The conviction of Conservative Party Chairman Edward Walsh for wage theft and wire fraud Thursday set up an internal fight over the future of the party, with some members pushing for a new regime to head the influential minor party.
Under the party’s bylaws, a felony conviction removes Walsh as chairman. His first vice chair, Huntington Conservative leader Frank Tinari, becomes the new county chairman.
Tinari confirmed the succession arrangement last week. Reached by cellphone after the verdict, Tinari declined to comment or confirm that he was the new chairman.
During Walsh’s long tenure as party leader, Conservatives amassed significant power by leveraging its endorsements to elect Conservative judges and secure patronage jobs for party members. It is the largest county Conservative committee in the state.
Michael, O’Donohoe, Suffolk’s Commissioner of Jurors and a longtime Suffolk Conservative committeeman, said the party “has to be cleaned up. It doesn’t stand for any position or any philosophy, but it’s there to be bought and sold.”
O’Donohoe, a longtime critic of Walsh’s, said the party “was founded on getting good conservatives elected — mom, and apple pie and the American Flag. Now it’s the best little whorehouse in Suffolk.”
Richard Johannesen, former Brookhaven Conservative Chairman, said Tinari should not become permanent chairman. “He has not demonstrated himself to be independent enough from Walsh to help the Conservative Party begin anew,” Johannesen said.
Johannesen said Conservatives under Walsh have made too many compromises, allowing Democrats to run on the Conservative line too many times.
“I believe during Walsh’s administration, we’ve betrayed our responsibility to the electorate,” Johannesen said.
Suffolk Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer said he expected Tinari to become the new chairman.
“I’ve known Frank. He’s respectable, professional. I’ve known him as an attorney for a long time,” Schaffer said.
Walsh was a brash figure in Suffolk politics. Nassau Republican Chairman Joseph Mondello once broke his hand when he punched a locker after a phone call with Walsh, who had been dickering over cross-endorsements of judicial candidates.
Walsh stripped the Brookhaven Conservative Committee of its right to endorse town candidates after town party members led a failed coup against him in 2014.
Recently, Walsh threatened to withhold Conservative backing from three state Senate Republicans in Suffolk in an effort to pressure them to remove county GOP Chairman John Jay LaValle. The Conservative line can mean the difference between defeat and victory for candidates in close races.
State Conservative Chairman Michael Long, while declining to discuss internal Suffolk Conservative politics, said there still was time for Senate Republicans to get the party’s endorsement.
“Things like this never help anybody,” Long said of the effect of Walsh’s conviction.