Brookhaven Republicans, branded for years by local Democrats as politicians from "Crookhaven," returned fire last week.
In the lead-up to last Tuesday's special election for town highway superintendent, thousands of Democrats received repeated automated calls from a woman purporting to be a Democrat who said, "I'm not planning to vote for Crookhaven Republican Kathy Walsh."
The call assailed Walsh, a Republican town board member who ran for highway chief on the Democratic line, as "pro-gun" and "anti-abortion." Democrats would be better off not voting or writing in the name of a Democratic Party member, the woman said.
The GOP's political consultant, Michael Dawidziak, said the phone blitz was part of a campaign to suppress Democratic turnout in the race for the highway post. The highway superintendent controls hundreds of patronage jobs and lucrative paving contracts.
"If you throw a rock, you can't complain if the other side picks it up and throws it back," said Dawidziak. He said Democrats in the campaign had used the "Crookhaven" label, which critics of the GOP have plied ever since the scandal in the early 1990s involving car dealer/developer John McNamara. McNamara defrauded General Motors of $6 billion and claimed he bribed town officials.
Walsh last week called the GOP strategy "desperate and underhanded," but acknowledged that it was a key factor in her narrow loss to Assemb. Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham).
"It was an attempt to distort facts on issues on which I have never taken a position or have nothing to do with highway or the town," she said. Republicans tried to "erode my Democratic support . . . and make people apprehensive to embrace me," Walsh said. For the record, she says she supports the Second Amendment, noting that gun violence often involves mental health issues. She personally opposes abortion but says there should be no government involvement in the issue.
The robocalls undercut the Democrats' cadre of grassroots canvassers who identify and bring out their voters. Last month they helped produce a landside victory for Southold Democrat Al Krupski in his county legislative race.
"Special elections are all about turnout -- getting your voters out and depressing the other side's base," said Dawidziak. "You don't have to keep 50 percent of the Democrats home. Keeping 10 percent home in a special election is a big number."
Brookhaven Republican chairman Jesse Garcia declined to comment on the source of the calls.
"Republicans did a good job confusing people as to what Kathy's candidacy was all about," county Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer said.
Walsh is a longtime Republican who first crossed the GOP by becoming deputy supervisor under former Democratic Town Supervisor Mark Lesko. That left Walsh in a political no man's land. While she accepted the Democratic highway nomination, she did not join the party and instead enrolled as an Independence Party member. The switch takes effect after Election Day in November.
Walsh is up for re-election to the town board in November. With no chance of getting GOP backing, she says she will seek the Democratic line, although she has had no discussions with the party.
Republicans lining up to challenge her include former Lake Grove Mayor Scott Middleton, Centereach businessman John Rose and county legislative aide Kevin LaValle, brother of Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle.
Walsh says she is braced for hardball tactics, but expressed confidence that she can hold her seat despite a Republican enrollment edge of more than 3,000 voters in her district. "I believe I've done a good job representing the people," she said. "And residents are happy with the services I've provided."