DA Rice won't seek Independence endorsement

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice in Mineola Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice in Mineola on Jan. 9, 2014. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice will not seek the Independence Party endorsement in her bid to succeed Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, with aides citing her investigation into a political influence case involving prominent party members.

In a letter Friday to Nassau Independence chairman Rick Bellando, Rice campaign adviser Eric Phillips said that Rice, while having "great respect" for the party, would not attend its screening Saturday at Oheka Castle in Huntington.

The estate, where Bellando works, also is the home of Gary Melius, an influential figure in the party who was shot in the head by a gunman on Monday. Melius, who remains hospitalized, was central last year in the investigation by Rice, a Democrat, that led to the resignation of Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Dale.

"While she has great respect for the party and its members, given all that's happened and is ongoing in her office, the DA doesn't feel it's appropriate to seek their endorsement," Phillips said, referring to the Dale case. "This is more evidence that Kathleen Rice will always put the integrity of her office and her work before any personal political gain."

Melius called Dale last October on behalf of the third-party county executive campaign of former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick. The campaign wanted to file perjury charges against Randy White, who testified in court that Hardwick paid him per signature he collected on nominating petitions. Signature gatherers legally can only be paid per hour.

Rice said Dale was involved in the decision to pull White off a public bus and arrest him for an unpaid $250 court fine. While in custody, an off-duty Nassau police officer served White with a civil subpoena from the Hardwick campaign.

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Neither Dale nor Melius faced criminal charges, though Rice still is investigating the serving of the subpoena, which she called "deeply troubling."

Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs assailed Hardwick's campaign -- for which Melius was the prime donor, giving more than $60,000 -- as meant to siphon votes from his county executive candidate, Thomas Suozzi, and to help Republican incumbent Edward Mangano, whom Melius backed. Jacobs said Dale and Melius should have been charged with crimes.

Rice has said her investigation focused only on the facts.

State and Suffolk Independence chairman Frank MacKay said he and Bellando "respect Kathleen, and there's no hard feelings." The Independence Party has 17,601 registered voters in the 4th Congressional District, which McCarthy (D-Mineola) has represented since 1997.

Nassau Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams, a Democrat, is considering a campaign for the seat Republicans Bruce Blakeman, a former legislative presiding officer, and New Hyde Park attorney Frank Scaturro have announced bids.

Abrahams said won't seek the Independence endorsement. Blakeman will attend Saturday's candidate screening, an aide said, while Scaturro said he was not invited.

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