider halting its rare practice of allowing candidates to collect votes from multiple party lines.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, often more simpatico with Nassau's Republicans, has so far publicly ignored Jacobs' stance.

When the issue arose at the governor's news conference in Albany the other day, Republican Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who happened to be right beside Cuomo, offered an answer. Mangano denounced Jacobs. For Cuomo, this was the public-relations version of someone throwing a body block on his behalf.

Suffolk County Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer has already said he views Jacobs' concerns as specific to Nassau -- which means he'll continue his dealings with the party.

Republicans are all over the board, too. Rob Astorino, GOP candidate for governor, framed the debate by pre-emptively bashing the line. He called the minor party's Westchester organization "part of a very corrupt system," adding, "They don't stand for a thing other than jobs, and for themselves."

But nearly a week later, the Republicans' state chairman, Ed Cox, has yet to say if he backs Astorino on this matter. Like Suffolk Democrats, Cox and local colleagues have their cross-endorsement dealings with Independence -- and he gives no sign that he wants to involve himself in the debate.

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Conservatives aren't in lockstep, either. For sure, state chairman Michael Long, who supports Astorino for governor, cited the Independence Party's "many looming problems" in backing Jacobs' call for top candidates to reject its line. But when reached Monday, Suffolk Conservative Chairman Ed Walsh, for one, was clearly staying off that bandwagon.

"I haven't really thought about it too much," Walsh said. "Obviously I have a great relationship with [Independence chairman] Frank MacKay and with the Suffolk County Independence Party. Mike is a state leader; Frank and I have been friends for a long time. Our relationship out here is great and it is what it is."

Walsh also is a friend of Gary Melius, the Oheka Castle owner, who's close to MacKay. Oheka, scene of a recent attempt on Melius' life, still serves as the site of party screenings.

In 2010, the Independence leadership endorsed Cuomo, the odds-on favorite, for governor. He drew 146,576 votes, or only 5 percent of his winning total, from the line. He got another 5.3 percent, or 154,835, from the Working Families Party. That year, Republican Carl Paladino got 15 percent, or 232,215 votes, from the his Conservative cross-endorsement.

One state political insider said of the Independence organization: "They're not consistent in their endorsements. They're a wild card in many ways. They're not like the Conservatives, who go for the Republican most of the time, or the Working Families Party, which is, like, what's left of the labor left."

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Unless Cuomo boldly decides to reject the Independence nod, however, it sounds as if this will remain a matter of inside baseball, if a revealing one.

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