Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
Two years ago, the Republican convention to name State Supreme Court candidates was delayed for hours as Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello fought by phone with Suffolk Conservative boss Edward Walsh. In the end, Mondello gave two nominations to the minor party but got so angry he broke a finger punching a locker.
When Mondello showed up at the same Levittown Town Hall this year, he had a Cheshire cat smile -- he got his Supreme Court pick, GOP County Court Judge John Galasso, and the scripted convention was done in 40 minutes.
But that outcome had its price. Mondello had to drop his 25-year policy not to cross-endorse any Democratic judges and Walsh was left seething when talks broke down and his candidate, law clerk Matthew Hughes, initially slated for GOP cross-endorsement, didn't get it. Now Hughes has little chance to win.
Under the cross-endorsement deal, which came together only an hour before the GOP convention, Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer agreed to back Galasso and David Reilly, Huntington GOP vice chairman, in return for Republican backing for Democratic Justice Arthur Pitts this year and Democratic Appellate Judge Sandra Sgroi next year. Former County Court Judge Gary Weber also got the GOP, his party's line, but is not part of the deal because Nassau Democrats nominated party member Hope Zimmermann.
Republicans say Walsh, whose ranks of Suffolk Conservatives dominate the minor party's bicounty judicial convention, pushed too hard and too long for too much -- seeking two of four judgeships and control over all four law secretary jobs.
"When there are four judgeships and you get one, you should be happy, especially if you're a minor party," said Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle.
"He [Walsh] made it very easy for me," said Mondello. "I knew something had to be done . . . on the night of the convention, it was our September surprise."
Walsh himself was sparing in his words. "I guess they did whatever they thought they had to do." But he added, "Every time you do something, there is always a reaction."
He noted there are four Nassau State Supreme Court judgeships up for election next year and none are now Conservative. "Next year we'll look at how people are treating the Conservative Party," said Walsh. "Some of the people who are cracking champagne and dancing around may not be so happy."
It may not take that long for Republicans to feel Walsh's wrath. Walsh, according to party sources, is talking to Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs about cross-endorsing Zimmerman, who will line up against Weber, a Suffolk Republican. Jacobs declined to comment.
Despite the clashes, Mondello said, "My interest in Conservative support has not gone away, but there has to be a difference between major parties and minor parties." Mondello said if problems with Walsh persist, he will consider future alliances with Schaffer or even Jacobs and MacKay. "I'd take those odds any day," he said.
Jacobs, a cross-endorsement proponent, said he doubted Mondello's long-term interest in such deals. "I find it as encouraging as some of the statements made by the Iranian president," he said.
Meanwhile, LaValle may bear the brunt of any of Walsh's efforts to wreak payback with congressional and state legislative seats at stake next year. Suffolk Conservatives say they deserve more consideration because their ballot line, once an insurance policy for a dominant GOP, now often provides a crucial 10 percent to 12 percent that carries Republicans over 50 percent.
Frank MacKay, state and Suffolk Independence Party chairman, said the GOP may have tactically erred by dumping Hughes for Weber, making Walsh an enemy. "Spite politics doesn't work," he said.
"You can't blame Eddie for trying to get as much as he can, but when a guy busts their hand, you should know they can't take much more," said Conservative former county lawmaker Michael O'Donohoe, now commissioner of jurors. "If there's a full-blown war and the State Legislature passes a cross-endorsement ban, where are we?"