Attorney Raymond Perini has filed 4,725 signatures -- more than twice what's needed -- to challenge cross-endorsed Democratic District Attorney Thomas Spota in a GOP primary.
Perini also said he will begin actively campaigning, while an appeals court weighs a State Supreme Court ruling that found that Suffolk's term-limit law does not apply to Spota because his office was created by the state constitution.
Perini, former head of the district attorney's narcotics bureau, filed his petitions Thursday at the Suffolk Board of Elections in Yaphank for the Sept. 10 primary, raising the prospect of the first major-party primary for the post in nearly four decades.
Sam Barretto, a Suffolk police canine officer, has filed 3,331 signatures to challenge Conservative Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, who has been cross-endorsed by major and minor parties.
Perini, 66, of Huntington, said his first task will be to safeguard his petitions from potential challenge, though several experts say he has enough signatures to make a challenge unlikely. "Once I hold the line, I will formally announce and gear up for a primary," he said.
Up to now, Perini has said he would not run against Spota and only be a candidate if the courts found the district attorney is ineligible to run. But Perini said he will campaign because Democratic officials and Spota's lawyer have stalled appeals for more than six months, blocking a final determination on term-limit law. The appellate division in Brooklyn is now considering the case and Spota's attorney has until July 22 to file briefs. A further appeal to the state highest court, the Court of Appeals, is likely.
"I think it's very important we define that issue," Perini said. "We can't have a district attorney of the county on the ballot and find out he's not qualified" to run. While he will begin actively campaigning, he said he remains undecided on what to do if the court rules in Spota's favor.
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said Perini "has a lot of explaining to do to all of those he told he would never run against Tom Spota." He also said Perini's petitions numbers "pale in comparison to the over 25,000 signatures Tom got on all lines, including about 9,500 Republicans, and the 183,000 people who voted for him in the last election."
John Jay LaValle, Suffolk Republican chairman, said his party supports Spota: "Some people say party labels are important, but the public doesn't put an emphasis on that -- they care about violent crime, gangs and drugs and Tom Spota has been very good on those core issues."
Spota, seeking a fourth term, declined comment, but Perini's candidacy means that he'll have to wage a competitive campaign for the first time since his election in 2001, despite backing by major and minor parties.
Perini said there's GOP discontent to be tapped. "I must have knocked on 500 to 700 doors," said Perini, "It's only anecdotal, but you'd be amazed at how many people are really upset they have had no choice for district attorney since 2001 and there's been no Republican on the line since 2001."
The district attorney has also amassed a campaign warchest of $624,019 as of last January. Perini in January filed reports showing he had $134,419, but said that after petition expenses, he now has $120,000.
Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant who works mainly for Republicans, said Perini's decision to campaign is a "two-edged sword" because he could use up his resources against Spota, only to find that the court disqualifies Spota's candidacy, allowing the GOP to pick another contender.
But others say Perini is running no matter what happens in court. "Anyone who goes around collecting so many signatures is in it to the end," said Desmond Ryan, veteran GOP lobbyist. "And if the term limits case is overturned, Ray is positioning himself to be out front for the GOP nomination and freeze out other candidates."