Andrew Hardwick, who wants to run for Nassau County executive on the new "We Count" ballot line, received more than $23,000 in contributions from July 26 through Sept. 5, all from Gary Melius, the owner of the Oheka Castle catering hall in Huntington, state records show.
Hardwick, former Freeport mayor, testified last week at a Nassau State Supreme Court hearing on challenges to his petitions that he was unaware who gave money to his campaign. But in court Tuesday, Democratic Party attorney Steve Schlesinger accused Hardwick of lying, claiming he was aware Melius had bankrolled his entire campaign.
Nassau Supreme Court Judge Dana Winslow is expected to decide this week whether to allow Hardwick on the ballot, after the county's Democratic and GOP Board of Elections commissioners deadlocked on approving thousands of signatures. Hardwick needs 1,500 to get on the ballot.
At a news conference in Mineola after the hearing, Hardwick said he was "not worried" about who gave money to his campaign. "It was not my concern," he said. "I am grateful someone has been giving." Hardwick also verbally sparred with Schlesinger and charged that Thomas Suozzi, the Democratic nominee for county executive, was neglecting minority voters.
Democrats have accused Melius of propping up Hardwick's campaign to siphon minority votes from Suozzi and help re-elect GOP County Executive Edward Mangano. "This is a phony campaign designed to mislead the people," Schlesinger said.
"It is an absolute fraud upon the minority community that Andrew Hardwick's campaign's only supporter is a high-profile Mangano fundraiser who operates out of a castle on the North Shore," said Nassau Democratic Party vice chairwoman Andrena Wyatt.
Melius in an interview said he was "close friends" with Mangano and Hardwick and had contributed to both their campaigns. "[Hardwick] asked me for my help," Melius said. "And, I said I would help raise some money."
Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said the campaign was not working in concert with Hardwick. "This is more lies and outrageous accusations from Tom Suozzi's lawyer, who will do anything to help his client hide a record of double-digit property tax hikes and wasteful spending," Nevin said.
Campaign filings released Tuesday show Melius was the only donor to Hardwick's campaign, giving five contributions totaling $23,138. Hardwick's campaign also spent nearly $23,000, primarily for individuals hired to collect ballot signatures, the filing shows. Hardwick has only $224 in his campaign account.
Last year, Melius sold 4 acres of the former Brooklyn Water Works in Freeport to Nassau for $6.2 million. County officials said the purchase, which Hardwick lobbied for as mayor, was to benefit open space.
Melius had not been able to win approval for any development proposal after he purchased the land from the county in 1986 for $1.4 million.
Hardwick collected 8,411 signatures to run for county executive. But Board of Elections commissioners found 2,713 signatures were invalid; 316 signatures were found valid and they split on 3,233 other signatures. Democratic election officials also are alleging that 2,149 other signatures were possible forgeries. The court must decide on those claims.
With Patrick Whittle
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount Nassau County paid Gary Melius, owner of the Oheka Castle catering hall in Huntington, for 4 acres of the former Brooklyn Water Works in Freeport.