Republican attorney Ray Perini is circulating petitions for a GOP primary against Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota should pending litigation over term limits prevent Spota from winning a fourth term.
Perini said he has "an army of volunteers" gathering the minimum 2,000 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot, and that he hopes to collect 4,000 signatures to avoid potential petition challenges. Spota, a Democrat seeking his fourth term, is cross-endorsed by the GOP.
State Supreme Court Justice Ralph Gazzillo struck down Suffolk's term limit law as it applies to the district attorney, county clerk and sheriff, ruling that it is illegal to eliminate jobs created in the state constitution.
Perini, 65, Suffolk's former chief narcotics prosecutor, said he began to circulate petitions after Spota's attorney opposed Huntington resident Peter Nichols' effort to join an appeal of the ruling.
"I'm preserving a spot on the Republican ballot by doing this, and we'll await the outcome of the lawsuit," said Perini, who until now has said he would not run against Spota but has raised $160,000 for a possible campaign. "If this gets delayed to a certain point, there is a possibility that a million voters will not get any say and the governor would appoint" a district attorney.
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said election law provides for a committee to fill vacancies should a candidate become ineligible to run. "It's scary that he wants to be the county's chief law enforcement officer and doesn't know how to read the law," Schaffer said of Perini.
Perini accused Schaffer of "political gamesmanship" by trying to block appeals of Gazzillo's decision, and said that if the case lasts until eight days before the general election, the committee cannot change the ballot. If Spota is found ineligible for a new term, the governor in January would appoint a replacement.
Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle said GOP officials are "fully behind" Spota and will back him if Perini enters a primary.
Perini's move came after a four-member appeals court panel in Brooklyn last week agreed to consider Nichols' motion to enter the case on an expedited basis because it involves an elections issue. Gazzillo had barred Nichols from intervening as anything but a friend of the court, which gave him no right to appeal.
Spota attorney Kevin Snover will have until July 22 to file his brief, and Nichols' attorney will have additional time to respond. That means that any appeals court ruling would come after the July 11 deadline for Perini to file his primary petitions with the Suffolk Board of Elections. He would have to decide whether to become a primary candidate by July 15. If there has been no ruling in the appeal by then, Perini said he will officially file as a candidate. However, he said he will not decide whether to actively campaign until the court hands down a decision.
A Spota spokesman referred questions to Snover, who said that he will oppose Nichols' effort to intervene and seek to uphold Gazzillo's ruling. In court papers, Snover said Nichols was trying to "obtain by bluster what he could not achieve by merit."