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Suffolk clerk facing the prospect of a contested election

Judith Pascale is sworn as Suffolk County clerk while standing next to her husband Vincent at a meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature in Hauppauge on Jan. 5, 2015. / Steve Pfost

For the first time in 12 years, Republican Suffolk County Clerk Judith Pascale faces the prospect of a contested election this fall, and there is a chance she might have to run without the Conservative Party line.

That possibility has arisen because Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer said he was considering the idea of offering his party’s nomination for county clerk to the Suffolk...

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For the first time in 12 years, Republican Suffolk County Clerk Judith Pascale faces the prospect of a contested election this fall, and there is a chance she might have to run without the Conservative Party line.

That possibility has arisen because Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer said he was considering the idea of offering his party’s nomination for county clerk to the Suffolk Conservative Party as part of negotiations over what could be a wide-ranging cross-endorsement pact with the minor party. Not only is Pascale’s clerk’s job at stake, but so are those of the county comptroller, the patronage-rich position of surrogate judge and seven other countywide judicial positions.

Schaffer raised the idea because no Democrat has so far expressed interest in running for the clerk’s $197,681-a-year job, an administrative post where partisan issues hardly ever surface.

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Names of a few Democratic contenders had surfaced in recent months, such as the Suffolk Legislature’s Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory and Legis. Monica Martinez of Brentwood. But Gregory instead has launched his second bid for Congress and Martinez, while “flattered” to be mentioned, said she is committed to finishing her current term, which ends in 2019.

Pascale, 70, who has sailed through her last two elections unopposed with the backing of the Republican, Democratic, Conservative and Independence parties, for the first time is also facing a GOP rule, engineered by Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle in 2015, that bars Republicans from taking a major party cross-endorsement in non-judicial races.

“It’s the ‘John LaValle rule’ that left me no other choice but to deal directly with the minor parties themselves,” said Schaffer.

Frank Tinari, Suffolk Conservative chairman, declined to discuss individual candidates or positions, but said, “I’m talking to all the party leaders and I’m anxious to negotiate with them.” LaValle did not return calls for comment.

Relations between LaValle and the Suffolk Conservative Party have been badly strained since Conservative secretary Michael Torres was fired in 2015 from his $105,000-a-year Board of Elections job. Minor party officials also say LaValle is allied to Conservative dissident Kenneth Auerbach, who lost to Tinari for party leadership 2016, but still is contesting the convention vote in court.

That strain, at least in part, led Suffolk Conservatives last year to back Democrats Timothy Sini for district attorney and Errol Toulon Jr. for sheriff.

The Conservative ballot line is crucial because the last time Pascale ran in 2014, it totaled 9.6 percent of the vote tally, even though she ran unopposed. In her first race in 2006, in which Pascale defeated former Legis. Vivian Viloria Fisher, the Conservative line gave her 19,278 votes, more than her winning margin of 14,331 votes in a close 52 percent to 48 percent contest.

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Pascale, who has had Conservative Party backing every time she has run, said, “I’m running on my record. I believe I’ve run my office in a conservative manner, and we won state awards for having the best office twice.” While she has not yet spoken to Conservative officials, she added, “I’m hopeful I have their support as I’ve in the past. I’m just hopeful.”